Something Exciting This Way Comes: Week Five Power Rankings

The NESCAC schedule this season seems to share a structure with the Alfred Hitchcock classic Vertigo. There is a first half that is somewhat formulaic and drags on forever, and then a second half that blows it all out of the water with incredible drama, despite some dull plot holes . The first half of the season featured good teams playing bad teams, and now the good teams play the good teams and the bad teams play the bad teams. This is obviously the time in which the championship will be decided, so let’s see where the teams stand heading into the “Judy” half of the season (watch the movie folks!)

Kim Novak is all the NESCAC teams at once.

1: Trinity

Until Trinity loses, they have earned the top spot in the rankings. They have the best running back in the league in Max Chipouras ‘18, the third best quarterback in the league in Sonny Puzzo ‘18 (dm us on Twitter, I can defend my claims,) and a defense that seems to have a new MVP every week. Recently, it has been the linebacking corps that has stepped up. The secondary has been impenetrable all year, giving up only 126 passing yards per game, a very impressive stat in the pass-heavy NESCAC. But the rush defense is rounding into shape. Linebackers Shane Libby ‘19 and Dago Picon-Roura ‘19 have stuffed rushing attacks to the tune of 98 rushing yards per game. And it’s a good thing they did, because Williams has a tremendously underrated rushing attack. Stopping Connor Harris ‘18 and freshman weapon Rashad Morrison ‘21 was the key to Trinity surviving a strong upset bid. The season is about to get interesting for the Bantams. They haven’t played any of the upper tier yet, which has contributed to their aura of invincibility. But with Tufts this weekend, that will change. That rush defense will again be tested by Ryan McDonald ‘20. And, through no fault of their own, they have a legitimate challenger in Middlebury, and their matchup with the Panthers in two weeks looms.

2: Middlebury

Speaking of the Panthers, they are starting to look as dominant on offense as Trinity does on defense (and pretty formidable on defense as well.) To continue my quest to compliment Jared Lebowitz ‘18 in every article, he has raised his level of play past even where it was last year. We wrote at the beginning of the season that the key to Middlebury’s title hopes would be taking care of the ball, and Lebowitz only has two interceptions this year after having five at this point last season. Additionally, in Wesleyan and Amherst, Middlebury has played two of the best defenses in the league. Lebowitz has not dominated those games. Against Amherst he only had 205 yards, and against Wesleyan he only completed 50% of his passes. But in those two games he has 6 touchdowns and no interceptions, and, lo and behold, Middlebury has won both games.

Lebowitz not turning the ball over has allowed Middlebury to win games in other ways. Jimmy Martinez ‘19 is a combination of Tyreek Hill and a Power Ranger in the return game. He’s so terrifying that teams would rather squib kicks than give him the chance to run them back. This gives Lebowitz the Panthers excellent starting field position. And the defense, after struggling against Wesleyan in the fourth quarter in Week One, has become one of the most explosive units in the league. They scored two touchdowns against Amherst, including one from LB Wesley Becton ‘18, who is quickly becoming a First Team candidate. The unit leads the league in interceptions, and have done it against elite competition, unlike Trinity.

3: Amherst

The Amherst Football redemption tour bus hit a pothole last weekend when they dropped a key home game to Middlebury. A win against the Panthers would have put them in a great position to at least split the league title; now they’ll need some help from the teams remaining. Defense was not the problem for the Mammoths against Middlebury. They held the vaunted Middlebury offense to just 287 yards, by far their lowest output of the season. And the three passing touchdowns that the Panthers produced were heavily aided by 3 Amherst interceptions. One of those came from starter Ollie Eberth ‘21, but two came from Reece Foy ‘18. Herein lies Amherst’s problem. It’s becoming increasingly obvious that Foy is not ready to be the player he was before his injury last off-season. Eberth is a great talent, but the prospect of beating Trinity with a first year QB is not a promising one. Amherst has the best rushing attack in the league, with Jack Hickey ‘19 and Hasani Figueroa ‘18 (189 yards combined against Middlebury.)Amherst should up both of their carries to make up for the inconsistencies at QB, but you can’t beat teams like Middlebury or Trinity without a well-rounded offense.

James O’ Regen ’20 is one of the biggest receivers in the league at 6’4″, and has been using that size to put up even bigger numbers.

4: Wesleyan

I really wanted to put the Cardinals ahead of Amherst here, but after the outcry against the Stock Report I thought better of it. The Cardinals offense continued to fly high last weekend against Colby, as did the remarkable season of QB Mark Piccirillo ‘18. He is tied with Lebowitz for the league lead in touchdowns and passing yards per game, and has one of the highest completion percentages in the country  at over 70%. He does have a propensity for interceptions (6 already on the year,) and that hurt them in their opening loss to Middlebury. Their rushing attack is coming together nicely as Dario Highsmith ‘20 continues to flash huge potential, and they might even be able to give him more carries and keep some pressure off of First Team Candidates Piccirillo and WR Mike Breuler ’18.

