By Jeremy Stafford - firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- Back when Shenandoah coach Paul Barnes was playing football, just about everyone ran their offense out of the wishbone formation.
Or at the very least, they were running some form of the option, whether it was the split-back veer, the triple option, or the I-option.
"There was a lot more option when I was growing up than there is now," Barnes said. "You were used to it and you got accustomed to the speed."
Very few teams run their offense out of the wishbone nowadays, especially with teams' growing infatuation with the spread offense.
The offense meant to minimize mismatches, then, has been tossed out in favor of the offense meant to exacerbate mismatches.
But the option is alive and well at Ferrum, which ran its high-risk offense to perfection last week in a 56-20 pounding of Shenandoah (2-5, 2-2 USA South).
No matter how well SU's scout team imitated Ferrum's option attack in practice, there's no real substitute, it turns out, for a quarterback like the Panthers' Marcus Mayo, who rushed for 117 yards Saturday and threw for another 45 yards.
With 122 rushing yards, Ferrum tailback Quintel Banks was the second Panther to blaze off a 100-yard game.
Shenandoah had no 100-yard rushers: Tailback Keone Kyle had a team-best 22 carries for 88 yards.
The explanation for Ferrum's success is simple: Not many on SU's young defense have ever lined up opposite the wishbone.
"It was the first time they ever played against a true option team," SU linebacker Corey Giffing said of the Shenandoah defense, which started six sophomores and freshmen against Ferrum. "Plus it was offense, defense and special teams that didn't play their A-game.
"I think all of those put together added up into the final score."
Indeed. Shenandoah gave up two touchdowns on special teams Saturday and turned over the ball five times on offense.
Of the three times SU's offense found the red zone, it subsequently found the end zone only once.
Which isn't to say the Shenandoah offense didn't play well. Quarterback Daniel Wright set a single-game record at Shenandoah with 315 passing yards, and he tossed three touchdowns to boot. Wideout Rico Wallace dazzled the gridiron yet again, catching nine of Wright's passes for 224 yards -- both are single-game records.
There's a feeling in the Shenandoah locker room that this offense is capable of putting up far more than the 17 points it's currently averaging.
"I know it can be way more," Wright said of Shenandoah's point-scoring. "The only ones stopping us are ourselves, and we just keep getting in the way of ourselves game after game.
"I think as soon as we clean that up we're going to be hard to stop."
Wallace agreed, saying that when Shenandoah fails to score on a drive, it's often the result of a minor lapse in execution.
Wallace also said he and Wright had no choice but to churn out chunks of yardage Saturday.
"The game just came to a certain point where we needed big plays," he said. "We went to the play book, saw what we could do, and those were the plays we picked out -- basically some deep balls."
Wallace beat out a constant double team by Ferrum corners, and nabbed a game-high 58-yard touchdown reception from Wright.
Statistically speaking, Shenandoah has some of the USA South's most productive players: Wallace leads the conference in receiving yards per game (113.1), Wright is second in the conference in passing average (170.1) and has the most passing touchdowns of any quarterback.
And despite a lack of carries to start the season, Kyle's 76.8 rushing yards per game are second most in the USA South.
COMFORT ZONE: Despite giving up 523 total yards to Ferrum last week, Giffing is confident in his defense heading into Saturday's 7 p.m. game against Averett.
For one, Averett runs a more traditional offense than Ferrum.
"All week we planned with a new defense ... for Ferrum, something we haven't run all season," Giffing said. "Averett's more like playing our own offense, a more downhill style.
"We've been going over this stuff since camp, so it should be a lot easier to plan for this offense."
Scoring 26.1 points per game, the Cougars boast the second-best scoring offense in the USA South, just behind Ferrum, which took the top spot after throttling Shenandoah.
The Cougars also have the third-best running game in the conference, led by James Wilson, the conference's most productive tailback (86 yards per game).
"Our defense is going to have their hands full," Barnes said, "but they're more comfortable because that's what you see most of the time in our conference.
"The wishbone compared to this offense -- there's no comparison because [players] can rely on past experience on certain plays."