Hornets lacking ‘killer instinct’ in recent slide

Hayden Bauserman

WINCHESTER – Shenandoah University’s football team nearly pulled off a comeback at Hampden-Sydney last Saturday, the Hornets’ fate ultimately decided by some costly turnovers and the inability to slow down the Tigers’ running game in a 38-33 loss that all but erased SU’s already slim shot at an Old Dominion Athletic Conference championship.

The defeat marked the second straight week Shenandoah freshman quarterback Hayden Bauserman has thrown three interceptions, and the Hornets have turned the ball over 13 times in four games since beginning ODAC play. SU is 1-3 in the conference and ranks sixth in the eight-team league in turnover margin (minus-2).

“It’s hard to beat good teams when you lose the turnover battle, so we understand that,” said Hornets head coach Scott Yoder, who doubles as SU’s defensive coordinator. “I also know that the offense is throwing the football down the field and making big plays. We don’t come back and be able to do what we do (against Hampden-Sydney) if they aren’t doing that. So you’ve gotta balance the two. It is frustrating and I know that the players are frustrated, but we’ve gotta find a way to play a more complete game all across the board. I mean, defensively we got some key stops but we didn’t really even come close to slowing down (Hampden-Sydney running back Kyree Koonce). I mean he just tore us apart. So you’ve gotta look in the mirror too.”

Yoder said Shenandoah’s struggles in ODAC play have been a result of the Hornets’ lack of a “killer instinct,” and he pointed to multiple scenarios in last weekend’s loss where the Hornets failed to execute on potentially game-changing plays.

Leading 7-0 in the first quarter, Shenandoah squandered great field position following Bayvon Young’s interception at the Hampden-Sydney 32 when Bauserman’s third-down pass was picked off. Yoder said he also felt the Hornets were in “fantastic” position trailing by 8 points at halftime, only to have the offense sputter to a three-and-out deep in SU territory after receiving the second-half kickoff.

Jake Payne

Yoder also pointed out that SU’s defense failed to contain Hampden-Sydney on a pair of key third downs in the first half, which the Tigers turned into “big plays.”

“It’s across the board. We just have to have a killer instinct,” Yoder said. “Good teams know, you give them an inch, they take it and they win the game because of stuff like that and that’s what we need to have.”

Bauserman continues to ride a series of seesaw performances in ODAC play. While he’s thrown for 1,606 yards and 16 touchdowns in his first collegiate season and set a school record for passing yards in a game three weeks ago (460), he’s also thrown 12 interceptions, including 10 in the last four games. He’s thrown three interceptions in a game three times in that span.

All three of Bauserman’s picks last Saturday came on Hampden-Sydney’s side of the field, including one that was snagged at the Tigers’ 15-yard line with 49 seconds to play that felled SU’s comeback bid.

Bauserman said his final interception – which came on a first-down play – was an example of him needing to throw the football away instead of trying to force a throw, a concept the Central High School grad has been working on over the last several weeks.

“I think the biggest thing for me this week is if nothing’s there just throw it away,” Bauserman said. “And I kind of did that against Hampden-Sydney more than I have all year. I ran the ball twice when nothing was open, so I think just moving forward what I need to get better at is going through my progression and my reads and if nothing’s there just throw the ball away, don’t try to force something if it’s not there.”

Bauserman said opposing defenses haven’t been venturing far from their tendencies to force him into some errant throws. The interceptions, he said, are more a product of him still getting used to the speed of the college level.

“You watch those defenses on film, they’re doing the same thing they’ve been doing against every team,” Bauserman said. “It’s just getting in the game and everybody’s flying around and stuff, just trying to force something that’s not there in a small window and trying to make a throw that is impossible to make.”

LEADING THE CHARGE: Several weeks ago, Hornets senior defensive end Jake Payne said he needed to do a better job getting pressure on the opposing quarterback. He’s answered his own call.

In the last three games, Payne has five sacks – including a three-sack performance against Catholic University of America two weeks ago – and leads the ODAC in total sacks (6) and tackles for loss (12).

“I need to get that out of my head that even though there’s two guys blocking me, I still need to be able to get there,” said Payne, a 2014 first team all-ODAC selection. “And (defensive line coach Kalvin Oliver) has done a really good job of just pushing me and (saying) ‘hey, you’ve got three games left of your college career, possibly three games left of football for you.’ So he’s done a really good job just kind of motivating me.”

Payne, who has already matched his sack total from last season and has set a new career high in tackles for loss, is 3.5 sacks shy of tying the school’s career sacks record (19.5) held by Jesse Levenson and Blake Campbell.

TRICK OR TREAT: Yoder said prior to last weekend’s game that he’d like to see backup quarterback Travis Barton used more in game situations, potentially even as a slot receiver to put two quarterbacks on the field at the same time. SU’s offense quickly embraced that concept, and to great success, with a bit of trickery against Hampden-Sydney.

Facing fourth-and-goal at the 2-yard line and trailing 38-20 early in the fourth quarter, SU offensive coordinator Stan Hodgin called a formation that included Bauserman in the shotgun and Barton in the slot. Running back Cedrick Delaney took a direct snap before giving the ball off to Barton in the backfield on a jet sweep. Meanwhile, Bauserman slipped unguarded into the flat before Barton found him for a wide-open touchdown pass.

Yoder said the play and end result was “awesome.”

“It was a great call by the offense and you give it to a playmaker and give him the option to run it or throw it, something good’s gonna happen,” Yoder said. “They made the plays, so it was great to see.”

Barton also hauled in one of Bauserman’s three touchdown passes in the loss, and the duo became the first players in SU history to throw and catch a touchdown pass in the same game.

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com