WINCHESTER — The 2019 college football season has been one of Shenandoah University trying to find a new offensive identity. As the midway point of the season approaches, Hornets head coach Scott Yoder feels his team has developed one.
“I think our identity right now has morphed into we can be productive in multiple ways. I really do,” Yoder said on Wednesday. “I’m not saying that we take what the defense gives us because I don’t think anyone was expecting us to throw it the way we did on Saturday night. And from the run game aspect, I think we were disappointed in how we executed, although (Southern Virginia) did some things that hurt us. I think what we’ve come to realize is that where last year we kind of knew exactly what we were gonna be, this year it’s gonna be different week to week. Maybe the faces won’t change but how we get the job done might have to.”
Through four games, during which the Hornets have gone 3-1 and 2-1 in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference, Shenandoah’s offense has taken several different forms.
In the season opener against North Carolina Wesleyan, Shenandoah running backs Mario Wisdom and Rashadeen Byrd Jr. combined to score five touchdowns, including one receiving TD.
The Hornets struggled wildly to finish off drives in a loss to Bridgewater the following week, but rebounded by rushing for 272 yards — SU’s highest single-game rush total since 2015 — in a road win over Guilford on Sept. 28.
In Saturday’s win over Southern Virginia, the passing game took the spotlight as junior quarterback Ben Agostino torched the Knights for 509 yards and six touchdowns.
Shenandoah hasn’t always looked like the offensive juggernaut it was over the past couple of seasons, but the Hornets still enter this weekend’s game at Randolph-Macon second in the ODAC in total offense (467.2 yards per game) and with the conference lead in passing (317.8).
“Last year with (former QB Hayden Bauserman) it was more like pass, pass, pass, run a little bit,” junior receiver Brant Butler said. “But we’ve kind of established ourselves as both run and pass. And with Ben (Agostino) at quarterback, not only can he pass but he’s moving out the pocket, he’s doing read-option, running around. I feel like we’re more of a kind of balanced offense now.”
Saturday’s brilliant display of passing also figures to bring more consistency to Shenandoah’s quarterback situation, which up until the Southern Virginia game had been somewhat of a timeshare between Agostino and sophomore Ben Rhodenizer.
Agostino, who has completed 89 of 129 passes for 1,093 yards, nine touchdowns and an interception this season, didn’t lose any snaps to Rhodenizer last weekend and will make his fourth straight start on Saturday against Randolph-Macon.
“We saw some really good things from Agostino and I would say he’s got the keys to the vehicle,” Yoder said, before adding, with a smile, “but we’re monitoring where the vehicle’s going. Rhodey’s got to be ready.”
WINNING MARGIN: Shenandoah’s defense has rediscovered its own brand of football that includes putting pressure on the quarterback and forcing turnovers, and over the past two games the Hornets have seven sacks and five takeaways.
Pair that with good ball security from an offense that has turned it over just three times in four games, and Shenandoah’s got a winning formula that includes a plus-8 turnover margin, a number that leads the ODAC.
Last season, when Shenandoah went 5-5, the Hornets averaged two turnovers a game and finished plus-3 in turnover margin.
“Turnover margin is a finicky thing because you always stress turnovers, you always stress taking care of the football, you always stress taking it away, and some years you’re really good at it and some years you’re not, and it’s not like you didn’t stress it,” Yoder said. “We’re about halfway and I think we’re plus-8. We’re averaging plus-2 a game, which is obviously really good. We’re taking the football away. We haven’t given it away at a high volume right now. There’s still a lot of good teams to play, so we’ll see what it ends (up being), but obviously that is a big part of why we’re 3-1. It’s easy to see the teams that are minus usually are struggling, so we just need to continue that if that’s possible.”
INJURY REPORT: Yoder said junior tight end Jack Massie, who also handles some of the kickoff duties, would miss his second straight game this weekend with a foot injury. Yoder added that while he didn’t have a timetable for Massie’s return, the junior “could be out for a while.”
Massie is the second Shenandoah starter lost to injury, joining senior safety T.J. Heflin (back), who is also expected to miss a significant amount of time.