By Brad Fauber
WINCHESTER -- Shenandoah University's football team is coming off its most lopsided loss of the year, a 34-6 thumping at the hands of Christopher Newport back on Sept. 21, and the Hornets have had an extra week to prepare for tonight's Old Dominion Athletic Conference opener against Bridgewater College.
Last week's bye week provided a great opportunity for head coach Scott Yoder and his staff to re-evaluate the team and make the necessary adjustments, and the Hornets' will most certainly benefit from having the extra time off to prepare for the unbeaten Eagles.
But there is one hitch -- Bridgewater is also coming off a bye week, and Yoder admits he is a little concerned about the idea of the Eagles having two weeks to prepare for Shenandoah.
"I think that the bye week is great. It also causes you some concern because you wonder what the other guys are doing ... they've had two weeks to prepare for us," Yoder said on Wednesday. "What's going to be their new wrinkle, new formation, new way that we did not see in the first three games? There's certainly some hesitation from me on that."
Yoder and the Hornets (1-2) will certainly have plenty to worry about when they square off with Bridgewater at 7 p.m. at Shentel Stadium, as the Eagles present quite a challenge on both sides of the football for the Hornets.
Bridgewater (3-0) enters tonight's ODAC contest averaging 48.7 points and 478.3 yards per game, and the Eagles have outscored opponents 146-41 so far this season. Shenandoah's defense is allowing 31.3 points per game through its first three contests.
"They do not have weaknesses. I don't see them and say 'hey, they have one standout player that you have to try to take away,'" Yoder said. "There's a lot of guys out there that you could look back after the game and say that kid beat us because he had a good game."
Bridgewater's offense, which is led by senior quarterback Willie Logan, has been almost perfectly balanced so far, averaging 225.3 yards rushing and 253 yards passing per game.
Logan has completed 65.7 percent (46-for-70) of his passes for 682 yards, five touchdowns and one interception, and the 6-foot-2, 200-pound senior has also rushed for 117 yards and three more scores.
The Eagles have a big playmaker in senior wide receiver Cassidy Burns (16 catches, 320 yards, three touchdowns) but Yoder said the primary focus of Shenandoah's defense will be to slow down Bridgewater's rushing attack.
Bridgewater has three players with over 100 yards rushing this season -- led by junior Jacob Wright (285 rushing yards, six touchdowns) -- and the Eagles have scored 11 rushing touchdowns already this season.
"We've got to find a way to slow down their run game, take some things away in the pass game, and if we do that I think we'll be fine," Yoder said. "We've focused on run defense, run fits, getting off blocks -- those things that seem so simple, but that's what good team defense is all about. We've put a lot of time into that these last two weeks."
Yoder said he has made some tweaks to his 4-4 defensive alignment in order to get his 11 best defenders on the field, as safety Byron Mitchell and cornerback Sean Blackman have been moved to the two outside linebacker positions. Multiple players will rotate to fill the vacant roles in the secondary formed by the realignment.
On offense, Shenandoah will look to find some consistency against an Eagles defense that is allowing just 13.7 points per game.
The Hornets have failed to top 60 yards rushing twice this season, and things won't get much easier against Bridgewater, as opponents are averaging just 97.7 yards rushing per game against the Eagles. Still, Shenandoah is confident that it can move the football on the ground against Bridgewater, and Hornets senior running back Andrew Smith said the Eagles' defensive numbers are somewhat misleading due to Bridgewater's weak schedule.
"Not to put anything on their defense, but they haven't really seen an offense like ours," said Smith, who has rushed for 316 yards and a touchdown this season. "I've been looking on film, they haven't really played anybody like us yet. I think we'll give them a good test."
Yoder said junior Drew Ferguson (254 pass yards, three touchdowns, two interceptions) will get the start at quarterback tonight for the second straight week, although Ferguson and freshman Justin Neff will continue to share the quarterback duties.
Shenandoah will be looking for just its third win in 16 games against Bridgewater, and the Hornets know that tonight's game can be a big step towards reversing their conference misfortunes from a year ago.
"We're going to have to play very well. Our guys will be ready to play," Yoder said. "It feels like we've been on the road for two months now, so to be back at home at Shentel [Stadium] will be great and we'll be excited."
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @BradFauberNVD