Hornets hoping to solve O-line issues during bye

WINCHESTER – The rushing totals from Shenandoah University’s last two football games may be a bit unsettling for the Hornets, but head coach Scott Yoder said Wednesday that the coaching staff is far from hitting the panic button.

Last Saturday’s 31-13 loss at home to North Carolina Wesleyan marked the second consecutive game that SU has failed to establish a consistent ground game, as the Hornets finished with minus-16 yards rushing on 19 attempts. Shenandoah mustered just 14 yards on 28 rushing attempts in a 53-33 win over Ferrum two weeks ago, and over the last two weeks have allowed 10 sacks.

The pieces are certainly there for the Hornets – senior running back Cedrick Delaney is coming off back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons – but sophomore center Caleb Hutson said missed assignments have been plaguing SU’s young offensive line in recent weeks.

“I know a lot of what’s been happening is that people have been either running the wrong play, jumping offsides or just not getting on their blocks,” said Hutson, the lone returning starter along the O-line.

“It’s pretty much just missed assignments right now. And when we mess up it’s kind of like it’s getting into our heads and affecting the rest of the drive. It’s kind of more of a mental thing right now.”

Inconsistencies up front are something the Hornets haven’t had to cope with in the last couple of seasons. Last year SU ranked third in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference in rushing offense (177.9 yards per game), while the Hornets were second in the league in that area in 2014 (248 yards per game). This season the Hornets are averaging just 81.3 yards rushing through their first three games – only Hampden-Sydney (61 yards/game) has posted a worse mark.

Hutson denied that the offensive line is feeling the effects of its inexperience and instead placed the blame on the unit’s failure to fully comprehend the play that’s called. (Hutson and sophomore quarterback Hayden Bauserman both said there were several plays in last Saturday’s loss during which the Hornets lined up incorrectly on offense).

Yoder attributes the Hornets’ struggles up front to a “bunch” of factors, including game scenarios. Against Ferrum, SU turned to its quick passing game to counteract the talent of the Panthers’ defensive tackles, and last week the Hornets – playing without starting right guard Jonathan Grammo (concussion) found themselves trailing early and were down 28-0 by the third quarter.

“I think had the game unfolded differently you would’ve seen a more potent, established running game,” Yoder said of last week’s loss. “The stats are horrible because we’re taking negative plays and we’re getting sacked, and that hurts the rush yards. We haven’t hit the big plays besides Game 1 (against Gallaudet) out of the rush game that we’ve become accustomed to. But we’re gonna stay with it. We’re probably gonna simplify some things up front just to, you know, instead of having eight to 10 options, maybe have four to five.”

SU’s rushing totals have taken a major hit by the amount of pressure that opposing teams have been able to put on Bauserman, who has taken 11 sacks in the first three weeks, tied for the most in the ODAC. But Delaney (26 carries, 156 yards) and fellow running back Jalen Hudson (30 carries, 123 yards) have also combined to average just 2.6 yards per carry over the last two games.

“Running for negative yards should never happen, and giving up 10 sacks the last two games shouldn’t happen,” Hutson said.

“That’s definitely on us. We need to protect Hayden. We need to give the running backs some place to run. It’s totally on us.”

Delaney, who also leads SU with 18 receptions for 174 yards and two touchdowns, said the first three weeks have been a learning experience as the running backs and the offensive line continue to become accustomed to the new faces up front.

SU, which has a bye this weekend, is preparing to open ODAC play next Thursday night at home against Randolph-Macon, the conference leader in rush defense (72.7 yards allowed).

“I’m still confident,” Delaney said. “We’ve just gotta work on some things with the O-line and the running backs, get everybody on the same page in the game. I feel like we’ll be fine when we start conference play.”

INJURY REPORT: Yoder said junior Leonard Scott, the Hornets’ leading receiver last season, will need to undergo surgery to clean up cartilage damage in his knee that occurred as the result of an injury he suffered two weeks ago against Ferrum.

Scott, who had shown progress in recovering from the injury last week, underwent an MRI on Sunday, Yoder said, and the coaching staff received the results Tuesday. The head coach added that he hopes Scott will have the surgery done within the next week to 10 days.

“He’s not ruled out for the whole season but I guess you’re never really certain when you go under,” Yoder said.

Yoder added that Bauserman has had no ill-effects from a mild knee injury the quarterback suffered last week (he returned on the following play after a timeout), although free safety Josh White (groin) and outside linebacker Malik Sims (bruised ribs) have been held out of practice this week for precautionary reasons.

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