Fauber: Hornets could settle on starter soon

By Brad Fauber

There were plenty of intriguing storylines surrounding Shenandoah University football leading up to the 2013 season, as the Hornets welcomed in new head coach Scott Yoder and new schemes on offense and defense in a rebirth of the program that the team has been referring to as “Red Dawn.”

The Hornets are now two weeks into the season and are preparing for their third contest tonight at Christopher Newport, and the storylines continue to unravel.

One of the more interesting things to keep an eye on this season has been the Hornets’ quarterback situation. Shenandoah’s coaching staff landed two capable quarterbacks in freshman Justin Neff and junior transfer Drew Ferguson in Yoder’s inaugural recruiting class, and the competition between the two was so tight during fall camp that Yoder was hesitant to name the Week 1 starter until five days before Shenandoah’s season-opener against Gallaudet.

Neff was eventually given the starting nod, but Yoder emphasized that both quarterbacks would split the quarterbacking responsibilities each week. As Shenandoah enters into Week 3, Yoder is still sticking by his two-quarterback system.

Running a two-quarterback system is tough to do at any level of football, as having ambiguity at arguably the most important position on the football field is a tough obstacle for any team to overcome (just ask the USC Trojans). Rarely does it work. And yet, Yoder is insisting that rotating the two quarterbacks is the best thing for Shenandoah at this time.

“We’ve said it before, it’s not a controversy to us. We’ve got two good quarterbacks that both can help us win games, and they’re going to,” Yoder said during Wednesday’s media day. “We’re going to ride the hot hand and it’s our job as a coaching staff just to make that situation a positive one and not a negative one.”

Shenandoah would probably be better suited to settle on a true No. 1 quarterback, but honestly, it’s hard to fault Yoder for sticking to his guns, especially after having had just two games to see what each quarterback can do.

Neff saw a majority of the action in the season-opener against Gallaudet, as the freshman was 19-for-26 passing for 219 yards and a touchdown in the 31-20 loss. Last week against Ferrum, the roles were flip-flopped, as it was Ferguson who did most of the heavy lifting, completing 17 of 29 passes for 152 yards and two touchdowns in a 43-29 victory.

Neither quarterback has played poorly so far this season, and Neff and Ferguson have combined to throw just one interception in 69 attempts. But there was one major difference between Neff’s performance in Week 1 and Ferguson’s performance last Saturday — the final outcome of the game.

Under the leadership of Ferguson, Shenandoah’s offense racked up 472 yards and showed the ability to sustain long drives against Ferrum, something the Hornets couldn’t do against Gallaudet. The result was Shenandoah’s first win since the Hornets beat Stevenson in last year’s season opener.

Yoder raved about Ferguson’s performance last weekend, and the first-year head coach was particularly pleased with Ferguson’s decision-making. Still, Yoder wasn’t ready to say that he favored one QB over the other.

“What Drew has done this past week, I expect him to play quite a bit. But I think we could be having the same conversation about Neff next week,” Yoder said. “That’s just the kind of situation we have.”

Both Yoder and Hornets offensive coordinator Stan Hodgin have been high on Neff’s arm strength, and Hodgin praised Neff’s ball placement during fall camp. Neff’s one drawback, however, is his youth. He’s played in just two games, and it may take him a little while to adjust to the change in game speed.

Ferguson, on the other hand, has experience as a college quarterback, and the I-spread offense that Shenandoah runs is very similar to the offenses that Ferguson ran at both Atlee High School and the University of Mount Union. Ferguson also brings some added mobility to the quarterback position (he ran for 49 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries against Ferrum).

If Yoder is considering backing away from the two-quarterback system, he is doing a good job of hiding it. But don’t be surprised if a true No. 1 begins to emerge soon, especially if Ferguson plays well again tonight.

Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or bfauber@nvdaily.com