For Wesleyan, the fault is not in their stars, dear Brutus, but in their defense. The stats are solid (between third and fourth in the league in yards and points per game,) but they are not as dangerous as they were last season. The unit has only forced four turnovers on the season, the lowest of the top teams, and that includes none against Middlebury. That may seem like a bit of a nit-picky complaint against a unit that has only given up 15 points per game despite playing Middlebury and Tufts already, but it matters. They simply haven’t been as dangerous on defense as Middlebury and Trinity have, and that is why they’re just outside of the upper echelon.

5: Williams

Rashad Morrison ’21 is another weapon on a Williams offense that is getting scarier by the minute.

I know that Bates’ defense make every team they play look like me in online Madden (that is, unbeatable,) but Williams’ performance last week.was still impressive. They put up 590 yards of total offense, including 289 rushing yards, and 47 points, the second most in the league this year. Bobby Maimeron ‘21 continued his star turn in his freshman year, and Frank Stola ‘21 netted 172 and two touchdowns. The defense tallied four interceptions against the overmatched Bates offense. It was an all around domination that showed just how far Williams has come from being one of the worst teams in the league just last season. Something to watch for out of this game was the emergence of versatile weapon Rashad Morrison ‘21. After not playing in the first three games, the speedy receiver exploded for 85 yards and a touchdown on just five carries. Between him and Connor Harris ‘18, Williams has two explosive backfield options who can break games with their speed. The Ephs are very much here to stay, and have another chance to notch a huge upset this weekend in Middlebury. The Panthers should be very wary.

6: Tufts

Tufts has done nothing to deserve being dropped in the rankings. I’m just getting that out the way now before Rory and Sid text me and call me names. They suffered a tough loss to Wesleyan in Week Two, and since then have beaten up on lower tier teams, just like the teams above them on this list. Ryan McDonald ‘18 is the best dual-threat QB in the league, averaging over 90 rushing yards per game in addition to 220 passing yards. However, he is their entire offense. RB Dom Borelli ‘19 has struggled with injuries and inconsistency all year, and they lack an explosive playmaker outside of swiss army knife WR Jack Dolan ‘18. This is what separates them from the likes of Trinity, Middlebury and Wesleyan. They don’t have enough other weapons to win when they face a team that has the athleticism on defense to stop McDonald. Trinity, Middlebury, Wesleyan, Williams and Amherst all have that.

7: Hamilton

The Continentals have got to be a little frustrated, both in the schedulers and in themselves. For a couple years they’ve been amassing young talent, and it looked as if they, not Williams, would be the team to rise up out of the bottom tier and take on the big dogs. And after a close loss to Tufts in Week One, the “Hamilton is good now” train (on which I was the conductor) took off a little prematurely. Hamilton still hasn’t won a game yet this season, despite exciting young players such as QB Kenny Gray ’20 and WR Joe Schmidt ’20. However, they have also had to play all of those “big dogs” pretty immediately, and right in a row. Hamilton has played, in this order, Tufts, Amherst, Wesleyan and Trinity. So their record and anemic defensive and rushing statistics can be partially attributed to a young team playing very good teams early in the season. In the second half, they still have Middlebury, but they also finally play teams like Bates and Colby, whom they should beat. Look for Hamilton to grab some wins in the next couple weeks.

8: Bowdoin

Nate Richam
In his bio on the Bowdoin football website, Nate lists his favorite food as “linebackers,” which is awesome.

Here we are, the bottom tier. Bowdoin gets the “moral victory” trophy for being at the top of this group on the strength of their surprisingly solid rushing attack, led by Nate Richam ’20, who in his sophomore year is averaging 71 yards per game on five yards per carry. He doesn’t get a lot of red zone chances, as Bowdoin’s quarterback play has been less functional than the Trump White House and just as hard to watch. But in Richam, Bowdoin has the semblance of an identity, a power running team that works hard for every possession. They also have played a very difficult schedule thus far, and should use the second half to work on this identity.

9: Colby

These bottom two teams are both here for opposite, and historically bad reasons. For Colby, it is their offense. They don’t seem to have one. Colby has only scored 20 points all season, for an average of five per game. They only have 786 total yards, or to phrase it differently, nearly five hundred fewer than Jared Lebowitz has on his own. These numbers are bad no matter who they’ve played, and doesn’t bode well for even the easier games in the second half.

10: Bates

Three out of the five highest scoring games this season have come against the Bobcats. The Bobcats just gave up 590 yards to Williams, which is the equivalent of giving up 985 yards to Trinity. Bates recently gave up 75 yards on the ground and a touchdown to the dog from Air Bud, who died several years ago (sorry.) Bates’ defense hasn’t gotten much help from the offense, which has ten turnovers. I do like the direction Bates is trending in, as they have entirely given their season over to building up young QBs Matt Golden ’20 and Brendan Costa ’21. This second half should be about auditioning those two for the QB of the future role. Bates has no hope of winning any games this year if their defense doesn’t approach mediocrity real soon.

