Senior Days: Weekend Preview 11/13

QB Pat Dugan '16 OL Sean Lovett '18 after something good happened. Clearly. (Courtesy of Josh Kuckens/Bates College)
QB Pat Dugan ’16 and OL Sean Lovett ’18 after something good happened. Clearly. (Courtesy of Josh Kuckens/Bates College)

Well, the best that can be said about this weekend’s match ups is that three of the following four games feature teams within one game of each other in the standings. I know, I’m supposed to be a salesman and get you excited for the rest of the article, but I’ve already got your click, so I really don’t care….

I do care, of course, and even though none of the game’s below will factor into the Championship race (barring the upset of the millenium – and I mean that), there’s still a lot of intrigue around these games, and it definitely means something to all of the senior playing their last game of football on Saturday.

No more clichés need be wrought about the sentimental value of this weekend’s games, so let’s get into the meat of the matter.

Four to Watch: Senior Edition

Bates Defensive Lineman Tucker Oniskey ’16

Oniskey has been possibly the Bobcats’ best lineman three years running. The big man has gone from 23 tackles and nine pass break ups in seven games in 2013 to 26 tackles and five break ups in seven games a year ago to 37 tackles and four break ups in his first seven games this year.

Oniskey’s ability to get in the face of the opposing quarterback will be important against Hamilton, which likes to air the ball out downfield. We saw last week how a good secondary can take advantage of Hamilton QB Cole Freeman ’19, who was picked off four times by Middlebury last Saturday. The Bates secondary has been exploited at times this year, although CB Trevor Lyons ’17 has had a pick-six in two straight games. If Oniskey can get pressure on Freeman, Lyons might just get his third INT TD of the season.

Williams WR Mark Pomella ’16

Pomella had been exclusively a quarterback in his first three years in Williamstown. He had hoped to be the team’s starter last season until BC-transfer Austin Lommen ’16 beat him out for the gig. Head Coach Aaron Kelton hinted in the preseason that Pomella could switch roles because of his athleticism, but it took three games for Pomella to finally make the switch. Between Weeks 3-7, Pomella has 33 catches (6.6/game) for 421 yards (84.2/game) and one TD. Pomella has been the team’s clear top option since Week 3. He’s also served as the team’s punt returner, especially with RB Connor Harris ’18 out. He will need a monster game in Week 8 to help the Ephs upset Amherst.

Colby D-Linemen Ryan Ruiz ’16 and Harry Nicholas ’16

Bowdoin’s top three running backs are out for the year, and the Polar Bears rushed for negative six yards last week. They’ve broken 63 yards rushing just once this year. By default, Bowdoin has to throw the ball. Ruiz and Nicholas have a combined eight sacks this year. Bowdoin QB Tim Drakeley ’17 is back in starting lineup, but he hasn’t really played since Week 3, which will provide Ruiz and Nicholas a chance to capitalize and have one of their best games.

Tufts RT Justin Roberts ’16 and LT Akene Farmer-Michos ’16

Justin Roberts
Justin Roberts
Akene Farmer-Michos
Akene Farmer-Michos

I’m not sure about this, but I think Roberts and Farmer-Michos are the only offensive linemen we’ve ever featured as players to watch or X-factors, and now we’ve done it twice. Apologies to all the other great O-linemen out there around the league.

Roberts and Farmer-Michos are big reasons why RB Chance Brady ’17 is running his way towards history, and the Jumbos need to run well on Saturday to beat Middlebury. The Panthers have been very hit or miss against the run defensively, surrendering 301 yards on 59 carries (5.1 ypc) against Wesleyan, 190 yards on 49 (3.8 ypc) against Amherst and 204 yards on 61 carries (3.3 ypc) at Bates, while also allowing just 33 yards on 31 carries (1.1 ypc) against the vaunted Trinity attack. Inside LB Tim Patricia ’16 will have to make a lot of stops this weekend, and per usual he is leading Middlebury in tackles. If he can’t, Roberts and Farmer-Michos will be opening up some wide lanes for Brady to bounce through.

Elo Ratings

Maybe you’ve never heard of Elo Ratings. I hadn’t until very recently. But recently a little NbN fairy whispered sweet nothings in my ear, and now we have Elo Ratings. If you want the history of what Elo Ratings are, read here. If you want to know about the mainstream sports applications that inspired this fairy to do some great statistical work on NESCAC football, check out FiveThirtyEight.com. If you are averse to clinking on links that may take you to strange places, I’ll give you the rundown here.

Elo Ratings are a system that quantify the gains and losses to each team after each contest. Wins produce gains in ratings, and losses produce reductions in ratings. In our system (again, I can’t take any personal credit for this work), margins of victory compared to expected winning margin also effect the changes in Elo Ratings. At the end of each season, team ratings are regressed towards the mean, which makes sense because in college athletics there is often a lot of turnover between seasons, so teams have to prove it both on the field and in the Elo Ratings.

Our timeline currently stretches back to 2005. In our ratings, all teams begin with an “average” rating of 1500, meaning that at the beginning of our timeline, teams were very closely clustered together. I’ll spare you the math – because I don’t want my brain to start hurting – but trust me when I say that there is a way to convert each team’s Elo Rating into their probability of winning their next game, and by comparing two teams’ win probabilities and putting them into some kind of magical/mathematical cauldron, you can conjure up a spread for every game. It’s also important to note that home teams are allotted a four-point advantage throughout the spreads.

