WINCHESTER – Shenandoah University’s emphasis on stopping the run yielded improved results during its first three football games of the 2018 season. Saturday’s loss to Ferrum in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference opener showed that the Hornets’ defense still has some work to do.
SU, which had allowed 247.8 yards rushing per game in 2017, entered Saturday’s contest allowing an average of 137 yards on the ground through three games and saw the Panthers more than double that with 353 yards rushing in a 38-21 win at Shentel Stadium. It was the first time the Hornets’ run defense was tested against a running back – in this case, Panthers’ junior Brian Mann – who was the central focus of an opposing team’s offense.
“We came in the bye week, had a game plan. We’re still gonna stop the run, that was our main focus the whole year, but sometimes it doesn’t happen the way you want it to, so just gotta lick our wounds and keep moving forward,” Hornets junior defensive end Randy Oliver said after the loss, Shenandoah’s second straight.
“I mean we’ve been doing all right (against the run) but for me, I just think we need to toughen up a little bit more and be more conditioned, and just prepare better and just keep moving forward, put this game behind us. Our main goal is going to be stopping the run. Nothing’s gonna change; we’re just gonna keep the intensity up.”
Mann, a 5-foot-10, 175-pound running back who plays bigger than his stature, was a headache for the Hornets. He carried 38 times for 260 yards and two touchdowns, averaging 6.8 yards per rush.
Shenandoah had not allowed a 100-yard rusher in its first three games.
The Hornets knew coming in that arm tackles weren’t going to cut it against Mann, who entered the game as the ODAC’s second-leading rusher, and SU head coach Scott Yoder said last week before the contest that the junior tailback is not one that you can shut down altogether.
And yet Mann was only slowed by his own impressive workload, as he ran out of gas on a near-eight minute scoring drive in the fourth quarter that clinched Ferrum’s win and gave way to backup running back Alonzo Beverly. The Hornets actually stuffed Mann for no gain on a third-down run early in that drive, but a costly personal foul penalty on SU extended the possession.
Shenandoah missed tackles throughout – the Hornets had just two tackles for loss, both coming in the fourth quarter and only one coming against Mann – while Mann finished with eight carries of 10 yards or more. Three of those went for 21 yards or more, including Mann’s 36-yard touchdown run to open the scoring early in the first quarter.
“Anybody who watches him, he’s just a really efficient back and is patient and makes good cuts and doesn’t go down on the first contact,” Yoder said of Mann. “He’s tough to bring down. We didn’t do a good enough job.”
Yoder didn’t lay all of the blame on his defense, however. Shenandoah’s offense, which sputtered for the first time all season and finished with season lows in points and yards, had opportunities on three different occasions to take a lead after its defense forced a punt but couldn’t generate a scoring drive.
Ahead of the game, Yoder spoke of the Hornets’ need to force Ferrum into playing out of its comfort zone, which meant putting the Panthers in a spot where they were playing catch-up and needed to throw the ball with more regularity. Ferrum led 17-0 in the first quarter and never trailed.
“What did we need to do today? We needed to slow them down and make them throw and make them uncomfortable and make them play from behind. We didn’t do any of those things,” Yoder said. “And that’s not one guy, that’s not on one unit. There were times where we could’ve taken the lead offensively, for as bad as we played, and we didn’t, and so they were never pressed to be in a situation where they had to come out of their shell. And they threw it well. They threw it efficient. Maybe not a lot, but efficiently and they hurt us on throws, so it was a perfect storm in a bad way for us and we’ve gotta find some answers.”