Blue Cooper presented challenges for Furman. Cooper is a senior wide receiver at Chattanooga, one of Furman’s Southern Conference opponents. Last week, Furman beat Chattanooga 38-20, despite Cooper’s 13 catches, 109 receiving yards and one touchdown.
Furman will be going far away from the Southern Conference when it plays Missouri at 1 p.m. Saturday at Memorial Stadium. The Paladins, members of the Football Championship Subdivision, will take on the Tigers, members of the more competitive Football Bowl Subdivision.
“Blue Cooper’s a great player,” Furman coach Bobby Lamb said in the SC teleconference Tuesday. “Missouri’s got about four Blue Coopers. That’s the only problem. They spread the field extremely well. They play four wideouts most of the game. And sometimes all four wideouts will be on one side. They run a lot of very unusual sets, it’s going to be a tremendous challenge.”
Furman, located in Greenville, S.C., has been successful in the FCS. It has won 12 Southern Conference Championships since 1978.
Playing against Bowl Subdivision teams is nothing new to Furman, it usually plays one a year. It will travel to Auburn on Nov. 7. It’s certainly a change of scenery for the Paladins. The largest home crowd in Furman history is 19,058 and attendance standards in the Southern Conference are certainly different than in the Big 12 Conference. Furman’s game at Chattanooga last Saturday is an example. The game drew 11,201 fans.
“I know it’s exciting for Chattanooga, but it’s exciting for our guys to play in front of 11,000 fans there,” Lamb said.
Missouri drew 65,401 in its game against Bowling Green last Saturday.
“Let’s just face it,” Lamb said. “If you grow up in this state, you want to play at Clemson or Carolina. If you grow up in Georgia, you want to play at Georgia, Georgia Tech, and so forth. Certainly all kids can’t do that. And certainly that’s what the Southern Conference is for. We have an outstanding brand of football. This is their time to shine on the big stage.”
Wins against FBS opponents have been hard to come by for Furman, but not unheard of. Its most recent win was in 1999, a 28-3 victory over North Carolina. Since that win, the Paladins have lost seven times to FBS opponents, including two losses to Clemson. Lamb quarterbacked a Furman team that upset North Carolina State 42-20 in 1985.
“You get to see what your kids have really got,” Lamb said. “They certainly will try to amp it up a little bit for a team like this. So a lot of times you get brought back down to reality. You get ready for a game and you go in there and get mashed around a little bit.”
Lamb and Missouri coach Gary Pinkel share a belief when it comes to games with a heavy favorite: the longer an underdog can keep the score close, the better its chances of pulling an upset.
Last season, Furman played at Virginia Tech and lost 24-7. The Paladins were trailing only 3-0 at halftime, but failed to keep the game close long enough to claim an upset.
“The first thing we would like to take back is the two turnovers in our own territory,” Lamb said. “The way that gave VT a short field and they capitalize on it.”
Missouri has dealt with underdogs hanging around already this season. Bowling Green led for most of the game last Saturday before Missouri came back to win 27-20.
“The closer you can get to that fourth quarter with some sort of a chance, the pressure goes squarely on Missouri,” Lamb said.