Below is a graph that depicts each team’s Elo Rating from the beginning of the 2005 season through Week 7 of the 2015 season. This should give you some idea of how each team’s stock has risen and fallen over the past decade.

NESCAC Elo Ratings 2005-2015
NESCAC Elo Ratings 2005-2015

What’s the point of showing you this? Well, if you’re a stat nerd, the value is obvious. This is pretty cool. Secondly, though, this week we are sharing the spreads for each game in our predictions and discuss the spread a little bit. In the information you will see which team is giving points this week.

Game Previews

Bates (2-5) (-10) at Hamilton (1-6), Clinton, NY, 12:00 PM

Despite the ugly records, both of these teams are on the upswing. Bates is coming off of two straight wins and a CBB title, the program’s third in the past four years, making the 2016 class the first since 1900 to claim three outright CBB titles in its tenure. A win will also make the 2016 class 16-16, which would tie last year’s class as the winningest since 1983. Finally, Hamilton is the only program which Bates holds the series advantage over, with the Bobcats currently in the lead 19-18.

Hamilton, meanwhile, has returned to relevance this year. Not only did the Conts get their first win in over three years at Williams, but they’ve been very competitive, losing to Tufts by three in double OT, Wesleyan by five, Bowdoin by 10, Colby by five and Middlebury by five. With a lot of young players making impacts, specifically on defense and at QB Cole Freeman, there is a lot of hope for this program next year.

As for this year, though, the focus for both teams is finishing on a high note and giving its seniors a great last memory. When analyzing a Bates game, the first thing to ask for its opponent is whether they can stop the run. In Hamilton’s case, they’ve done a pretty good job of that this season. Tufts, Wesleyan and Trinity put up big rushing totals, but they also ran the ball around 50 times against Hamilton, and on the season the Continentals are allowing 3.28 yards per rush. Not exactly 1980’s Steelers, but passable, and I actually think that practicing against Hamilton’s new Wildcat read option will actually have prepared the Continentals to stop the Bates attack. If Hamilton can force QB Pat Dugan ’16 to the air, it will be a long day for Bates. No one besides Bats WR Mark Riley ’16 scares you in the passing game.

The Bobcats, meanwhile, need to step up their pass defense. Hamilton, as a team, has the highest yards per completion average. They don’t necessarily complete that many passes, though. Freeman and Chase Rosenberg ’17 have combined for a 43.9 percent completion rate. DB Brandon Williams ’17 will be on alert and trying to add to his league-best five interceptions.

The Continentals won a big game two weeks ago, and are still feeling good about themselves after taking Middlebury to the wire. They’ll be good enough to cover the spread, but the final decision goes to Bates.

Prediction: Bates 24 – Hamilton 21

Amherst (7-0) (-22.5) at Williams (2-5), Williamstown, MA, 12:00 PM

If you take a peek at the Elo Rating chart above, you might notice that Amherst is currently at the highest it’s ever been, and Williams is at the lowest. The spread of (-22.5) is actually lower than last year’s (-24), but it definitely feels like more of a lopsided matchup this year. That’s what I meant when I said it would take the upset of the millennium for the championship hunt to be impacted this weekend. Williams would have to cover a 22.5 point spread and beat Amherst in order to give Trinity a shot at sharing the title.

On paper, this game is clearly a blowout. The Jeffs have played some competitive games, but none have really ended up that close besides the 16-7 win over Trinity a week ago. The next closest margin was a nine-point win over Wesleyan in Week 5 in which Amherst needed a five-plus minute drive late in the fourth to clinch the win. The only question for Amherst is which QB Reece Foy ’18 will show up? The efficient, dual-threat Foy, or the clumsy turnover-prone Foy? He’s had five picks the last three games after having one pick in the first four. All he has to do is get the ball near his awesome receivers, including WR Jackson McGonagle ’16, who is a big play threat when Foy is able to hit him downfield, and rely on the bruising rushing attack lead by Kenny Adinkra ’16. As an entire team, Amherst is averaging 4.7 yards per rush. Enough said.

If Williams has one thing going for them, it’s experience. Five starters on offense and five on defense are all seniors, so they won’t shy away from the daunting task ahead of them. DE James Howe ’16 has had massive expectations heaped on him the past couple of seasons, but teams have been able to neutralize him much of the time by scheming for him, but he’s been productive this season with two sacks, and has opened the door for fellow D-lineman Jack Ryan ’16 to get 3.5 sacks of his own.

Despite Williams’ significant series lead (71-53-5), Amherst is expected to win its fifth straight contest against their rivals and clinch not only the NESCAC title, but also its 32nd Little Three title, which we’ve barely even talked about because it’s seemed like a formality for awhile now. And yes, I think they cover that massive spread.

Prediction: Amherst 35 – Williams 7

Colby (1-6) (-0.5)  at Bowdoin (1-6), Brunswick, ME, 12:30 PM

This game is basically a pick ’em, and that’s all I can do, because I don’t know what to think about either team. For the most part, it’s been a lot of meaningless second halfs for these teams this season. Bowdoin has no running game right now, and Colby is afraid to throw the ball and might have a QB battle in camp next season.

The Mules’ rushing attack has been solid after a slow start though, thanks to RB Jabari Hurdle-Price ’17 and the heavy lifting of FB Robert Murray ’16. They just can’t do anything through the air. QB Gabe Harrington ’17 has one touchdown and 11 interceptions, and Christian Sparacio ’18 has gotten time in spurts, but he’s completed less than half of his attempts and is more like a Wildcat QB with the ability to throw right now. Defensively, LB Stephen O’Grady ’16 has been a workhorse, leading the team in tackles.

