Hornets looking to extend winning streak on the road at Guilford

Shenandoah University wide receiver Casey Stewart fights for yardage during a game against Bridgewater last weekend in Winchester. The Hornets travel to Greensboro, North Carolina, for an ODAC game against Guilford on Saturday afternoon. Photo courtesy of Shenandoah University

WINCHESTER – Shenandoah University’s football team enjoyed the friendly confines of Shentel Stadium over the last two weeks, picking up a pair of victories to improve to 5-1 overall and remain perfect in Old Dominion Athletic Conference play. The Hornets, who spent most of the first month of the season making weekly treks to opposing venues, are back on the road this weekend.

SU travels to Greensboro, North Carolina, to take on Guilford in a 1 p.m.  kickoff today at Armfield Athletic Center and aiming to remain unbeaten in the ODAC.

Shenandoah (5-1, 3-0 ODAC) and Guilford (2-4, 0-2) enter the afternoon matchup on different trajectories. The Hornets are off to their best start in program history after a three-game winning streak, while the Quakers have lost four straight after starting the season with a pair of wins.

However, two of Guilford’s losses have come to NCAA Division I-FCS foes in Davidson and Jacksonville, however, and the Quakers have since dropped games to Hampden-Sydney and Washington and Lee, two teams that have regularly contended atop the ODAC.

“Certainly the concern as a coach is a letdown, or maybe we go through the motions or something,” Hornets head coach Scott Yoder said Wednesday, “but we’ve got a mature group of guys and the message has been consistent and they’ve been hearing it for the most part.

“I like the fact that we’re on the road. Let’s get out of Winchester, let’s get away from people telling you how good you are and let’s go on the road, on a business trip in a hostile environment, and play good football. And if we do that I think things will take care of themselves.”

Guilford brings the ODAC’s top-ranked pass defense into the matchup against Shenandoah’s pass-heavy offense, although Yoder said the Quakers’ 185.5 yards passing allowed per game should be “taken with a grain of salt.” Jacksonville runs a triple-option offense, Yoder said, and Washington and Lee is very run-oriented and attempted just five passes in last week’s 47-26 win over Guilford.

Still, Yoder said the Quakers present one of the few defensive backfields that can match up athletically with SU’s offense on the perimeter.

“They can cover, they can run – and that’s the thing, if they make a mistake, all 11 guys can run really well and they just cover by making a tackle. If you get them out of position it’s usually not for long,” Yoder said.

“We’re not slow by any means either but I don’t think it’s gonna be a game where we think … we’re just gonna own the outside because we just have better kids than they do. Not at all.”

Yoder added that Saturday’s game is one in which he “certainly hopes” Shenandoah’s depth and frequent rotation at receiver – where senior Mike Ashwell leads a long list of pass catchers with 57 receptions for 580 yards and six touchdowns – could help the Hornets wear down Guilford’s secondary.

Saturday’s game marks the second straight in which SU’s offense – which leads Division III in passing and ranks fourth in total offense – will match up against a team that leads the ODAC in passing defense.

Hornets junior quarterback Hayden Bauserman threw for 446 yards (280 more than Bridgewater was allowing, on average, entering the game) in last week’s win, though Yoder did say after the game that the Eagles had found a piece of the formula to slowing down SU’s prolific passing game.

Bauserman said Wednesday that Bridgewater’s defenders showed a lot of pre-snap movement in order to disguise pass coverage.

“I don’t know if (Guilford will) necessarily copy what Bridgewater did or not. We’ll have to go out and kind of see early on, but they are similar to a lot of other ODAC defenses in their scheme so they could definitely adopt the Bridgewater approach,” said Bauserman, who has thrown for 2,531 yards, 29 touchdowns and five interceptions this season. “But I just anticipate them coming out and doing what they’ve done all season and just kind of using their athleticism to help them.”

Offensively, Guilford returned many of its key weapons from a season ago, when the Quakers led the ODAC in total offense.

Senior quarterback Karsten Miller has completed just 49.6 percent of his passes, but he’s also thrown for 1,771 yards, 12 touchdowns and five interceptions and has the Quakers averaging 298.2 passing yards per game, the second-best mark in the league. Sophomore receiver Tyriek Russell (35 receptions, 585 yards, five touchdowns) remains Miller’s favorite target this fall, and senior running back De’Eric Bell leads the conference with 1,274 all-purpose yards.

However, Guilford ranks fifth in the ODAC in scoring (30 ppg) and total offense (429 ypg) and is last in the conference in sacks allowed, third-down conversion rate and red-zone scoring percentage (67 percent).

“I think their offensive line is not as far along as maybe it has been in the past,” Yoder said. “And I think that’s where some teams are getting some negative plays.”

Shenandoah leads the ODAC in takeaways (19), interceptions (12) and third-down defense, is second in sacks and third in scoring defense (27.7 ppg).

Junior defensive end/outside linebacker Chris Grady, who leads the ODAC with 5.5 sacks, said SU’s defense is eager to match up with a Guilford offense that is “sort of like us” after playing three straight games against teams with run-first identities.

“They’re very athletic but they’re not gonna be the team that’s gonna bring in extra tight ends and extra blockers,” Grady said. “They’re trying to get the ball out in space and get it to their athletes, so I think it’ll be a good matchup for us. It’s just gonna be a thing of everybody having to play in their gaps and do their jobs.”