SU football notebook: Hornets’ offense still needs improvement

WINCHESTER – Shenandoah University’s football game last Saturday night against Ferrum showed just how frustrating the Hornets’ offense can potentially be for opposing defenses this fall.

Ferrum’s strong defensive front – anchored by defensive tackles Montel Lee and Alveno Matthews – held SU’s running game in check for most of the night. The Hornets, simply taking what was available against the Panthers’ defense, still finished with 53 points – one shy of tying the school record – and nearly 400 yards of offense in a 53-33 victory.

Essentially shelving the rushing attack in favor of quick-hitting passes, the Hornets and sophomore quarterback Hayden Bauserman repeatedly took advantage of soft coverage with short throws – a scheme that allowed SU to get the ball to its athletes in space, an aspect that drew praise from offensive coordinator Stan Hodgin on Wednesday afternoon.

Bauserman ended up completing 31 of 48 passes for 374 yards – second only to his school-record 450-yard performance at Guilford last season – and four touchdowns while spreading the football around to nine different receivers.

“Our offense is definitely pretty flexible,” said Bauserman, who has thrown eight touchdown passes to six different players in SU’s first two games. “We can run the ball pretty well. Obviously our o-line’s pretty good. They’re still young, they’re still learning but they’re pretty good all-around. And obviously we have a lot of playmakers on the outside and I think we’ve proven that time and time again. I think our offense is definitely built around taking what the defense gives us and using that to our advantage.”

SU’s offensive output, though nearly record-breaking, still had its flaws, one being the Hornets’ inability to establish a consistent rushing attack. Though Shenandoah had three rushing touchdowns in the win, tailbacks Cedrick Delaney and Jalen Hudson combined for only 60 yards on 22 carries (2.7 yards per rush), and sack yardage dropped the Hornets’ rushing total to just 14 yards at game’s end.

“We were not as productive running the football as we would’ve liked to be, so that’s kind of gotten an emphasis this week,” Hodgin said. “What can we do to balance our success throwing and have equal success running it? When we can accomplish that we’ll be even more difficult to defend.”

The Hornets’ inexperienced offensive line – which has broken in four new starters this season – also allowed five sacks against Ferrum.

“The pressures that we had on the quarterback Saturday night, it was completely a recurring thing,” Hodgin said. “It was not put bubble gum in this hole and now we’ve sprung a leak over here. It wasn’t that at all. So it’s something that we’ve certainly paid a lot of attention to in film study. We implemented some things in practice yesterday (that) we’ll continue throughout the week. Certainly Saturday (against North Carolina Wesleyan) we’ll have somewhat of an equal challenge up front and we’ll be able to measure whether we’re actually making positive strides in that area.”

EXTRA-SPECIAL TEAMS: While SU’s offense was racking up points, it was the Hornets’ special teams units that made some of the largest impacts against Ferrum.

SU successfully executed an onside kick in the first quarter, had a pooch kick on another kickoff result in a Ferrum fumble and used several big returns to set up short fields for the Hornets’ offense.

Arguably the defining moment of the game, Shenandoah followed its first touchdown of the night with the onside kick as Derek Davis fell on his own kick, setting up a 14-0 lead for SU before Ferrum’s offense ever saw the field. Hornets head coach Scott Yoder said the play was suggested by assistant coaches Kalvin Oliver and Brock McCullough last week after the two noticed the Panthers’ front line of the kick return team played deep and bailed as the ball was kicked off.

Junior safety Josh White said the play “won the game” for SU.

“I think that took the heart out of Ferrum,” said White, who averaged 22.5 yards on two punt returns in the win. “That onside kick really did it for us.”

Yoder said film study on Sunday revealed that SU’s averaged starting field position following a kickoff return (25.9 yard average) or punt return last Saturday was the Hornets’ own 46-yard line.

SLOWING DOWN AN ALL-AMERICAN: SU’s defensive secondary is prepping for a big challenge on Saturday afternoon against N.C. Wesleyan, as the Hornets will need to find some way to slow down Bishops senior wide receiver Malik Adams.

Adams, a D3Football.com preseason All-American and the 2015 USA South Offensive Player of the Year, had 72 catches for 1,309 yards last season while leading the nation with 19 touchdown receptions. The 5-foot-9, 175-pound senior has 18 catches for 245 yards and three touchdowns in two games this season, including 11 receptions for 113 yards and a TD against top-ranked Mount Union last week.

“The communication has to be on key,” White said. “Everything has to be mentally there for us. Physically we’ll be fine. Last year we played them and I mean he put up 100-plus yards but he didn’t score on us. I think that was the only game he didn’t score versus an opponent last year. … We’ve just gotta be mentally sound. We know that he’s a great athlete. To me he’s the best receiver we’ll play all year.

“It’s gonna be a collective effort,” White added. “We’ve got some things set up for him but it’s just gonna be a collective effort all around. If he goes to the slot, if he goes to the backfield, if he spreads out wide, we’ve got something for him.”

In last year’s meeting between SU and N.C. Wesleyan (a 30-17 Hornets road win), Adams had six catches for 104 yards but failed to find the end zone. Yoder said the Hornets did a good job of limiting Adams’ touches (he also returns punts and kickoffs) while making sure they had multiple tacklers swarming to the ball when it reached the speedy wideout.

“He had a nice day against us but I would do anything in the world to have that type of day again,” Yoder said.

“We haven’t changed our plan,” he added, “we’re just trying to roll our coverages where he’s gonna have at least two guys at least in his vision at all times. And I know everybody’s done that and I know it hasn’t worked for everybody but it’s what we need to be able to do to give us the best chance.”

INJURY REPORT: SU receiver Leonard Scott suffered a knee injury early in last Saturday’s win over Ferrum and Yoder said there is an “85-percent” chance the junior does not play this weekend.

Scott, who informed Yoder that he hyperextended his left knee, has not undergone an MRI due to what Yoder called “significant” improvement since the injury occurred, but the junior is not yet ready to return to practice.

Scott, the team’s leading receiver a year ago, has caught six passes for a team-high 143 yards and two touchdowns in two games this fall.

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