By Jeremy Stafford - email@example.com
WINCHESTER -- Shenandoah football coach Paul Barnes didn't show any signs of discomfort when he said what he said.
But coming from Barnes, as he sat in his office at the Aikens Athletic Center at Shenandoah University on Wednesday, the words rang with an odd inflection.
"When you throw as many times as we do," Barnes said, "you're gonna break down protections once or twice."
A year ago, Barnes never would have said that.
In 2009, former SU quarterback Vern Lunsford set a school record with 234 pass attempts, just more than 23 tosses a game.
Barnes, in those days, preferred running the ball to throwing it.
But in his first two games as a starter, current SU quarterback Daniel Wright attempted 33 and 30 passes, respectively.
"I really didn't see it coming, especially the first couple games," Wright said of his throwing attempts. "I thought [the coaches] would kinda let me get my feet wet, since it's been two years since I've played, but they really just kinda threw me into the middle of it.
"The offensive line and the backs handled it well, and I feel like I handled it pretty well, too, and I definitely like the more aggressive attack."
But the perks of being more aggressive bring the misfortune of that occasional broken pass coverage: In Shenandoah's 38-31 loss to Bridgewater on Saturday, Wright was sacked four times for a loss of 29 yards. In total this season, Shenandoah has lost 109 yards rushing.
"I think people aren't familiar with that because, when you run the football, you really don't see that negative yardage as much as you do when you throw the football," Barnes said. "But you also see us being more explosive, and that's the tradeoff.
"You just try to limit [sacks] and increase your production, and Danny's doing a good job."
Wright has passed for 468 yards in only two games. If he can keep up his pace of 234 passing yards a game, he'll shatter Lunsford's single-season record of 1,674 yards, set last season.
But there are other factors that contribute to Shenandoah's reliance on the pass, specifically Shenandoah's inability to rely on the run.
Hornets running back Keone Kyle led the USA South in rushing last season, but missed the season opener when he was suspended for violating team rules. Starting tailback Kevin Roberts, a year removed from a 944-yard season in 2008, was suspended for the Bridgewater game, also for violating team rules.
Thus, SU's vaunted backfield has developed little chemistry with an offensive line that returned only two starters from last season.
Shenandoah, as a team, has gained only 116 rushing yards.
"We have to get this ground game going so teams can respect the ground game," Roberts said. "And that only helps Danny out, so he may not be sacked as much if the ground game picks up.
"The ground game has always been SU's strongest point -- right now we're not there yet."
LIKE A ROCK: Shenandoah linebacker Corey Giffing said he expected to lead the Hornets in tackles this season.
His 23 tackles are just ahead of fellow linebacker John Redmond's 19 tackles; his 10 solo tackles rank second-most on the team.
Giffing credits his performance to Shenandoah's base 3-4 defense, which was inserted this season.
"I think it helps more one-on-one with the running back and me," he said.
The system also allows Redmond to get after quarterbacks with an uncanny regularity. In the 4-3 defense Shenandoah used to run, former defensive end Mo Salih spent the 2008 and 2009 seasons leading SU in tackles for a loss and yards from tackles for a loss.
Redmond's current 4.5 tackles for a loss for 13 yards has him on pace to notch 22.5 tackles for a loss of 65 yards. The former statistic would be a school record, the latter would rank second most in school history.
Visiting an explosive Randolph-Macon team on Saturday, Giffing and Redmond will assuredly have their hands full.
Yellow Jackets quarterback Austin Faulkner has thrown 41 completions for 555 yards and six touchdowns. R-MC scored 54 points against Methodist two weeks ago, and accumulates 485 yards of offense every game.
"They're gonna have to come with their A-game," Barnes said of his defense. "Randolph-Macon's a very powerful offense in the sense they have a lot of weapons, sort of like Bridgewater -- they have a good [running back], they have a good wide receiver, and a good quarterback ... and we need to play our A-game defensively."
Last year Randolph-Macon blocked a punt and a field goal to beat Shenandoah, 17-14. It was R-MC's first-ever win over SU.
LEARNING CURVE: There was very little to learn about Wright following his nearly flawless game two weeks ago against Catholic. He passed for 250 yards, threw one touchdown and had no interceptions.
Wright said that after throwing three interceptions last week against Bridgewater, one of which was returned for a touchdown, he's learned plenty about himself and where he can improve.
And he certainly expects to improve.
"Now it's the real deal," said Wright, who's thrown three touchdowns and three interceptions this season. "Throw three touchdown passes, three interceptions -- now we're balanced again.
"It's kinda like zero-zero, so it's just trying to get back up on the touchdown side of the statistics and not so much the interceptions."