By Brad Fauber
WINCHESTER -- Following Shenandoah University's 37-7 drubbing at the hands of Catholic last Saturday, Hornets head football coach Scott Yoder mentioned the importance of coaching staff's ability to maintain a firm grasp on the team's psychological situation.
The Hornets have suffered two straight blowout losses in Old Dominion Athletic Conference play, and with last season's struggles still a threat to weigh on the minds of many of Shenandoah's players, Yoder has placed a major emphasis on trying to avoid that "here we go again" mentality.
"I really think the biggest hurdle our program has right now is the mental state of our players. Not just because of the last two weeks, but you look at the last two years. We've won three games," Yoder said on Wednesday. "I'm just trying to put myself in the players' shoes. They haven't had a ton of success in the past. So we're fighting a lot more of the mental game than the physical game right now, and we've got to overcome that to take the next step in our program. I know we will, but everybody wants it sooner rather than later."
Yoder isn't the only one concerned with the Hornets' possible vulnerability to their recent struggles.
Shenandoah senior linebacker Sean Blackman and several other players are taking active roles to prevent a collapse similar to last season, which saw the Hornets lose nine straight games en route to a disappointing 1-9 campaign.
Hornets sophomore running back Andrew Smith said last season's struggles led to many Shenandoah players "going at each other," and Blackman said it's important for the Hornets to avoid another divided locker room situation this season.
"That's exactly what we don't want to do. We're in the middle of adversity and the main thing is to stay focused and stick together, and stay as a family like we've been doing," Blackman said. "That right there is the one main thing that can help turn this season around for us."
Smith said that Yoder has done a good job of emphasizing the importance of staying focused in practice this week. Blackman agreed, adding that Yoder has maintained the same demeanor that he has had since Week 1, which has helped Shenandoah remain upbeat.
Yoder said the challenge for the coaching staff this week has been finding the right balance between having fun on the practice field and readily preparing the Hornets for this weekend's game against Hampden-Sydney. Yoder said the staff "tried to do some competition this week to get the guys excited."
"They have to understand what they're accountable for, but we want the kids to have fun and fly around. They're going to play their best that way," Yoder said.
LOOKING FOR LEADERS: Shenandoah's offense continued to struggle against Catholic last weekend, managing just 199 total yards in the blowout loss.
The Hornets play a lot of young guys on offense -- nearly every regular skill position player is either a freshman or sophomore -- and Yoder said some of those young players need to step up and begin to take charge.
"We need those guys to take some leadership and some ownership ... a guy to step up and say, 'Listen, we're going to find a way to get this done,'" Yoder said. "I'd like to see some guys step up and make some plays and lead us to back to where we can play."
The Hornets have been hampered by an inconsistent running game this season, and Yoder said there is "no doubt" that Shenandoah's lack of depth along the offensive line -- an issue that concerned Yoder since early in fall camp -- has played a direct role in those struggles.
Shenandoah (2-4, 1-2 ODAC) ranks seventh in the eight-team conference in rushing yards per game (127.3) and scoring offense (22.3 points per game). The Hornets are also dead last in the ODAC in total offense, averaging just 343.2 yards per game.
"We can see people are getting frustrated, because when you work so hard ... we probably work as hard as any ODAC team, but we don't see it come together," Smith said. "It's just frustrating. But we're just trying to keep our minds straight."
STILL MIXING AND MATCHING: Yoder continues to make tweaks to his 4-4 defense, and the Hornets' latest move this week will involve senior Buddy Findley playing a mix of middle linebacker and safety in order to compensate for Hampden-Sydney's pass-happy offense.
The 5-foot-11, 195-pound Findley, who has seen limited time in the secondary this season in a backup role, will play either middle linebacker or serve as a second safety depending on the Hampden-Sydney's offensive alignment.
"He's really the best kid suited for that on our team," Yoder said. "I know he'll do a good job. He's excited about his role this week and hopefully it gives us some options against their multiple sets."
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @BradFauberNVD