It’s going to be a challenge for Tim Drakeley to be effective in the passing game for Bowdoin with no rushing threat. He’ll be looking to find WR Dan Barone ’16 early and often, and there will be a lot of pressure on All-NESCAC C Matt Netto ’16 and his squad to keep Drakeley upright. On the defense, it will have to be a big day for LB Branden Morin ’16 and companion LB Phillipe Archambault ’19, who’s stepped right in and tallied 49 tackles in six games.

It’s going to be low-scoring, with neither team able to move the ball quickly. With that being the case, I have to tip the scales in favor of Colby, who will be able to move the ball on the ground and get after the passer on third and longs. It’s going to be a sad Senior Day in Brunswick.

Prediction: Colby 23 – Bowdoin 17

Middlebury (5-2) (-6) at Tufts (5-2), Medford, MA, 12:30 PM

LB Tim Patricia '16 is the heart of the Panthers defense. (Courtesy of Brad Banky)
LB Tim Patricia ’16 is the heart of the Panthers defense. (Courtesy of Brad Banky)

When was the last time this game was relevant? Probably 2008, when the Panthers beat Tufts 38-24 to finish 5-3, ahead of the 4-4 Jumbos. Tufts hasn’t beaten Middlebury since Nov. 10, 2001. That’s 5,116 days. However, for the first time in a long time, Tufts and Middlebury come into the game with the same record, and in all honesty, I’m not sure Middlebury deserves to be favored in this game.

We’ve talked a lot about the injuries to the Panthers, and that is a big reason why they’ve played some close games recently and I’m feeling like Tufts can pull this off. Early in the week, though, Head Coach Bob Ritter was hopeful that some of his offensive linemen would be healthy by Saturday, which was probably directed at C James Wang ’16, though Ritter didn’t say for sure. Wang’s been dealing with a lingering leg injury all season, which is pretty much par for the Panthers’ course.

I still think the Middlebury passing attack will be productive. In the finale of two brilliant careers for QB Matt Milano ’16 and WR Matt Minno ’16, don’t be surprised to see those two connect early and often. Very often. Minno is chasing history, needing two touchdowns to become the all-time TD reception leader in Middlebury history and 40 yards to reach second in receiving yards for a career. Those two milestones are pretty much a lock. Elsewhere, TE-turned-slot receiver Trevor Miletich ’16 should have a big game, too. When he’s been healthy this season he’s been a favorite target for Milano.

I’ve already discussed the need for Tufts to run the football, but will they be able to move the pigskin through the air? If so, they’ll need to attack the corner opposite boundary CB Nate Leedy ’17. PSA to NESCAC teams: Don’t throw at this kid. Leedy picked off two balls a week ago, and if every team challenged him like Hamilton did he’d have two picks per game. He is also probably the hardest hitter on the Panther defense. Sometimes his shoulder-first launches result in missed tackles because he doesn’t wrap up, but it actually happens less than you’d think. When he connects, the ball carrier goes down. Hard. So, if Tufts QB Alex Snyder ’17 is smart, he’ll try the other side of the field, putting pressure on CB Andrew McGrath ’18 if he’s healthy, but more likely CB Matt Daniel ’19. Safety Dan Pierce ’16 will be a huge factor in plugging up the run, as well.

Maybe it’s just too hard to pick against my team in the last game of my classmates’ careers, or maybe I’m jaded because I’ve watched the Panthers trash Tufts for the last three seasons, but in either case, I’m taking Middlebury even though they’re (-6). There are a lot of Midd haters out there right now because they’ve played some close games against teams that they “should” have blown out. But they’ve still won those games. And that kind of resiliency and winning attitude will play the difference in this one-touchdown game.

Prediction Middlebury 28 – Tufts 21

The Picks (Straight Up)

NbN Staff Last Week: 3-2

NbN Staff This Season: 26-9

No Tricks Here: Weekend Preview 10/31

The Trinity O-line hopes to enforce its will against Middlebury on Halloween Saturday. (Courtesy of Trinity Athletics)
The Trinity O-line hopes to enforce its will against Middlebury on Halloween Saturday. (Courtesy of Trinity Athletics)

This is a week full of intrigue for NESCAC teams and loyal ‘CAC fans alike. There’s something for everyone in Week 6. For the championship hopefuls, two games have major implications. The Game of the Week features Amherst traveling to Tufts and trying to extend the 16-game winning streak. Up in Middlebury, the undefeated Bantams will fight to avoid another late-season slide like the one suffered years ago. For other teams not fighting for a title there is still plenty to play for. Bates and Colby open up CBB play this weekend, always a point of pride for these football programs. Elsewhere in Maine, Wesleyan still has a lot to prove. They’ve played to the level of their competition all season long, and the Cards would like to do some damage against what should be a weaker team in Bowdoin. Bowdoin will also be dealing with a question mark at quarterback, as Tim Drakeley ’17 is expected to be healthy, but there’s no guarantee that he’ll take the reins from impressive first-year Noah Nelson ’19. Hamilton heads to Williamstown for the final game of the weekend. Hamilton is, yet again, trying to get off the schneid and get its first win since 2012. The streak has stretched to 25 games now, and is coming up on the Tufts’ record of 31 straight losses. Meanwhile, the home team might be playing to save the boss’ job. There is widespread discontent over a program that has gone from an 8-0 season in 2010 to 5-3 in 2011, 4-4 in 2012 and 2-6 the past two seasons. It’s hard to say which team needs this win more.

