SU Notebook: Hornets not getting the job done on 3rd down
Posted: October 25, 2012
WINCHESTER — The Shenandoah University football team can point to a number of signs of offensive growth in last Saturday’s game against Hampden-Sydney College, but one area in particular is stuck in the mud — third-down performance.
Since converting 7 of 14 third downs in the season-opening win against Stevenson, the Hornets (1-6, 0-4 Old Dominion Athletic Conference) have converted just 14 of 89 (15.7 percent) since.
SU converted just 1 of 12 third downs in the 42-21 loss to Hampden-Sydney on Saturday to put them at 21 of 103 (20.4 percent) for the season. Every other team in the ODAC is converting at a rate of at least 38 percent.
If you convert 4 of 6 fourth downs like the Hornets did last week, then converting third downs isn’t as critical. But SU would probably rather avoid living on the edge all the time, even if the Hornets have been a successful fake-punt team this season.
SU head coach Paul Barnes said when it’s third-and-long, the Hornets usually would rather not be too aggressive — it’s better to trust their defense. But a team that can convert on third down consistently can usually find a way to wear down a defense.
“The main thing we’ve been working on this week is getting our first downs and seconds downs better so we can have manageable third-down plays,” said Barnes, whose team converted 42 percent of third downs last year. “It’s hard to come up with third-and-9, third-and-10 all the time. We just don’t have that many plays called in that situation. But if we’re in second-and-5, then third-and-2 or -3, it’s a lot easier converting on those.”
The Hornets found themselves in third-and-7 or greater eight times in Saturday’s game.
SU did have an 8-yard run by sophomore quarterback Corey Taylor on a third-and-5, but that was nullified by an illegal block.
When SU does well on second or third down, senior running back Carl Joseph said SU simply can’t afford penalties that set them back.
“We shouldn’t be in third-and-long a lot,” Joseph said. “We can definitely execute third downs efficiently. We have to make sure we can avoid mental mistakes, false starts, holding during the play on third down when you do a get a first down. You’ve got to be smart.”
This week, the Hornets will face Randolph-Macon (4-3, 2-2), a squad that they’ve faced each of the last three years in non-conference play. Though their four-man front is different than Hampden-Sydney’s three-man, Taylor said the things that the Yellow Jackets like to do out of their defense are similar. R-MC is surrendering 395.3 yards per game (last in the conference) and 26.3 points (fifth).
“They like running a zone defense,” Taylor said. “They’re kind of like Hampden-Sydney in that they try to blitz off the zone.”
TAKING ON TACKLING:The Hornets gave up season-highs in yardage (459) and points (42) to Hampden-Sydney, and junior nose guard Preston Funk said SU can’t continue to tackle like it did going forward it if hopes to compete.
“There was a lot of tackles left on the field,” Funk said. “Just gang-tackling is something we need to do. We’ve got to get to the ball quicker.”
Funk said they did their Hornets drill on Tuesday to help enforce that. Funk said it’s basically a three-on-three drill that involves one person from each positional group on offense and defense firing off and hitting each other in a 5-yard space.
With four of R-MC’s starting offensive lineman weighing at least 280 pounds, Saturday’s 1 p.m. home finale at Shentel Stadium figures to be a physical contest. The Yellow Jackets have the No. 2 rushing attack in the ODAC (196.6 yards per game) and picked up 202 yards on the ground in last year’s 36-29 win over SU.
“They’re a power football team, and they like to get after it,” Barnes said. “They’re a downhill-running attack, and they’re going to get physical with us and try and get us in a couple formation mismatches, and get us unbalanced. We’ve got to be ready for it, because it’s a little bit different than other teams that we’ve faced.”
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