SU Football Notebook: Bauserman, Hornets’ offense off to a torrid start

Shenandoah University quarterback Hayden Bauserman attempts a pass against Gallaudet in the season opener on Sept. 2. The Hornets are averaging 50.5 points and 555.5 yards of offense through the first two weeks of the season. Photo courtesy of Shenandoah University

WINCHESTER – If you talked to anyone associated with Shenandoah University’s offensive unit in the preseason, they would’ve told you the Hornets’ have a veteran group loaded with weapons for junior quarterback Hayden Bauserman. In short, the expectations were high for an offense that led the Old Dominion Athletic Conference in scoring in 2016.

Through two games this season, Shenandoah has delivered on those expectations. After last Saturday’s 61-14 dismantling of North Carolina Wesleyan, the Hornets are averaging 50.5 points and 555.5 yards of offense and rank among the top 10 nationally in NCAA Division III in a handful of categories.

“I wouldn’t say we’re surprised because we saw little inklings of this at the end of the season last year,” junior left guard Andrew Coffman said. “Honestly, we did put up 61 against North Carolina Wesleyan but I feel like we didn’t even play as well as we could have. So that’s a scary thought. I think we’re just beginning to see what this unit can do.”

Entering this weekend’s road game at Hobart, Shenandoah ranks eighth in the country in total yards per game, seventh in passing yards (385.5 per game) and fourth in offensive touchdowns (13) and first downs (58). SU also ranks 11th in scoring and leads the country with 188 offensive plays run (the Hornets ran 99 against N.C. Wesleyan).

That success comes back to  veteran experience. The Hornets returned five offensive linemen who started at least half the season in 2016, as well as a deep group of receivers – led by senior Mike Ashwell (15 receptions, 175 yards, three touchdowns) – that has allowed Bauserman to complete at least four passes to eight different players through the first two weeks.

But the key, Coffman said, has been Shenandoah’s junior quarterback.

“With No. 8 in the backfield, we feel like we can do anything,” Coffman said.

Bauserman, who entered the season as SU’s all-time passing leader, has completed 59 of 101 passes (58.4 percent) for 728 yards, nine touchdowns and two interceptions. And he’s done so while sitting out most of the fourth quarter in each of the Hornets’ first two games.

The Central High School grad ranks third nationally in passing touchdowns, fourth in completions and fifth in both passing yards and pass attempts.

“I was expecting a big year for myself,” Bauserman, a first-team All-ODAC pick last season, said. “I set my goals pretty high this year. But I know that it’s only two games and it’s two out of conference games. We’re gonna have a great opponent this week and I know that adversity’s coming in whatever form it’s gonna be. Although I’m very confident I also know how this game works and how this conference works and things like that. I know that I have to stay humble and keep everybody else around me humble to keep moving forward.”

The presence of a consistent run game against N.C. Wesleyan further strengthened the Hornets’ offense. Running backs Cory Bell (24 carries, 114 yards, one touchdown) and Mario Wisdom (24 carries, 94 yards, two TDs) combined to help Shenandoah rush for 221 yards against the Battling Bishops, a team that held SU to minus-16 yards on the ground a season ago.

Hornets head coach Scott Yoder said N.C. Wesleyan opted to try to take away the passing game by switching to a three-man defensive front – Bauserman still finished with 334 yards passing and five touchdowns, a school record – and that SU had success running “right at them.”

TWICE AS NICE: A Shenandoah player has earned the ODAC’s Defensive Player of the Week award for the second straight week, as sophomore safety Nate Hill snagged the honor after recording two interceptions, a forced fumble and three pass breakups against N.C. Wesleyan.

The two interceptions were the first of Hill’s short collegiate career, but he said the forced fumble – which came on the Bishops’ second offensive play following a 32-yard run by Deandre Gillis – was the most emphatic.

“There was a big play and then right after that we got a forced fumble that really changed the game because it seemed like they came out and they were on,” Hill said. “They were ready, they came out and the big play, that changes the whole game. Me getting the forced fumble changed it all around, just brought it back, calmed everybody down.”

Hill’s performance was the highlight of a solid combined effort from Shenandoah’s re-tooled secondary, which faced its first true test against N.C. Wesleyan after facing Gallaudet’s triple-option offense in Week 1. The Hornets held Bishops quarterback Nate Gardner to 8 of 25 passing for 173 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions. (Yoder called freshman Daquan Pridget’s interception when he went up to take the ball away from the receiver, “as impressive an interception as you’re gonna see.”).

“As a whole what really stood out was communication,” Hill said of the secondary’s performance last Saturday. “We talked a lot that game, which also brought us together. When one of us messed up we would come back and we were like don’t worry about it, next play, next play. That’s like our motive.”

Shenandoah figures to face a more prolific passing attack this Saturday from Hobart, led by senior quarterback Shane Sweeney – who ranked fifth nationally in passing touchdowns (36) and seventh in passing yards (3,436) last season – and senior receiver Brandon Shed, a first team D3football.com All-American in 2016.

Yoder said Saturday’s game against N.C. Wesleyan was “huge, just for confidence” for the Hornets’ secondary.

“(Senior cornerback Weldon Gilchrist Jr. is) not seeing a lot of action right now because I think teams are gonna say ‘OK, he’s an all-league corner and we’re probably gonna test the other guy,’ and now we’re making them pay for it,” Yoder said. “Just another step, another building block for those guys, and they’ve got a similar but different-style test this week because now you’ve got a really good quarterback who can scramble and make plays when the play breaks down and one phenomenal wide receiver and then two big tight end targets.”

HOMECOMING: Saturday’s contest in Geneva, New York, is the homecoming game for Hobart College, a fitting title given that it marks Yoder’s return to his alma mater for the first time as an opposing coach.

Yoder graduated from Hobart in 2001 and served as an assistant coach under longtime head coach Mike Cragg for 12 seasons. Yoder was the defensive coordinator for the Statesmen for six seasons before taking over at Shenandoah in January 2013.

“I was ready to play Monday at six o’clock, and that’s a little different than normal weeks,” Yoder said of playing his former school.

“Personally it will be very surreal to be there and be in the visiting team locker room in that atmosphere, just because of my time there. But I think the most important thing is that this has nothing to do with me, this has to do with our team and our program going to play a really good team that’s (typically a top 25) team that’s used to going to playoffs and at this point easily the best team that we’ve played this year.”

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