Players to Watch

Middlebury RB Diego Meritus ’19

The Panthers are rushing for 2.1 yards per carry. Not good. It’s not all Meritus’ fault, of course. He’s actually a good runner, and has shown his ability to make guys miss in the screen game. He’s a big body and fast, so it’s surprising that Middlebury hasn’t had more success on the ground. Head Coach Bob Ritter seems committed to the first-year, though, and no one else has gotten significant carries since Week 1. Especially with WR Conrado Banky ’19 out now, the rushing game will take on more importance for Middlebury.

Bowdoin TE Bryan Porter ’18

With the first-year Nelson under QB, Porter needs to play a big role to help out the youngster. Two weeks ago, when Nelson had a phenomenal debut, Porter caught five balls and a touchdown, and last week his one catch was a 37-yard TD. Don’t expect there to be a lot of room downfield for the Bowdoin wideouts, meaning that Nelson is going to have to rely on Porter. It’s going to be huge for Bowdoin to convert on third downs in order to keep the ball out of the Cardinals’ hands. If Wesleyan is able to milk the clock with the running game, this will be over early.

Colby DE Ryan Ruiz ’16

When playing the triple-option, it’s imperative for the defense to keep to its assignments and not fly up field. Therefore, the impetus is on Ruiz, the Mules’ best defensive lineman, to lead the charge. He needs to keep the Bates slot backs from breaking out wide by getting outside leverage on the guy blocking him and allowing his teammates to make plays. If Colby can get a sizeable lead, though, then Ruiz will have a chance to pressure Pat Dugan ’16 and improve on his team-leading 2.5 sacks.

Hamilton RB LaShawn Ware ’18

I could essentially copy and paste the summary for Meritus from above, except that Hamilton Head Coach Dave Murray has shown a willingness to give some carries to Jason Nastovski ’18. Any time a team is having as much trouble running the ball as Middlebury and Hamilton are, a lot of that comes down to offensive line play. Running backs need holes to run through. The problem is exaggerated for Hamilton, though, because they aren’t having much success in the passing game, either. Ware averaged 3.9 yards per carry a year ago with 3/5 of the same offensive line. Things won’t change around for the Conts until Hamilton can get the ground game going.

Game Previews

Wesleyan at Bowdoin, 12:30 PM, Brunswick, ME

Live Stats  Video

Five weeks ago, we had no idea what to think about the Wesleyan Cardinals. A year removed from a senior class that brought the program back to relevance and competed for a championship three years in a row – earning a shared title in 2013 – Wesleyan had a plethora of questions coming into 2015. They’ve performed admirably, scaring Middlebury at home in Week 1 and putting up a good fight and outplaying the Lord Jeffs in every aspect but points scored a week ago in Amherst. Now the Cardinals are 3-2 and if they want to even have a minuscule shot at sharing a NESCAC title this year – and they’ll need a lot of help – they can’t lose again. I think this is a case of an inexperienced team coming into its own, and things are just looking up for them.

As for Bowdoin, the 30-20 win two weeks ago over Hamilton and the debut of Nelson gave hope to Polar Bear fans, but it now appears that it was false hope. No first-year should be expected to put up the kind of eye-popping numbers every week that Nelson posted against Hamilton, but without that kind of play Bowdoin doesn’t have enough fire power to topple the Cardinals. Losing their top two running backs has really hurt Bowdoin, which has only 58.4 rushing yards per game this season.

With that in mind, Bowdoin is forced to drop back and throw the football more often than not, which has to have Wesleyan DE Jordan Stone ’17 salivating as he wakes up this morning. Stone is one of the most physically-talented defensive players in this league and doesn’t get talked about too much on this blog, but that’s not because of his play, and more so because we just don’t talk about line play a ton. But Stone has 4.5 sacks, which is tied for second in the NESCAC with Micah Adickes ’18 of Tufts. Tufts teammate Zach Thomas ’18 leads the NESCAC with 5.5 sacks. Here’s the kicker, though. The Wesleyan defense has faced 150 pass plays. Tufts? 188 pass plays.

With the Cardinals starting to figure things out as a team and still a bevy of concerns for the Polar Bears, it’s going to be a frightful Halloween for Bowdoin.

Prediction: Wesleyan 35 – Bowdoin 14

Trinity at Middlebury, 12:30 PM, Middlebury, VT

Live Stats  Video

A year ago this week the championship-hopeful Bantams were stunned in the Coop by Middlebury, breaking a more than decade-old home winning streak of 53 games. That loss sent the Bantams spiraling to three losses to end the year. Once again, these teams meet with Trinity undefeated and Middlebury with an outside shot at a shared title. The ramifications will be large no matter which way the result ends up.

This matchup bodes well for the Bantams. The Middlebury run defense, expected to be stout this season, has bent pretty considerably against some top rushing attacks. The Panthers allowed 5.1 yards per carry to Wesleyan in Week 1 and 3.9 per carry to Amherst in Week 3. They’ve effectively shut down the rushing games of Colby, Williams and Bates, but Trinity’s freshman tailback Max Chipouras ’19 will provide a stiff challenge. What’s more, the Panthers have to be prepared for the dual-threat at QB that Sonny Puzzo ’18 provides.

