SU football notebook: Hornets facing some uncertainty with familiar foe

WINCHESTER – Shenandoah University’s football team will kick off its 2016 season with an air of uncertainty surrounding a familiar opponent.

The Hornets travel to Gallaudet University on Saturday night for a 7 p.m. kickoff, marking the fourth straight year the two teams will meet in the season opener, and for the second consecutive year SU head coach Scott Yoder isn’t entirely certain what to expect from the Bison offense.

Under head coach Chuck Goldstein (now in his seventh season), Gallaudet has traditionally run the triple-option, although the Bison scrapped that scheme in favor of a more balanced attack in 2015, to dismal results – GU averaged just 8.6 points and 156.2 yards per game under first-year offensive coordinator Stephon Healey.

Healey has since shifted over to defensive coordinator, and Yoder said he believes Goldstein has resumed offensive play-calling responsibilities this season. Without the benefit of a film exchange, Yoder said he is “95 percent confident” that those personnel moves equate to a return to the flexbone triple-option for Gallaudet in 2016.

“I’ll be out there (during) pre-game warm-ups probably more interested than I will in other games,” Yoder said Wednesday. “But I think it makes sense for who they are and they’re two years removed from almost running the table and being a dynamic offense with that system. I know just the staffing, they’ve moved some guys around that it makes sense they go back to that. I’d rather be ready for that and adjust to something else than thinking spread or pro and getting option. So it’s really just an educated gut feeling but I think we’re gonna be ready.”

The situation is nothing new for the Hornets in dealing with Gallaudet. Despite hearing rumors suggesting the Bison’s move away from the triple-option last season, Yoder expected the option to remain a significant part of their offense only to see Gallaudet attempt 31 passes against the Hornets. SU responded well defensively, limiting the Bison to 220 yards (54 rushing) in a 51-6 blowout win.

Senior inside linebacker Micheal Wroble said the Hornets have gone “old school” this week in pulling out game film from two years ago in order to study Gallaudet’s anticipated flexbone formation. In 2014 Shenandoah limited Gallaudet’s triple-option offense to 114 yards.

“I guess if they throw something else out we’ll just adjust on the fly,” he said.

Yoder added that Shenandoah’s ability to prepare for multiple circumstances this week has been aided by the presence of veteran players who have had several years to become acclimated to SU’s system.

“I would say the only thing that makes me uncomfortable is the fact that our second (inside) linebacker situation is – it’s good but it’s not where we want it to be yet,” Yoder said. “That’s just because you’re playing a rushing attack and if you don’t get good production from that position, it could be a long night for us.”

SU’s state of uncertainty with Gallaudet has stretched to the other side of the ball this season, as well. Yoder anticipates the Bison could show a new 4-2-5 defensive base due to Healey’s previous ties to Old Dominion Athletic Conference rival Bridgewater, although he said Saturday’s season opener will be “as blind of a game as we’re going into because it’s a new defense, no film, last year doesn’t really help.”

A YEAR STRONGER: When discussing the state of the Hornets’ veteran-laden offense last week, the first name out of Yoder’s mouth was sophomore running back Jalen Hudson.

Hudson, who figures to be the primary backup to all-ODAC tailback Cedrick Delaney this fall, again drew praise on Wednesday from Yoder and a couple of his teammates for his obvious growth in confidence, speed and strength in his second collegiate season.

“Last year where maybe he would miss a read on the offensive line or things like that, this year if he misses it he’s missing it at 100 miles an hour,” sophomore quarterback Hayden Bauserman said. “Obviously he’s a very shifty back. He’s very athletic and I think he’s kind of using that more to his advantage this year than he was last year.”

Last season as a freshman, Hudson carried 39 times for 225 yards and two touchdowns. Yoder has suggested an increased role could be in store for the sophomore this season as SU plans to run more formations with Hudson and Delaney on the field at the same time, allowing Delaney to move around to different positions on the field.

“He’s a workaholic and that’s what we need on the offense, especially as a running back because that’s what they look at most of the time,” Delaney said of Hudson. “So he’s really doing good. He’s really gonna be a monster for the next three years at this school.”

INJURY REPORT: Shenandoah’s offense took a significant blow during a scrimmage against Gettysburg last Saturday when backup quarterback Travis Barton Jr. suffered a torn ligament in his thumb, Yoder said.

Yoder said the early prognosis is “not good,” saying that it could be at least six weeks before Barton is ready to return to action.

“We’ve had some pretty tough conversations with him, but honest conversations,” Yoder said. “He might be in the position if he so chooses to be a guy who tries to save this year because you know six weeks from today, there’s only three or four games left if you’re lucky, and that’s if things look good.”

Used as a changeup to Bauserman’s pocket-passing style last season, Barton played in all 10 games while completing 27 of 43 passes for 303 yards, four touchdowns and an interception. Yoder had talked of expanding Barton’s role to include some time as a slot receiver this season before the injury.

“The Travis injury hurts a lot more than you think because he’s your emergency quarterback, he’s on special teams, he’s your emergency punter and he’s playing slot receiver,” Yoder said. “Now all the sudden (junior quarterback Caleb Dembeck) is even more important, and keeping Hayden upright and off the ground is huge because before you felt OK, if Travis has to play quarterback in an emergency we can go out there and run an offense and we can make plays and we can win a game. And we don’t have that luxury now.”

On defense, Yoder said he is hoping the team will see the return of sophomore free safety Nate Hill, who has been easing his way back from a hamstring strain he suffered on the first day of preseason camp. Yoder said Hill practiced live on Tuesday and will play Saturday night barring any setbacks, although he added that junior Josh White will most likely start at safety in the opener.

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