SU football notebook: Hornets winning turnover battle this season

WINCHESTER – Shenandoah University’s football team has not finished a season with a positive turnover margin since joining the Old Dominion Athletic Conference in 2012, and the Hornets’ coaching staff did plenty of analysis in the offseason to determine ways to improve in that aspect in 2016.

It was decided that the Hornets’ issue in recent years wasn’t due to a lack of creating turnovers (SU had 20 takeaways in 2015, tied for the second-highest mark in the conference), but rather their inability to protect the football on offense. Eliminating the giveaways, head coach Scott Yoder said Wednesday, and flipping the Hornets’ negative turnover margin into positive territory would yield more victories.

Now past the midway point of the season SU is plus-five in turnover margin, and the Hornets are 4-2 and have won back-to-back ODAC games for the first time since 2014.

“This has gotta be the first time in late October that we’re on the plus side and that feels good, and as coaches we like to think that’s because we’ve emphasized that for almost nine months,” said Yoder, whose squads have finished minus-two (2015), minus-two (2014) and minus-six (2013) in turnover margin in his first three seasons. “It’s a huge factor in the fact that we’re 4-2.”

The Hornets have not completely eliminated turnovers in 2016 – SU has committed at least one in each of its six games this season – but they are protecting the football with greater efficiency.

SU’s three fumbles lost are the fewest in the ODAC this season, and sophomore quarterback Hayden Bauserman has been more secure with the football with a full season of college experience behind him. He has thrown six interceptions in his first six games this year after throwing nine picks at this same point a year ago as a freshman.

Bauserman didn’t throw a pick last week against Bridgewater.

“The game’s slowed down for me a lot,” said Bauserman, who leads the ODAC with 1,490 passing yards and 16 touchdowns this fall. “Even from the beginning of the season to now it’s definitely slowing down even more. But having that year under my belt where last year I would probably try to force some throws and throw into double coverage or things like that, I think this year I’m either running the ball or throwing the ball away and obviously getting to my check-downs.”

Shenandoah’s defense has continued to take the football away from opposing teams as well. The Hornets have forced 14 turnovers – the second highest total in the ODAC – including six interceptions and eight fumble recoveries.

SU forced five turnovers (three interceptions, two fumbles) in a win over Bridgewater last week, including two key takeaways in the red zone that halted a pair of potential scoring drives for the Eagles.

Hornets senior defensive tackle Jake Shaffer said the Hornets have been emphasizing takeaways more as the season has progressed.

“We started this season not doing a whole lot of that kind of work and now we’ve implemented a tackle circuit. We’ll have one station stripping, one stripping, tips and picks, and just things like that. It’s just one station during practice for about 15 minutes,” said Shaffer, who has a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and an interception this season.

Yoder said he expects the turnover battle to play a “huge” factor in Saturday’s homecoming game against Guilford. The Quakers lead the ODAC in takeaways (15) and turnover margin (plus-seven).

“It’s slightly more important for us offensively to take care of the ball than for us to take it away on defense because they’re a big-play defense,” Yoder said. “They get after you. They make negative plays. They get in your face and they challenge you, and if you’re loose with the football or you take a negative play and it snowballs and you turn the ball over, you play into their hands.”

Running down records:  Senior running back Cedrick Delaney broke out for 174 yards rushing against Bridgewater last week – his school-record 16th 100-yard game – and is now just 152 yards shy of breaking Shenandoah’s all-time career rushing mark.

Delaney, who has had back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons, has 2,813 career rushing yards. Anthony Frates holds the school record after rushing for 2,964 yards from 2002-05. (Frates needed 725 carries to set that total; Delaney has 468 career carries.)

“It’s a great accomplishment to be that close to being able to break it this year,” Delaney said. “This is a great feeling that I’m about to beat that. I wanna beat it but it’s not gonna mean as much if we don’t win the ODAC, so that’s my main focus. I know I’m gonna beat it but winning the ODAC is more important than beating that record.”

Breaking the record this weekend could prove to be a challenge. Guilford ranks second in the ODAC in rush defense (150.8 yards allowed per game), while SU was averaging just 70 yards on the ground prior to breakout performances over the last two weeks.

Delaney is averaging 155.5 yards rushing over the last two games.

“It would be awesome getting it at homecoming. I want to at least get it at a home game in front of the fans. But regardless if I get it this week or next week, all that matters is if we win. That’s the main focus,” Delaney said. “I just wanna be able to have the ring at the end of the year and have that record.”

Delaney, who already holds the school record for all-purpose yards (4,329), found out Wednesday that also he ranks second all-time on the school’s career receptions list (97). Delaney said he was surprised to hear he ranks that high on that list. Bauserman was not.

“It doesn’t surprise me because he’s probably one of the best football players I’ve ever been around and one of the best athletes, for sure, I’ve ever been around,” Bauserman said. “Just how many different positions he can play and the things that he can do, it doesn’t surprise me.”

Bauserman, who already holds numerous passing records at SU, is chasing another career record of his own. He needs 348 yards to pass Daniel Wright (4,014 yards) for first place on the all-time career passing yards list.

Injury report: Yoder said receiver Leonard Scott (knee) is set to return to action for the first time since Week 2 barring any setbacks in practice this week. Scott, who had surgery to clean up cartilage damage in his knee, has been practicing full speed this week and has tested out “almost as high as you can test out” with SU’s training staff, Yoder said.

Yoder added that receiver Jalen Brisco, a Sherando High grad, will likely miss the remainder of the season with torn ligaments in his thumb. Senior inside linebacker Cody Miller could be in a similar situation after suffering a dislocated elbow during last week’s win.

“Last I heard he went to the hospital There is no fracture but they’re still waiting on an MRI to see … if there was ligament damage,” Yoder said of Miller, a Strasburg High graduate whose 42 tackles this season is third on SU’s defense. “I don’t think it’s gonna be good. I don’t know what that means. I’m not planning on having him back. I mean I’d love to keep my fingers crossed and I hope he can play again, but we have to make plans to not have him just because of the severity of the injury.”

Yoder said freshman Steve Gebhardt, who returned an interception for a touchdown against Bridgewater, will start in Miller’s place and will lead a rotation at inside linebacker that will include sophomore Marty Stevenson and freshmen Bernie Hayes III and Tyler Williams.

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