|Hayden Bauserman set a school record with 559 passing yards in Thursday's win.
Photo by Keith Lucas for Shenandoah athletics
By Adam Turer
Most of us will never know how it feels to be a college quarterback.
Even among the select few who have taken snaps at this level, a rare number know how it feels to torch an opposing defense. How does it feel to know that when you release the ball, there’s a good chance it will net positive yardage for your team? What is it like to do that for four straight quarters, especially in a victory?
Hayden Bauserman had that kind of night on Thursday. The Shenandoah junior completed 32 of 60 pass attempts for a school-record 559 yards and six touchdowns in a 51-38 victory over Randolph-Macon. What was the key to his big night?
“Early on, I got into a rhythm that I’d never really gotten into before. You get the first couple of throws under your belt. I had a lot of time all night. Your wide receivers make big plays. I’ve gotten into rhythms before, but never like that,” said Bauserman. “Everything felt really good. The game really slowed down for me. When things are moving almost in slow motion, it makes things a lot easier and it’s a lot of fun.”
This is Bauserman’s third straight season as the Hornets’ starting quarterback. The lumps he took as a freshman, including 15 interceptions, are in the rear view mirror now. But without those early growing pains, he probably isn’t at this point midway through his junior season.
“When you get to start as a freshman, it’s pretty tough,” he said. “But now the benefit is the game’s slowed down. I’ve seen pretty much everything every team can throw at me.”
Michael Whitley entered Saturday's action ranked second in the nation in passing yards per game, behind Bauserman. The Lakeland senior made his 33rd career start on Saturday. That experience is invaluable.
“The game is so much slower. As a senior, you can read defenses so much faster, you know what defenses are about to do, you know where you’re going to go with the ball,” said Whitley. “I wasn’t reading defenses really well as a sophomore. It’s good to see my hard work and my coaches’ trust in me paying off.”
|Whitley's maturation has sparked a fast start to the 2017 season.
Lakeland Athletics photo
Whitley is averaging 358.5 passing yards per game, compared to Bauserman’s 397.5. Most importantly to the quarterbacks, their teams opened conference play 1-0 with victories this weekend. Whitley accounted for five touchdowns (four passing, one rushing) in Lakeland's win over Concordia (Wis.).
“You’ve got to stay focused every game and not get too worried about stats or how many times you’re throwing it. The end result is always going out and trying to get a win,” said Bauserman. “We’re an offense based around whatever’s working. Even if we’re handing the ball off 40 or 50 times, you’ve got to stay focused because you’ll have to make big throws on third down or late in the game.”
The quarterbacks have improved in their decision making, cutting down on turnovers and forced throws. Their mental experience has been even more valuable than their physical reps on game day. In his third year running the Muskies’ offense, Whitley is thinking steps far ahead of where he and his teammates were as sophomores.
“We were still feeling it out my first two years. Now, it’s more about us being willing to make in-game adjustments,” he said. “When we see defenses adjust, we adjust what we’re doing too. Even pregame, we’re thinking about adjustments that the opponent is probably going to try and make.
“One thing I really like about our coaches is they’re always looking to get better and improve and put us in the best position to succeed.”
While we may never know how exhilarating it feels to have a career day passing the football, the Muskies provided a glimpse into what Whiltey sees. He practiced with a GoPro camera on his helmet last week, giving the whole world a small taste of what it’s like to read a defense, make the correct decision, and find the open receiver.
“It was sweet seeing it from a different view,” said Whitley. “It was cool seeing our team and how we work.”
Questions and answers
Which perennial playoff contenders are already looking ahead to 2018?
Thomas More and UW-Whitewater are off to historically bad starts. The Saints and Warhawks will be staying home this postseason. Thomas More lost its fourth straight game, a streak it had avoided since 2003. UW-Whitewater dropped its third game of the season to fall to 1-3, the program's slowest start since 1999.
Coe dropped its second straight game after running the table in the 2016 regular season. Olivet lost just two regular season games over the past two seasons, but the Comets were handed their second loss of 2017 by Hope. Muhlenberg lost another three-point heartbreaker to fall to 2-2 in Centennial Conference play, and still have to play the Mules' perennial kryptonite, Johns Hopkins. But the Blue Jays proved vulnerable, falling to Ursinus on Saturday. The Blue Jays hadn't lost a regular season game since 2012.
Which ranked teams proved the most on Saturday?
Linfield was a question mark, having played just two games including a dispiriting loss to top-ranked Mary Hardin-Baylor. The Wildcats faced a tough test against Whitworth, as the Pirates appeared to be a legitimate threat to Linfield's NWC dominance. The Wildcats' defense dominated, scoring two touchdowns and keeping Whitworth's offense out of the end zone.
Illinois Wesleyan's season-opening win over UW-Whitewater was marred by the Warhawks' slow start. But the Titans proved that they are no fluke, defeating fourth-ranked Wheaton. Any season that includes wins over the Warhawks and Thunder should be considered a success. The Titans already lost to North Central, but a 9-1 season and Pool C bid seem very much within reach.
Wittenberg's defense proved why the Tigers are the highest-ranked among the NCAC unbeatens. Denison quarterback Canaan Gebele entered Saturday's game against No. 15 Wittenberg averaging 386.5 passing yards over his previous two games. The Tigers held Gebele to 157 passing yards, forced him to fumble once, picked him off twice in a 28-12 victory.
Is the Around the Nation bump real?
It might be. In my Thursday column every week, I spotlight a player from a random program in Players' Corner. This season, I've been purposely reaching out to players from struggling programs. After Gabe Greco was featured, Grove City snapped a 33-game losing streak. The Wolverines won again yesterday, and now have a two-game winning streak. This week, Howard Payne's Eric Haverstock was featured. The Yellow Jackets snapped a 15-game losing streak on Saturday. Wilmington's David Henry was featured in Week 1 and his Quakers have now won multiple games in a season for the first time since 2008. I'm not saying, I'm just saying.
Here's what to watch for on D3football.com this week.
Today-- new Top 25 poll released.
Monday--Around the Nation podcast with Pat Coleman and Keith McMillan. Also, Play of the Week. Submit nominations today if you haven't already.
Tuesday/Wednesday--Around the Region columns.
Thursday--Around the Nation column. This week, I will be re-ranking the conferences. Prepare to debate.
Saturday--You know what Saturdays are for.
We've got great content coming at you all week, every week. Follow along and get to know D-III football beyond just your favorite team.
If you have ideas for an upcoming column or just want to talk some D-III football, get at me at @adamturer on Twitter or firstname.lastname@example.org.