WINCHESTER – Shenandoah University’s football team doesn’t start Old Dominion Athletic Conference play for another two weeks, but the Hornets figure they’ll get a pretty good preview tonight of what lies ahead of them.
Hobart College makes its first trip to Shentel Stadium for tonight’s 7 p.m. kickoff, and Hornets head coach Scott Yoder, a Hobart alum and former assistant coach for the Statesmen, expects SU’s latest opponent to look very much like some of the best teams his own squad will face in the ODAC this season.
Tonight’s contest is the second-ever meeting between the two schools – Hobart earned a 56-30 win over the Hornets in Geneva, New York last season – and it’s the final non-conference game of the year for SU, which enters its bye week afterward before diving into its ODAC slate.
“I think it’s huge because from playing them last year our guys know this is very much like an ODAC roster, very much like a good, physical ODAC team,” Yoder said on Wednesday. “Maybe they’re not the same as Randolph-Macon but the same kind of physicality, so I think it’s a good test for us.”
The Hornets (2-0) didn’t fare well on that test a season ago – they failed to hold a 23-21 halftime lead as Hobart (1-1) ran all over SU while putting up 35 points in the second half. The Statesmen finished that game with 368 yards rushing.
Hobart will look a little different when it takes the field against Shenandoah in the rematch. The Statesmen have a new head coach in Kevin DeWall – a former college teammate of Yoder’s and a fellow assistant coach on former Hobart head coach Mike Cragg’s staff – as well as a new starting quarterback, and they lost eight of their 10 first team All-Liberty League selections in 2017 to graduation.
The biggest of those losses was quarterback Shane Sweeney, the 2016 and 2017 Liberty League Offensive Player of the Year. Ryan Hofmann, a junior, is Hobart’s new starting quarterback, and he’s completed 28 of 45 passing attempts for 353 yards, seven touchdowns and two interceptions.
Hofmann was 14-of-25 for 114 yards, two interceptions and a TD in a 56-7 loss to Brockport (ranked No. 4 by D3football.com) in the season opener and bounced back to throw six touchdowns in a 62-24 win over Morrisville State last weekend.
Yoder said the Hornets hope to capitalize on Hofmann’s inexperience in close-game situations.
“How many snaps has that quarterback played where the game was on the line and he had to make a lot of plays? Not a ton,” Yoder said, “so can we put him in that situation is kind of what we’re hoping to do.”
Shenandoah’s defense leads the ODAC with six interceptions through two games, but junior safety T.J. Heflin said the Hornets are preparing to see plenty of the running game against Hobart, which SU anticipates will try to slow the pace and play keep-away from Hornets QB Hayden Bauserman.
The Statesmen graduated one half of a 2017 running back duo that combined for 1,265 yards and 20 TDs last season, but Shenandoah could again see tailback Dakota Harvey, who gashed the Hornets for 131 yards rushing and three scores in last year’s matchup.
Harvey has not yet played in 2018 – Yoder said the Statesmen have been cautious in bringing the sophomore back from an injury – but Yoder said he’s expecting Harvey, Hobart’s 2017 leading rusher, to see action tonight.
How the Hornets handle Hobart’s running game could prove critical in Shenandoah’s quest to negate the Statesmen’s suspected plan to eat up large chunks of clock. SU, which allowed nearly 250 yards rushing per game in 2017, is allowing 119 yards on the ground through its first two contests.
The Hornets’ own offense has put up big numbers so far in 2018, and Shenandoah enters the contest averaging 53.5 points and 509 yards per game after last weekend’s 59-21 dismantling of North Carolina Wesleyan.
Bauserman has passed for 626 yards and nine TDs in two games, and 12 Hornets have already caught passes this season. Half of those players have also caught a touchdown pass.
In last year’s meeting, Shenandoah had success moving the ball early against Hobart – Bauserman threw three TD passes in the first half – but found the end zone just once in the second half. SU’s 372 yards of offense against the Statesmen were 123 fewer than its 2017 season average.
Hobart lost five of its top seven tacklers from a 2017 defensive unit that ranked third in the six-team Liberty League in scoring defense (18.2 points per game), fifth in total defense (350.2 yards per game) and last in pass defense (251.9 yards per game).
The Statesmen are allowing 40 points and 415.5 yards per contest early in 2018.
“They’re similar to what they were last year, kind of an ODAC type defense,” Bauserman said. “They’re gonna probably be an odd front, what we expect, but they’ve shown that they can go four-down as well and probably one or two linebackers in the box, and probably balance out their defense based on our offense. … They’re obviously really disciplined and well coached, pretty physical and nasty, so I think we’re just gonna have to take advantage of the opportunities we get.”
Heflin said beating Hobart, a team that won 11 Liberty League titles and made 11 NCAA Division III playoff appearances during Cragg’s 23-year tenure, would be a statement win for Shenandoah.
“I would say Hobart’s one of the better teams in the nation,” he said. “They’re a perennial top 25 in recent history, so to be able to get a win on Saturday would mean a lot to our program.”