The key for Middlebury, as always, is to score early and force teams to throw the football – something that they haven’t done particularly well this year. Their halftime scores so far this season: 7-13 at Wesleyan, 21-2 vs. Colby, 7-10 at Amherst, 9-7 vs. Williams and 14-10 at Bates. In all but one game, Middlebury was within four points at halftime. When they’ve started to get the offense rolling in the second half and forced teams to throw, the Panthers defense has responded with some big takeaways and shut down the opposition. That strategy could be particularly effective this week given Puzzo’s recent struggles – he had two picks at Tufts and only completed 10 of 20 passes last week vs. Bowdoin.

Offensively for Middlebury, the rushing attack has been bad, plain and simple. Only once, in the Panthers’ blowout victory over Williams, has the running game been effective. But, frankly, Middlebury has proven that they don’t need to run the ball in order to be successful. It would be nice, but Middlebury makes up for its rushing deficiency with short passes and running back screens. With Banky apparently out for the season with an ankle injury, the impetus now falls on slot-turned wideout Ryan Rizzo ’17, slot receiver Tanner Contois ’18 and All-League player Matt Minno ’16 on the other side to make some big plays in the receiving game for Matt Milano ’16. I think they do just enough to squeak by the Bants.

Prediction: Middlebury 28 – Trinity 21

Bates at Colby, 1:00 PM, Waterville, ME

Video

The CBB is under way, and with both of these teams populating the bottom of the standings, the Maine championship becomes the primary focus. This game turned into a high-scoring OT affair a season ago at Bates, but I don’t see the same thing happening this time around. Though RB Jabari Hurdle-Price ’17 has really turned it on for Colby as of late, the offense still ranks last in the ‘CAC with 13.4 points per game. Gabe Harrington ’17 has really struggled with eight interceptions in five games, but he’s also been sacked 10 times and his receivers aren’t exactly running free all over the field. It’s hard to tell who’s to blame on the Colby offense because nothing is going right at the moment, but if they are going to break out – particularly throwing the ball – this could be their chance.

The Bates defense has been only slightly better than Colby, allowing 27.0 points per game, and is last in the league with 305.6 passing yards per game allowed. Wideouts Mark Snyder ’17 and Mbasa Mayikana ’18 are big targets on the Colby offense even if they haven’t been that productive so far, and could be found on a couple of deep balls for big plays.

The Bates offense, as we know, relies on misdirection and the running game. The loss of slotback Shaun Carroll ’16, who had been averaging 5.3 yards per carry, really hurts, but the Bobcats hope to offset that loss with the return of Sean Peterson ’18 to the lineup. His debut a week ago against Middlebury was not very impressive in the running game, but he caught a few passes and was able to show off his athleticism in open space. That he garnered 14 carries despite averaging just a yard per rush shows that he is expected to be a big part of the offense down the stretch. Peterson and crew will need to have a big-time day on the ground in order to get their second win. I think Colby will land the first punch in the CBB battle but hitting on a couple of deep throws and burning clock with Hurdle-Price, and as long as that defensive line stays disciplined the back seven can make enough plays to continue Bates on offense.

Prediction: Colby 21 – Bates 17

Hamilton at Williams, 1:30 PM, Williamstown, MA

Live Stats  Video

Things are not good in Clinton and Williamstown these days. For the Continentals part, there has been a lot of moral victories, including an OT loss against Tufts and two close games with Wesleyan and Colby. The defense has really stood on its head at times despite playing some younguns, and Cole Freeman ’19 stepped into the limelight two weeks ago at QB and would have lead Hamilton to a victory if not for Nelson’s Godly performance for Bowdoin. At the end of the day though, you can’t argue with the scoreboard, and Hamilton is still 0-5. The Ephs, meanwhile, amidst some rumblings of discontent from people around the program (nothing concrete), started off well with two wins sandwiched around a handy and expected beatdown against Trinity. However, the last two weeks have been disastrous for Williams, and with a roadtrip to Wesleyan in Week 7 and a rivalry game with Amherst in Week 8 looming, this might be the Ephs’ last shot at a victory to move to 3-5 and avoid a third straight 2-6 record, something that seems impossible for such a storied program.

Williams has allowed just 198.0 yards per game through the air, but they’ve also been behind for considerable amounts of a few games and have faced Bates, so coincidentally they rank eighth in rushing yards allowed per game. Nevertheless, I think that Williams is better against the pass than the run, which is good when matching up with Hamilton, who hasn’t been able to get a sputtering running attack going whatsoever. LaShawn Ware ’18, a talented runner who showed some potential a season ago, is averaging just 3.1 yards per carry, and subsequently Jason “Bane” Nastovski, previously cast as a fullback, led the squad with 12 carries last week to Ware’s nine. Combined, the pair had just 62 yards rushing on 21 carries. Clearly, a lot of pressure will be placed on Freeman and his receivers, particularly Charles Ensley ’17, a dynamic playmaker who just needs to get the ball in his hands, and the reliable Pat Donahoe ’16.

So do the Conts finally get the monkey off their back this week, or do the Ephs get mad and pull out a victory? I’m expecting an ugly game, with, as usual, a turnover being the difference. That Williams is at home I think benefits them, and Hamilton has been much worse on the road, losing 29-4 at Trinity and 30-20 at Bowdoin. Williams gets its third win of the season.

