SU aims to get rushing attack back on track
By Jeremy Stafford - firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- With four consecutive losses dangling behind them, their most recent setback being to USA South conference rival Christopher Newport, the Shenandoah Hornets (0-4, 0-1 USA South) are still learning the ins and outs of each other.
This process is especially apparent on the offensive line, and is exemplified by SU's 60.8 rushing yards a game.
"We're still learning how to work together as a team, still learning the new line, and we got a couple new backs, so we're still trying to get everything together," Hornets tailback Keone Kyle said. "Game by game, I think it's coming together slowly."
Despite working behind a young offensive line, which replaced three starters from last season, the Shenandoah backfield has been a carousel of backs these past four games, with Kyle and Brad Martz splitting time between fullback and tailback, and Kevin Roberts starting at tailback.
Kyle has since been moved to tailback, Martz to fullback -- and against Christopher Newport, the running game finally began to find itself.
A healthy mixture of Kyle and Roberts had Shenandoah leading, 10-7, at the half Saturday, but a poisonous mixture of CNU touchdowns had Shenandoah playing catch-up in the second half. The Hornets were unable to carry their surging rushing game into the latter quarter, leaving their backfield to remain a work in progress.
"As an offensive lineman it takes time to bring camaraderie with everybody," Shenandoah coach Paul Barnes said. "We're getting there, and we're getting better -- we're coming off the ball harder and everything like that.
"We need to get the running game started, and we're making more of an effort, and we'll be getting there."
If ever there was a time to improve the running game, it's this week against Maryville (1-3, 0-1 USA South).
The Scots' rushing defense ranks seventh in the USA South, hemorrhaging 193.2 yards a game. In all, Maryville gives up 399.8 yards a game, which is worst in the conference.
When asked if he thought this week would see a much improved running game, Barnes laughed: "Every week you have to have that mentality that you can run the football," he said. "And we're getting there, we're getting there.
"It's not where we want it to be by any means, but we're getting better."
SETTLING DOWN: For two quarters, the Shenandoah defense put forth a solid effort Saturday, holding an explosive Christopher Newport offense to just seven points.
But perhaps playing so well for 30 minutes had the Hornets thinking too positively with too much time left on the clock.
"Our intensity was definitely there for the first half, and then we kinda got a little too excited," SU safety Larry Gibbs said. "We were just like, 'Wow -- we're up three right now against a pretty good opponent.'
"So everyone got a little too excited, a little too optimistic, too relaxed."
The Hornets gave up 21 points in the second half. A knee injury to middle linebacker John Redmond late in the fourth quarter only antagonized an already deflating situation. Redmond went in for an MRI on Wednesday.
Yet Gibbs said the Shenandoah secondary is "licking our chops" heading into Saturday's game at Maryville.
Scots freshman quarterback Dustin Williams completes less than half his passes, has thrown for 502 yards, four touchdowns, and six interceptions. Backup quarterback Zach Dowdy, who has 20 passing attempts this season, is also a freshman. Maryville's pass offense and pass efficiency rank worst in the USA South.
"Anytime you see a freshman quarterback, or a first-year starter in general, that makes you real excited," Gibbs said.
The prospect of defending against a young quarterback is a welcome relief to the Shenandoah defense, which has faced veteran quarterbacks and talented receivers each of the last three weeks. Last week, CNU quarterback Matt Long hooked up with wideout T.J. Foster four times for 163 yards and two touchdowns.
Which isn't to say that Maryville doesn't have its own wide receiver to hang its hat on. Junior receiver Wesley Idlette has 14 catches for 101 yards and three touchdowns this season. Last year, Idlette caught Maryville's game-winning touchdown against Shenandoah.
But no matter. Shenandoah needs its first win of the season now, especially with consecutive games against Ferrum, Averett, and N.C. Wesleyan looming in less than a month.
"Just getting that first win, we'll worry about conference stuff later," Gibbs said. "We still gotta win this first game to go anywhere, so we're just really looking forward to it."
Of course, there's also that injury to Redmond to deal with. Freshman linebacker Joshua Rogers played well in his first start against CNU, and was named to the D3football.com Team of the Week.
Barnes said he's shifting players around during practices this week before finalizing Saturday's starting defense.