SU football notebook: Emphasis on ball security has Bauserman thriving at QB

Hayden Bauserman

WINCHESTER – When Hayden Bauserman’s inaugural season as Shenandoah University’s starting quarterback came to a close last year, Hornets offensive coordinator Stan Hodgin sat all of his quarterbacks down to watch film of each interception that was thrown in 2015.

Bauserman, forced to relive each of his Old Dominion Athletic Conference-worst 15 interceptions, pointed out Wednesday that the experience “wasn’t very fun.” But it drove him to work as hard as ever in the offseason on ball security.

“I knew that we were gonna have a chance to win a lot of games if I took care of the ball, so it kind of rested on my shoulders,” Bauserman said, “so I felt like that was something that I needed to work on and I spent a lot of time on it.”

SU is eight games into the 2016 season and Bauserman has thrown just six interceptions. The Hornets as a team have turned the football over just 10 times, the fewest in the ODAC, and thanks to an opportunistic defense are dominating the conference with a plus-14 turnover margin.

It’s no coincidence that the Hornets are enjoying their best season since joining the ODAC in 2012, sitting at 6-2 overall and 4-1 in the conference while holding a share of the league lead with two regular season games remaining.

Bauserman has emerged as one of the ODAC’s most efficient passers during the Hornets’ four-game winning streak. He hasn’t thrown an interception in three straight games, and since being replaced by backup Caleb Dembeck for two series in a win over Emory & Henry on Oct. 8 Bauserman has attempted 112 passes without a pick.

Since throwing his last interception during the first half against E&H, the sophomore from nearby Woodstock has completed 62.5 percent of his passes for 815 yards and seven touchdowns.

“I think that if you talk about what’s going on right now is he’s taking care of the football – I don’t think that statement serves it justice though because we’re still being very aggressive,” Hornets head coach Scott Yoder said. “You look at how we’re playing, how we’re winning, we’re winning with aggressive calls, aggressive plays, aggressive style, but he’s taking care of the football within that.”

Part of Bauserman’s rise in efficiency has coincided with the rejuvenation of Shenandoah’s rushing attack. But even when the Hornets struggled to run the football at the Catholic University of America last weekend (SU mustered just 56 yards rushing), Bauserman completed 28 of 42 passes for 277 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

Yoder pointed to a specific play late in last Saturday’s victory to highlight Bauserman’s growth – facing a key third-down with SU holding a late lead, the QB saw a defensive look he didn’t like, rolled to his left and simply threw the ball away.

“Does he make that play last year? I don’t know,” Yoder said.

Bauserman, in addition to being more comfortable and confident in his role in his second year, has enjoyed a plethora of receiving targets to throw to. He has completed passes to at least six different players in six of SU’s eight games this year.

“It definitely plays a big role when I can go out there and kind of pick my best matchup,” Bauserman said. “I don’t necessarily have to lock on one guy and say that I’m gonna throw to this guy all the time. I can go out there and kind of pick my best matchup. I know that I have the utmost confidence in all of them. They’re all really talented guys and they’ve all made big plays for me.”

Bauserman, who completed passes to eight different receivers last weekend, became Shenandoah’s all-time leading passer against Catholic. He’s completing 61.5 percent of his passes for 1,985 yards and leads the ODAC with 19 touchdown passes.

Bauserman also ranks second in the conference in pass yards per game (248.1) and pass efficiency (137.0) among quarterbacks with at least 50 pass attempts.

“He knows it but we need some more out of him as far as just continuing this but he’s been locked in for like a month,” Yoder said. “It’s unbelievable.”

SECOND HALF SURGE: Shenandoah saw a 24-6 lead evaporate late in the first half against Catholic but, much as they have during their recent winning streak, the Hornets owned the second half.

SU opened the third quarter with 21 unanswered points to lock up the 45-34 victory, continuing a trend that has seen the Hornets outscore opponents 146-90 in the second half this season while forcing 14 turnovers.

Hornets senior strong safety and team captain Malik Sims likened SU’s second-half success to hitting the reset button in the locker room.

“My brother, (senior cornerback) Bayvon Young, he always says restart when we go into halftime. So basically we’re starting ourselves over again, ready to come back out with that killer-like mentality,” said Sims, who often takes charge of making passionate halftime speeches to his teammates when he feels the need arise. “Forget the first half, it’s over with. We’ve gotta put the nail in the coffin. So I mean our second half, the way we come out, it’s just more focused – still loud but it’s really more focused, more determined to get the game done.”

During SU’s four-game winning streak the Hornets have outscored opponents 81-34 over the final two quarters while recording 10 takeaways. In three of those four games Shenandoah has trailed at halftime.

“We do the first half and it’s just basically us getting used to the other team,” said sophomore defensive back Deaquan Porter, who snagged an interception in the third quarter last weekend for his team-best sixth takeaway of 2016. “We do practice stuff, we learn new stuff but it’s a whole different thing when it comes to a game. When it’s that second half we know we’re chasing a ring right now, we can’t afford no mess-ups. And then second half it’s just all us.”

In stark contrast to last season, during which Yoder said the third quarter was the team’s worst quarter, the Hornets have thrived in that frame this fall, out-scoring opponents 115-48 in the third while forcing 10 takeaways, seven of which have come over the last three games.

Yoder attributed part of that late-game success due to the rise in maturity the Hornets have experienced this season.

“My best guess is that it’s the fact that we’ve got good leadership and you’ve got a group that’s been together for a while and been through some tough situations,” Yoder said. “So not a lot is gonna freak them out. It’s just not gonna happen.”

INJURY REPORT: Yoder said he expects freshman inside linebacker Steve Gebhardt to return to game action for this Saturday’s noon game at home against Hampden-Sydney after missing the last two games due to a torn ligmament in his thumb.

Gebhardt has been cleared after having surgery early last week, Yoder said, and has been practicing with limited contact while wearing a cast on his hand. The head coach added that Gebhardt, who replaced Cody Miller after Miller was injured against Bridgewater three weeks ago, will not start Saturday but will play barring any setbacks this week.

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