Prediction: Williams 21 – Hamilton 14

Monday Musings Part One: Amherst Tops Middlebury

RB Kenny Adinkra '16 and QB Reece Foy '18 cordially congratulate one another after an Adinkra rush for a TD on Saturday just before halftime. (Photo by Joe MacDonald)
RB Kenny Adinkra ’16 and QB Reece Foy ’18 cordially congratulate one another after an Adinkra rush for a TD on Saturday just before halftime. (Photo by Joe MacDonald)

Editors’ Note: In lieu of the usual Stock Report, we (Joe and Adam) wanted to do something a little different since we were at the Middlebury-Amherst game this weekend. Our thoughts on all the other games are coming this afternoon.

AL: Well Joey, another weekend down. Plenty to talk about, but we were both at the Amherst vs. Middlebury game, so tackle that game first?

JM: Yes, lots to take away. But first, just have to say that we had an awesome time watching the game on Saturday, even if it was tough to watch as a Middlebury fan. We got to talk to a lot of great parents on either side, and it reminded me what the NESCAC is all about. Great athletics, great academics, and a fun family atmosphere. I do wish that other schools could replicate the tailgating experience that those Amherst parents provide, though. Anyways, on to the game. There was less than we hoped for in terms of drama, but it was every bit as significant as we had expected. What are your takeaways from the game?

AL: First, the game was closer than the 24-7 score indicates. You could feel Amherst start to outlast the Panthers as the game went along. Middlebury didn’t have any answers on offense and their defense was on the field for way too long.

JM: The defense was exhausted, you’re absolutely right. That’s becoming an issue for the Panthers, as they’re averaging the worst TOP in the league (just 23:03 per game) – a big part of that is their inability to run the football. And on offense QB Matt Milano ’16 got his butt kicked. He was sacked five times and knocked down a few more. It was all around a dominant performance for the Amherst defense.

AL: Amherst ran 88 plays, and they ran the ball 49 times. That is going to wear a defense out, and that final Jack Hickey ’19 touchdown was a product of the defense having nothing left. What broke Middlebury was when Jack Drew ’16 ripped the ball out on the punt return and Amherst recovered at the one-yard line.

WR Jackson McGonagle '16 pulled down this Reece Foy '18 lob and just got a toe inside the end zone for a touchdown. (Photo by Joe MacDonald)
WR Jackson McGonagle ’16 pulled down this Reece Foy ’18 lob and just got a toe inside the end zone for a touchdown. (Photo by Joe MacDonald)

JM: What did Amherst do defensively that was so confusing for the Panthers offense?

AL: That 3-4 defense reminds me of the Pittsburgh Steelers in that their blitz packages are very diverse. The offensive line has no idea who is going to come and who is dropping into coverage.

JM: Exactly. The defensive lineman did a great job of occupying blockers and giving the linebackers chances to make plays. Middlebury even went with two tight ends a few times. Combine the lack of a threatening running game with Amherst’s ability to get pressure with three or four guys and you’ve got trouble. In the passing game Middlebury didn’t look bad, and were within a dropped pass of having a 14-3 lead in the first half.

After emerging as a weapon on the outside, WR Ian Riley '16 sat out Saturday's game with a lower body injury suffered in practice last week.
After emerging as a weapon on the outside, WR Ian Riley ’16 sat out Saturday’s game with a lower body injury suffered in practice last week. (Photo by Joe MacDonald)

The receiving corps was thin with Ian Riley ’16 out. Milano didn’t have anyone to throw to besides WR Matt Minno ’16 and TE Trevor Miletich ’16, and they need to get their other weapons involved more. Ryan Rizzo ’17 was fazed out of the game plan a bit this week, which meant they had to rely heavily on the two senior pass catchers mentioned above.

AL:  Moving the ball against the Jeffs is already hard enough, and when you can’t run the ball, forget about it. Who on that Jeff defense stood out?

JM: For me it was all about Evan Boynton ’17. He made some huge plays and obviously had the two sacks and an interception. He’s tops on the Amherst team in tackles right now. For a guy that wasn’t really on my radar before the season began, I think he’s now on the shortlist for DPOY.

AL: He was Defensive Player of the Week, so he is getting some recognition. I heard one fan describe him as a missile when he blitzes, and that’s pretty accurate. He and fellow middle linebacker, Thomas Kleyn ’16, are from the same high school, Concord-Carlisle. The thing about Amherst is they rotate guys in and out like it’s nothing.

JM: I think ultimately what Saturday showed was that Middlebury can’t match Amherst’s depth, and I doubt anyone else in the NESCAC can, either. Right now Amherst’s combination of talent, size, speed and depth is what makes them the favorite.

AL: That is all very true, and the fact that they have settled on Reece Foy ’18 is what puts them over the top for me. He is able to extend plays, and his deep ball is one of the best in the league. Not to mention that he usually has good time behind that offensive line.

The LJ's went into halftime up 14-7 and focused on extending that lead. (Photo by Joe MacDonald)
The LJ’s went into halftime up 14-7 and focused on extending that lead. (Photo by Joe MacDonald)

JM: Yeah, really impressed by Foy. I still have Milano as the league’s top QB, this game aside. That being said, with two more years to develop and grow, I expect we’ll be seeing Foy on some All-NESCAC lists in the future, if not this season. Speaking of quarterbacks, we didn’t see Jared Lebowitz ’18 until the final Middlebury drive of the game, despite the offense’s struggles to move the football. Why do you think that was?

AL: I think Head Coach Bob Ritter believed that at some point Milano would be able to get things moving. He might not have trusted Lebowitz at this point of the season. It’s tough because Lebowitz certainly offers a different wrinkle.

