Editor’s Note: The writers’ predictions will come out in tomorrow’s weekend preview blog. For now, enjoy the below analysis of the Amherst-Middlebury game this weekend.
Amherst (2-0) at Middlebury (2-0),1:30 PM, Middlebury, VT
Amherst vs. Middlebury—two undefeated teams squaring off in front of the Green Mountains— the Panthers vs. the Perennial champs (for lack of a mascot)—Jared Lebowitz against Donnie Mckillop? Yes, fans, you heard that right. Mckillop will be on the other sideline this weekend, coaching for the Purple & White against his beloved Panthers. So this game includes not one, but two Middlebury Quarterback greats—or soon to be greats. The visiting Amherst team isn’t going to care about the nostalgia for the home Middlebury crowd though, as they still have their 21 game winning streak on the line. 21 games—that is almost three seasons’ worth of wins in a row, and Middlebury rolls into this home game locked in after walloping both of their opponents thus far. This game has shades of a legendary matchup. Both sides are coming to play.
Amherst X-Factor: Quarterback Alex Berluti ’17/Nick Morales ’19
Berluti has been an admirable replacement for Reece Foy ’18, however, depending on last week’s knee injury, Nick Morales ’18 may have to try his hand at QB for Amherst in a Jacoby Brisset-like situation. If this occurs, the Purple & White would be onto their third string QB, facing off against a tough Middlebury pass rush. Morales did have a great end to the game against Bowdoin, going 7/10 for 102 yards passing and a TD, so Amherst shouldn’t be too worried. While either quarterback can hold his own, their pocket presence and ability to get the ball into the hands of David Boehm ’17 and Bo Berluti ’18, who have all four of the team’s receiving TD’s, is going to determine Amherst’s success passing the pigskin. Luckily for Amherst’s signal callers, they can lean on Jack Hickey ‘19 and the handful of other talented backs that Amherst mixes into their rushing attack to shoulder the load offensively. Berluti/Morales just need to be efficient and composed when they drop back to pass.
Middlebury X-Factor: Wide Receiver Conrado Banky ’19
The only reason Jared Lebowitz isn’t the X-Factor is that I’m bank(y)ing on him having another great game – Middlebury certainly is too. The real uncertainty in this game is whether Banky can rattle off another incredible game against a defense that has only allowed 5 points per game and 150 total yards. The sophomore wideout had a breakout game last weekend with 198 yards and two TD’s, and should be heavily targeted this weekend, but Amherst knows that, and will be keeping a close eye on him when Lebowitz drops back to pass. Bottom line is, if he ends up in the end zone, the Panthers have a good shot with their running game supplementing Banky and Ryan Rizzo ’17 in the air. Then again, Middlebury ranks 7th in rushing, and really hasn’t found someone that can give them a huge boost on the ground. That hasn’t hurt the Panthers so far, however, nor has it affected Banky’s ability to get open. I’m sticking with him as my surprise breakout player of the year.
Nothing would be sweeter for the Panthers than winning against their rivals, ending their losing streak at home, and taking the top spot in the conference, all on parents weekend in what is sure to be a loud and rowdy crowd. Emotions will be flying high as last week’s “Gold Helmet” winner, given weekly to the top DII/DIII performer (Lebowitz), will be in front of familiar faces in what is sure to be one of his biggest starts as a Middlebury QB. While Middlebury has played weak opponents thus far, drawing some speculation as to how good Lebowitz and his squad really are, he duly pointed out that they “were the hardest teams we had to play those respective weeks.” Amherst has no right to talk about strength of schedule since they have also faced two struggling 0-2 teams.
Since the combined scores from each team’s early season are 140-27, it is still tough to argue that either has been tested thus far. This is the first game involving one of the contending four teams (Midd, Amherst, Trinity, and Tufts) who are still 2-0, and will surely tell who is really coming to play this season.
This tilt showcases two high powered offenses facing off, although it looks like the healthy Middlebury side may have a slight edge going in. The Panthers finally looked to figure out some of their kicking troubles last weekend, as Carter Massengill ’20 went 5/5 on XP’s, although they should still hope the game doesn’t come down to a last second field goal. Amherst uses more of a running back by committee approach as three RB’s have nine carries or more, but none have really racked off any huge games. Jack Hickey ’19 might need to be more of a horse on Saturday as he has only averaged 15 carries per game, although he has still found the end zone five times. Frankly, if Hickey gets going, it could be tough to stop the Amherst offense, which has proven to be pretty deadly in the past when they can mix the pass and the run equally effectively.
Let’s hope for the sake of a good football game that Amherst doesn’t have to go deeper into their QB depth charts this weekend and use their Julian Edelman. After all, there are only so many marquee match ups each year in the NESCAC, and this is geared up to be a barn burning classic. The game might even come down to a little extra distance per punt out of the leg of Amherst’s Andrew Ferrero ’19, doing his best impersonation of the 49ers’ Andy Lee. Unless you are heavily invested in another NESCAC game this weekend, your eyes should be on the action up in Middlebury, VT. Casual NESCAC fans: you DO NOT want to miss this one.