Hornets ‘paring down’ offense to help solve O-line woes

WINCHESTER – Shenandoah University football coach Scott Yoder said last week that the Hornets were going to simplify things during the bye week to try to mitigate some of the recent struggles of the offensive line. On Wednesday he said that has included “paring down” some of the responsibilities of the guys up front.

Following back-to-back games that have yielded a total of minus-2 yards rushing and 10 sacks against SU starting quarterback Hayden Bauserman, Yoder said he’s been encouraged by what he’s seen during the bye from an offensive line that should benefit from the return of junior right guard Jonathan Grammo (who missed last week’s loss to North Carolina Wesleyan with a concussion) before the Hornets kick off Old Dominion Athletic Conference play with a Friday night home game against Randolph-Macon College. That game, originally scheduled for today, was pushed back a day due to weather.

“Yes, we’ve had some improvement on the O-line,” Yoder said. “Getting Grammo back’s a huge thing, and playing those guys together and kind of paring down the playbook. Instead of having nine schemes, maybe we go into the Macon game with three and just try to be as efficient as we can on those.”

Yoder said the Hornets, who had successfully leaned heavily on inside and outside zone schemes in their running game in his first three seasons, have tried to implement a higher volume of counter plays with freshman Malik Jordan at tight end this fall. Those schemes will now be scaled back, Yoder said.

“Zone’s a scheme, it’s not a man-blocking concept. When you start to run a gap scheme like a power or a counter, it’s completely different for the offensive line,” Yoder said. “So we’re just kind of paring those down and just being able, instead of having 10 things that we could go to, let’s have three or four a game and that way our guys are … getting more reps at less (rather) than maybe less reps at more opportunities. We’re hoping that pays off. Again I think the key is we’ve got some really special backs, let’s give them a chance to be special.”

Sack yardage has wreaked havoc on SU’s rushing totals – the Hornets gave up five sacks apiece to Ferrum and North Carolina Wesleyan in back-to-back weeks and 16 tackles for loss in that span – although running backs Cedrick Delaney and Jalen Hudson have also struggled to find running room. That duo has averaged just 2.6 yards per rush since combining for 202 rushing yards in SU’s opener against Gallaudet, and the Hornets’ 81.3 rushing yards per game ranks seventh in the ODAC.

Hornets sophomore center Caleb Hutson said last week that the offensive line was falling victim to mental mistakes – missed assignments and, most worrisome, players simply “running the wrong play.” He said Wednesday those miscues have been an unforeseen problem for a line that broke in four new starters this season.

“We were kind of surprised, especially because we thought we came in a lot better prepared than we already were,” Hutson said. “Coming in and having that happen was kind of surprising, but at the same time it was a wake-up call. We have to pay attention more during practice, focus on the little things, not take anything for granted. We’ve just got to focus a little bit more.”

Hutson said the offensive line has put in some extra work during the bye to prepare for Randolph-Macon, whose defense leads the ODAC in scoring (8.7 points per game) and rushing yards allowed (72.7 yards per game).

“We’ve been getting up there at practice a little bit earlier, staying a little after, just going through plays on there, just running through them, making sure we know what we’re doing,” Hutson said.

“We spent a lot of time, this past week especially, just focusing on the little things. So instead of going against the defense and like running through it 100 percent, going 50 percent with our own offense, just lining people up and getting on blocks.”

Yoder added that the Hornets emphasized third-down success in practice over the last week by pitting the first-team offense against the first-team defense in competitive third-down scenarios. SU converted just 1 of 12 third-down chances against N.C. Wesleyan two weeks ago while the Bishops were 11 of 18 in those opportunities.

INJURY UPDATE: Yoder said junior receiver Leonard Scott had surgery Monday to clean up some cartilage damage in his knee that occurred as the result of an injury suffered early in the win over Ferrum on Sept. 10, adding that “everything went well.”

“(Assistant athletic trainer Lacey Collins is) telling me possibly three to four weeks, and that’s if he’s lucky,” Yoder said of Scott’s return. “It might be a season thing. We just don’t know yet.”

Scott was the Hornets’ leading receiver a year ago, as he hauled in 34 receptions for 411 yards and six touchdowns.

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