JM: I think you’re partially right. I believe that Ritter has confidence in both of his quarterbacks, but I also think that he is very wary of sparking any kind of controversy. If you put Lebowitz in that game in the second quarter, is there a chance that he carries some magic with him and the Panthers get the victory? Sure. But if you put him in and he doesn’t succeed right away, now you’ve got two quarterbacks without confidence in themselves coming out of that game. I think it was the right move to stick with Milano.

Come back later today for our discussion on the rest of the games around the NESCAC from this past weekend…

Takeaways from Middlebury’s Blue-White Scrimmage

Ryan Rizzo '17 brings in a pass from Matt Milano '16 for a score in Tuesday's Blue-White scrimmage. (Photo taken by Joe MacDonald)
Ryan Rizzo ’17 brings in a pass from Matt Milano ’16 for a score in Tuesday’s Blue-White scrimmage. (Photo taken by Joe MacDonald)

I had the pleasure of watching some early morning football yesterday at Alumni Stadium. First and foremost I have to thank Head Coach Bob Ritter for being so accommodating and allowing me to watch from the field as well as the stands.

Yesterday’s scrimmage primarily confirmed my thoughts going into the day. I had my eyes open for any surprises – potential breakouts, problem areas, etc. And while it was just a scrimmage, against one’s own team no less, there was some information gleaned from being in attendance.

The Starting Defense Barely Played – but They Look Good

With LB Addison Pierce ’17 already sidelined yesterday with a minor injury, I think that the coaching staff saw no need to risk hurting any of the defense’s biggest contributors. Tim Patricia ’16, Dan Pierce ’16, Jake Clapp ’16, Nate Leedy ’17 and others all played roughly two series and look as good as ever. The offense, regardless of who was at the helm, sputtered for the first couple of series, probably due in large part to the strength of the Middlebury starting 11 on defense. The Panthers changed up their looks pretty frequently, sometimes having the end move around and often bringing a linebacker up to the line.

What I Know about the Quarterback Situation Is That I Know Nothing

That’s not entirely true, but suffice to say that no great secrets were revealed in this regard by watching practice yesterday. Matt Milano ’16, Jared Lebowitz ’18 and Jake Stalcup ’17 all played and looked sharp. As noted above, there was some rust to shake off early, and neither of the first two listed had much success against the starters on defense, but both got going eventually. All three found the end zone with one pass, Milano and Lebowitz on rollouts to the right side (check out the video below) and Stalcup with an 80-yard bomb that was really a misplay by the deep safety. Lebowitz also scampered for a short TD run.

No team in the NESCAC can boast the kind of depth at QB that Middlebury can. Pictured: (Photo taken by Joe MacDonald)
No team in the NESCAC can boast the kind of depth at QB that Middlebury can. Pictured: QBs Colin Waters ’19 (15), Matt Milano ’16 (yellow cap), Jared Lebowitz ’18 (7) and Jake Stalcup ’17 (14). (Photo taken by Joe MacDonald)

Lebowitz is the unknown here so I was very interested to watch him play. He comes as advertised – good feet in the pocket, the ability to run if need be, and a strong arm. That being said, Milano also possesses all of those tools, and at this point I think the safe money is on Milano starting, playing almost every snap and once again being in the running for Offensive Player of the Year.

Safety Justin Fahey ’19 Stood Out

With so many experienced players on both sides of the ball for Middlebury, it was hard to pinpoint any underclassmen with a chance to get significant reps, but Fahey looks physically ready to play at this level. Right now, he appears to be the backup to Dan Pierce at one safety spot, with Cam Komisar ’16 – who reeled in the only interception yesterday – backing up Kevin Hopsicker ’18 as the other safety, but I wonder if Fahey could see reps at both spots in games to give the starters a breather. He made some nice plays in the run game early on and hits with authority, but also reacted slowly in some instances which is to be expected for a freshman in his first live action in college. Furthermore the coaches seem to have a vested interest in his development. Overall, I was impressed.

The O-Line Won’t Miss a Beat

My only real concern with the team coming into the day was that the offensive line might struggle after graduating a few seasoned vets, but I was wrong. James Wang ’16 at center will lead a strong unit that should give its quarterback all the time he needs.

My One Concern Going Forward: The Run Game

Somehow, year after year, Middlebury seems to find someone seemingly out of nowhere that excels in the backfield. In 2013 Matt Rea ’14 took over as the starter and bumped up his YPC average from 3.1 the year before to 3.9. Last season Drew Jacobs ’18 stepped on the scene and immediately became a factor, going for 81 yards on 20 carries in his first start and continued that success before being slowed by injury. Jacobs is out for the year with a Lisfranc fracture, so once again someone will have to rise to the top. Jonathan Hurvitz ’17 is a talented back and averaged over 3.0 yards per carry last season. Backing him up are the small but speedy Matt Cardew ’18 – who broke free for a 50-yard scamper yesterday showing off his ability to make defenders miss in open space – and the bulky Diego Meritus ’19. I did not get to see the last member of this group, Emilio Ovalles-Misterman ’19, who was inactive, but perhaps he could get some reps as well.

Running back play is crucial for Middlebury. Often there is one back alone with the QB in the shotgun, which means he must be able to protect his QB with chip blocks, know when to release and became an option in the passing game, and be able to be effective running from the shotgun which is difficult to do. I don’t doubt that this group can do all of that, but it is the area that concerns me most.

