Mercer Bears must go back to the drawing board following blowout loss to Furman

The Mercer Bears came into their showdown against Furman looking to get back on track following a loss to Austin Peay in the home opener. Instead, the Bears ran into a well-oiled machine as the Paladins routed Mercer by a score of 45-10.

The Bears fell behind early as Corey Watkins found the end zone not even two minutes into the game.

Before Mercer could blink it found itself down two scores.

Robert Riddle eventually would find David Durden for the Bears first score of the game in the opening minute of the second quarter.

Mercer was never able to get back in the game after that as the Paladins began to pour it on, including a 17-0 third quarter that put the game away for good.

Mercer moves back to .500 on the season. The Bears return home next week to take on the Campbell Camels. Here are three takeaways from Saturday’s blowout.

1. Mercer needs work in the secondary

Multiple times in the first half a Paladins receiver or tight end came wide open on key plays.

Furman quarterback Darren Grainger didn’t have to throw the ball often but when he did there were holes in the defense to pick apart.

One of those plays was a 41-yard touchdown to tight end Ryan Miller. Miller practically walked into the end zone as there was no one around him when he caught the football.

Grainger also had a couple of other passes go through the hands or over the heads of a wide open pass catcher.

This is two games in a row in which the opponent has found wide open throwing lanes.

Coming in the middle of the season, the secondary will have to improve if the Bears want a shot at a conference title. The loss to Furman deals a blow to those chances.

2. Mercer must improve on run defense and offense going forward

The Bears watched Furman run up and down the field, racking up 410 yards on the ground.

Most of those yards came in big chunks: Watkins took one 83 yards in the second half to ice the game for good, and Devin Abrams had a 69-yard run that set up another score. Devin Wynn led the effort with 99 yards rushing.

Teams like Wofford and the Citadel who love to run the football will be salivating for a matchup with the Bears if this issue isn’t corrected.

On the offensive side, Tyray Devezin averaged 6.2 yards per carry but only got 10 carries on the game. The team was forced to all but abandon the run after going down so big early in the game.

The big deficits and lack of a consistent run game has come back to bite the Bears in each of its two losses this season. It puts a lot of pressure on Riddle to be perfect in the passing game.

3. Robert Riddle has to limit the turnovers

Riddle came into the game tied for the lead in the FCS in touchdown passes with 11. But he also came in as one of the leaders in interceptions with five. He would add two to that with a pair of interceptions against the Paladins.

Riddle is a gunslinger-type quarterback who is going to have his occasional interception regardless on the deep passes that he throws.

The biggest thing going forward will be limiting those interceptions in key moments. Often times those interceptions have come with pressure in his face or when he was simply trying to do too much. Sometimes it’s better to take a sack than throw the interception.

Remember, this is still very early on in Riddle’s career. He had his first season shut down with an injury. So the more games he gets under his belt the better he will get. He has shown flashes this season of the type of quarterback that head coach Bobby Lamb raved about all offseason.

For the Bears, they need Riddle’s flashes to become the norm soon. The talent is there to compete for a title but this team will need to fix a few areas before that shot slips away this season.

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Justin Baxley is the fan life reporter at The Telegraph and writes stories centered around entertainment, food and sports in the Macon community. Justin joined the Telegraph staff after graduating from Mercer University in May 2017 with a degree in criminal justice and journalism. During his time at Mercer he served as the sports editor for The Cluster.