SU notebook: Johnson a tackling machine in the ODAC
Posted: November 1, 2012
WINCHESTER — At the beginning of the season, Shenandoah University defensive coordinator Brock McCullough thought senior outside linebacker Jajuan Johnson had a chance to be one of the best defensive players in Division III.
What sort of postseason accolades that Johnson will receive remains to be seen, but he’s clearly established himself as one of the Old Dominion Athletic Conference’s elite in his first and only season in the league.
Fresh off a school-record 18-tackle performance in Saturday’s 27-24 loss to Randolph-Macon College, Johnson is the ODAC leader in tackles per game (13.0), with a total of 91 for the season. Johnson (43 solo tackles) also has 11 tackles for loss, which ranks third in the conference.
Based on how Johnson — who plays on the weak side — prepared for this season, McCullough really isn’t surprised, but it’s always nice to see a player go out and deliver.
“He really just plays with great pad level, and he’s always around the football,” McCullough said. “Not all of them are solo tackles, but he’s always just around the ball. If there’s screens, he’s always there. A lot of times he beats our front side linebacker to the play just because he’s so quick and fast down the line.
“At that position, you should have a decent number of tackles, and he’s averaging almost 14 in conference [games only], so he’s really stepped it up in conference play.”
Johnson had a respectable 62 tackles and six tackles for loss as a junior, but he didn’t anticipate making such a huge jump.
And while he didn’t expect a game like Saturday’s, which saw him eclipse the school-record of 17 set by Brodis Brown against Christopher Newport in 2007, it certainly didn’t come out of nowhere. Johnson had 16 tackles just the week before against Hampden-Sydney.
Perhaps the best thing about Johnson is that he doesn’t feel like he’s achieving everything he can.
“I miss tackles in the game, so that’s stuff I think about daily and in practice,” Johnson said. “I don’t think I’ve playing downhill enough these past couple of games. I run to the ball good, but I just need to work on my downhill play more. I need to make those plays 100 percent of my time.
“But I feel like everything I’ve worked on in the summertime has definitely showed up this year.”
One of Johnson’s tackles on Saturday included an 10-yard sack, and the Hornets (1-7, 0-5 ODAC) would likely take any kind of backfield penetration they can get Saturday in their 1 p.m. road game at Emory & Henry (4-4, 1-4).
The Wasps are throwing the ball an average of 42 times per game (five more than anyone else) and rank third in the ODAC in passing yards per game (257.4) behind quarterback Kyle Boden (208 for 326 for 1,927 yards, 12 touchdowns, six interceptions).
Though Hornets junior safety Byron Mitchell said he wouldn’t be surprised if the Wasps try to take advantage of some things in the running game after watching the Hornets give up 238 yards on the ground to Randolph-Macon, he knows the secondary will have to be ready for a challenge. Nine different Wasps have at least 10 catches, led by junior wide receiver Chad Williams (45 catches for 262 yards and four touchdowns).
“[Boden] is probably the best quarterback we’ll see all season,” Mitchell said. “Their receivers are pretty aggressive and are 6-3, 6-4, so it should be a pretty good battle between the [defensive backs] and receivers.
“They do a lot of what we call All-American routes — dig through the middle, post game, crossing routes. We’ll be on that this week.”
NEXT MAN UP — AGAIN: SU’s revolving quarterback door will continue this week because on Saturday against Randolph-Macon, sophomore quarterback Corey Taylor reinjured the same right knee that kept him from playing against Catholic on Oct. 12.
As a result, senior Shawn Lloyd will make his third start of the year and seventh appearance Saturday. Lloyd relieved starter Phil Gardner (two starts, no longer with the team) in the season opener against Stevenson, started Game 2 against Ferrum, relieved an injured Gardner in Game 3 against Christopher Newport, came in for one play when the starter Taylor was briefly injured in Game 4 against Bridgewater, started the Catholic game (a 34-7 loss), and relieved an injured Taylor when he couldn’t come out for the final possession Saturday.
Considering how strongly Taylor has been coming on — his 279 yards and two touchdowns against R-MC were both personal-bests — Taylor’s loss is a disappointing one. But with three different quarterbacks having made two starts this year, it’s nothing the team isn’t used to.
“We’ve just to go with the next man up,” SU head coach Paul Barnes said. “It is what it is. You just go and you don’t complain when you have adversity. You just move on.”
Lloyd admittedly isn’t as athletic as Taylor, and he said his role is to be a game-manager. He’s sure that Emory& Henry is going to try and make him a game-changer though.
“They’re very big on the defensive line,” Lloyd said. “They’re tall. The average person there is 6-2, 6-3, and they have a high motor pass-rushing wise. They’re very solid in the box.
“Just like every other defense we’ve played, they’re going to force us to throw the football. I’ve noticed that about every team that we’ve played in the ODAC. They’re very run-disciplined, and if we can get balance, we’ll be fine.”
Emory & Henry does rank seventh in the conference against the run (185.2 yards), sixth in opponents yards per attempt (4.1) and sixth in rushing touchdowns allowed (17), so it’s almost essential that a SU rushing attack that’s struggled of late get some yards to take the pressure off Lloyd. The Hornets had just 63 yards on 37 carries Saturday.
— Contact Robert Niedzwiecki at email@example.comFollow on Twitter @WinStarSports1