By Brad Fauber
WINCHESTER -- Shenandoah University head football coach Scott Yoder made it clear from the start of fall practice in August that the best 11 players on both sides of the ball would see the field, regardless of age or experience.
With just two games left in the regular season, Yoder has stood by that statement. The Hornets' starting lineup has been dominated by underclassmen each and every game this season.
Shenandoah has not one senior listed on its two-deep roster on offense, and the defensive side of the ball has just a handful of seniors listed, including four regular starters.
It's a situation that perhaps bodes well for the future of the Hornets program, but it's also been a major reason for Shenandoah's lack of consistency so far this season.
"I don't have a problem playing young guys ... but I think you look at it, it's November and our freshmen and sophomores are going up against seniors and juniors in a really good league," Yoder said during Wednesday's weekly media session. "It's not an excuse, it's just the facts. We've got to find a way to get those young kids to be more consistent and have a sense of urgency, and we'll continue to coach them that way."
Saturday's disappointing showing in a 42-7 loss to Randolph-Macon was just the latest example of the negative effects of the Hornets' youth reappearing following an SU victory. After each of Shenandoah's three wins this season, the Hornets have suffered blowout defeats, losing by a combined score of 132-42 in games following a win.
Yoder and several Hornets players have attributed much of that to a poor mental approach, which is something that continues to plague the Hornets and seems to be a direct byproduct of Shenandoah's youth.
"We just need to be more mature about winning," Hornets senior linebacker Byron Mitchell reiterated on Wednesday. "What we have to realize is that after a win we have to move on to the next week. I don't think we understand that yet."
And it isn't just that the Hornets are young. With the arrival of Yoder as the new head coach this season, Shenandoah was introduced to new schemes on both offense and defense, forcing even the most experienced players to cut their teeth in a new system.
The results for the Hornets have not been pretty. The defense currently ranks last in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference in every major statistical category, including scoring defense (35.5 points per game) and total defense (460.4 yards allowed per game).
The offense is in the same situation, dwelling at the bottom of the ODAC in both scoring offense (22.1 points per game) and total offense (342.8 yards per game), among other categories.
"It's our first year together in our new offense. I guess the more we go through it, the better we get," Hornets sophomore wide receiver Brandon Adams said. "I think that we've just got to get over that hump. We're just having a tough time."
MIRROR IMAGES: As Shenandoah prepares for this weekend's game against Emory and Henry, Yoder can't help but see his own Hornets' offensive squad in the game film that he has seen on the Wasps.
That's not surprising given the fact that current Shenandoah offensive coordinator Stan Hodgin spent the previous two seasons in that same capacity at Emory and Henry, where the Wasps still run a system similar to Hodgin's I-spread scheme that he brought with him to SU.
"They are mirror images," Mitchell said asked about the similarity between the two offenses.
As a result, Shenandoah's defense has been able to take repeated reps against the Hornets' first-team offense in practice, and SU should be as well prepared for Emory and Henry as it's been for any team all season.
"We had probably our best practice of the year [Tuesday] because we were able to go good on good," Yoder said. "... We can do more good on good this week because our offense can actually give us a better look than our [scout] team because they run so many similar things."
HOME SWEET HOME: Shenandoah's final two games of the season will be on the Hornets' home field at Shentel Stadium, the first time all season that SU has had back-to-back home contests.
Yoder said he hopes that the stability of two straight home games will help the Hornets maintain some consistency, and he said that the coaching staff has "really tried to play that up."
"Just the fact that it's two home games, it's going to be even better," Mitchell said. "I really feel like that the team is going to see the importance of what we need to do now.
"It's going to be important for us to carry over that sense of urgency into Saturday."
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @BradFauberNVD