Overall, I came away from Tuesday’s scrimmage thoroughly impressed. The Panthers had some rust offensively early on, but that is to be expected. There is enough of a history here to trust that the offense will be running smoothly by Week 1. On defense there is enough returning talent to believe that last year’s No. 2 unit should be as good once again. As expected, Middlebury should be in the championship hunt again in 2015.

Stock Report September 29: The Jumbo Uprising

After two weeks the NESCAC is playing out according to preseason expectations. Tiers are rapidly developing and becoming defined. Hamilton, Bowdoin, Bates, and Colby are at the bottom of the league capable of giving teams scares but unable to outplay teams for 60 minutes. Middlebury and Williams are the middle class of teams that beat up on the lower teams but can’t handle the talent of the top flight. Finally Trinity, Wesleyan, Amherst, and Tufts will battle it out for the conference championship… wait a second… that can’t be right.

Tufts?

The Jumbos moved to 2-0 after outscoring Bates 35-7 in the final two plus quarters on their Homecoming. Tufts is clearly not yet one of the top teams in the conference, but their start so far is the best story of the NESCAC season. After years of coming up short, Tufts is riding a wave of momentum that might crest at 3-0 if they can go on the road and beat Bowdoin. That’s getting ahead of ourselves though, here is the week 2 stock report.

Stock Up

Middlebury Head Coach Bob Ritter and Offensive Coordinator Joe Early- What everyone wanted to know coming into the season was whether Middlebury had a starting QB that would be able to keep the Panthers in the upper echelon. Matt Milano ’16 has answered those questions, winning NESCAC Offensive Player of the Week honors after leading Middlebury to a decisive 27-7 victory at Colby. Milano deserves a ton of credit, but the Middlebury coaches also are worthy of notice. Head Coach Bob Ritter, who is also the QB coach, has done a masterful job building Middlebury into what it is today. In a league still very run heavy, Middlebury has carved out its own identity in airing the ball out. There is more balance this year as Middlebury ran the ball 49 times Saturday, yet the passing game is where the Panthers shine. Joe Early, now in his sixth season as the offensive coordinator, has done a fantastic job with every Middlebury QB he has coached, and Milano is merely the latest in line. After winning the AFCA (American Football Coaches Association) Assistant Coach of the Year in 2012, Early could be in line for a head coaching job somewhere soon.

Safety Jimmy Fairfield-Sonn ’16 (Amherst)- Some players are not able to be properly appreciated until you see them in person, and Fairfield-Sonn fits that description. He lacks the size you want in a safety at only 5’10” and 175 pounds, but he more than makes up for it with his speed and instincts. After not playing in week one, Fairfield-Sonn was all over the field making nine tackles (seven solo) and a fumble recovery at the end of the first half that kept Bowdoin from scoring and making it a one score game. All day he was able to come flying up into the box and delivered big hits on Tyler Grant ’17 and the Bowdoin wide receivers in the flat. The Amherst defense has talented players at all of their positions, and Fairfield-Sonn fits great in the defensive scheme to disrupt opponents rhythm and comfort.

 Running Back Zach Trause ’15 (Tufts)- Like last week, Tufts found a way to win in an unusual way with Trause being the hero this week. After a Mark Riley ’16 touchdown reception put Bates up 24-23, Trause decided that he was going to leave his final Homecoming a winner. He took the ensuing kickoff 82 yards to put Tufts back on top. Then a few minutes later he took a punt all the way back to give the Jumbo defense more than enough cushion to work with. Another excited Tufts crowd loved every second of it. This week’s win for Tufts was a much more complete performance. Not many people expected Tufts to win the game, much less pull away and win so comfortably in the end. For Trause and the other Jumbo seniors, the beginning of this season has been validation of everything they have put in over the years.

Stock Down

The Maine Schools- Bowdoin, Colby, and Bates are now a combined 0-6 for the season after they went 11-13 as a group last year. They have been outscored by a total of 130 points in those games. Bowdoin has not looked competitive in either of their games. Colby’s defense has taken a step back despite bringing back nine starters from last year. And while Bates almost pulled the upset on Amherst, the loss to Tufts by 18 points destroyed any of that momentum. The Maine schools have never been forces in the NESCAC, but they look to all be among the bottom of the league right now. The CBB at the end of the season will shape each of their seasons, as it so often does.

Defensive End James Howe ’16 (Williams)- Expecting Howe to replicate last season’s incredible statistics was always a reach because of how team’s would concentrate on him more, but it is safe to say that his first two games have been disappointments. He has eight tackles and one tackle for loss. You can’t argue that the focus on Howe has especially benefited his teammates as Williams hasn’t recorded a single sack yet. Obviously he is only one player and Williams lost 38-0 for a hundred other reasons before Howe’s performance. Some might liken criticism of Howe to that levied against Jadaveon Clowney last year simply because expectations were out of whack before the season began. Williams has to figure out a way for Howe to make an impact every game in order to avoid another drubbing like the one Saturday.

Drama- The average margin of victory in week two was 24.2 points. The top part of the league had no problems with their opponents. The NESCAC has never been known for its parity, and this season has not been any different. The game we expected to be the closest, Williams vs. Trinity turned into a rout with the Bantams flexing their muscles for 60 minutes. Colby not being able to stay close with Middlebury was also a surprise after the Mules hung tight for a half against Trinity. The lone upset this week came from Tufts of course. The rules around recruiting and roster size are supposed to keep every NESCAC team somewhat close to each other in terms of talent, but that has never really been the case.