The Best of the Rest: Week Four Football Weekend Preview

The marquee game of the season thus far is in Amherst, as Middlebury travels to the Mammoths in a game that starts the process of deciding the league champion. Amherst and Middlebury are the two teams with the best chance of supplanting Trinity, but staying undefeated will be crucial in that noble quest. Check out Colby’s breakdown of that game here.  Other than that game this week is pretty pedestrian, with mostly lower tier teams taking on better opponents. It will be interesting to see if Williams can build off their performance against Trinity last weekend, or if they are let down after a tough loss. And Trinity is worth watching as well, to see if their offense can rebound against a Hamilton team that can be sneaky-dangerous (ask Tufts.)

Colby (0-3) @ Wesleyan (2-1), 1:00 PM, Middletown, CT

As their Twitter page is very fond of pointing out, Wesleyan has one of the most potent passing offenses in the country thus far. However, they are not built to be a high volume aerial attack like, say, Middlebury is. Mark Piccirillo ‘18 doesn’t have the bevy of receiving weapons that Lebowitz does, nor is he as deadly accurate, as shown by his two picks against Hamilton. This is why it was so encouraging to see the Cardinal rushing attack get going in a big way against the Continentals. Sophomore Dario Highsmith ‘20 had the breakout game we’ve been waiting for, rushing for 95 yards and two touchdowns on just 15 carries. Wesleyan is at their best when their offense is multi-faceted, and after a one-dimensional first three weeks, they’re finally figuring it out. Look for them to continue to establish the run in a mismatch against Colby.

Dario Highsmith ’20 might be making a star turn before our very eyes.

Speaking of the Mules, their offense has continued to be anemic, putting too much pressure on an actually fairly good defense. QB Jack O’ Brian ‘21 has not thrown a pick since becoming the starter, but he also has completed just around 50% of his passes and really struggles throwing it downfield. The passing game can’t keep the ball on the field well enough to run it with Jake Schwern ’19, an underrated back who is averaging 4.5 yards per carry. Colby will try to run the ball on the Cardinals, but they really need to get some sort of threatening passing attack going. Unfortunately, Wesleyan is not a team offenses get “well” against.

Predicted Score: Wesleyan 31, Colby 9

Bates (0-3) @ Williams (2-1), 1:00 PM, Williamstown, MA

At the beginning of the season, we would have thought this game would be close, as these two teams would be battling it out for the “Best of the Rest” spot that we’ve written about in the past. But with Williams’ shocking improvement and Bates’ equally shocking struggles, it now looks like it could be a blowout. But, it also might not be. This is a very important game for both teams. Williams has impressed the league with their terrific defensive performance against Trinity. They had two sacks, a category in which they sit a second in the league, and nine tackles for loss in a pressure-filled performance that helped hold Max Chipouras ’19 to his worst performance on the season (just 2.8 yards per carry.) Unfortunately for them, Trinity’s defense was just as good, forcing the young Williams offense into four turnovers. Williams brought a lot of passion in that game, and they can’t afford to take a break against the Bobcats if they want to keep a legit chance at finishing in the top four (which I think they have.) The offense should rebound against a porous Bates defense, but the youth factor might make it harder to come back from a frustrating loss last weekend

Brendan Costa
Brendan Costa ’21 is the latest on the carousel of Bates starting QB’s.

Luckily for the Williams offense, Bates has made pretty much every team they play look like the ‘07 Patriots. To be fair, they have played three of the best offenses in the league (Trinity, Amherst and Tufts.) And also to be fair, their own offense has struggled so much that their defense can’t get a break. The Bobcats are on their their third QB of the year in Brendan Costa ‘21, and he looked impressive on the ground against Tufts (91 yards and a TD.) But he still completed only 42% of his passes. Even if Williams’ offense isn’t as dominant as the others Bates has faced, their defense should be enough to get them the win.

Predicted Score: Williams 24, Bates 10

Hamilton (0-3) @ Trinity (3-0), 1:00 PM, Hartford, CT

Trinity had some weaknesses exposed last weekend against Williams, namely on the offensive line and in the receiving game. Sonny Puzzo ‘18 and Max Chipouras ‘19 might be the best at their positions in the league, but Trinity doesn’t have a stud receiver. Koby Schafer ’20 is a great player, but he’d be better suited as a second option behind a Mike Breuler ’18 or a Conrado Banky ’19. This puts more pressure on Puzzo to make perfect throws, and on Chipouras to set up the offense in good spots. Therefore, if either of them are struggling, Trinity’s offense can sputter. And the way to make them struggle is to pack the box and stop Chipouras. Williams did that very effectively until a fourth quarter turnover gave the Bantams excellent field position. That’s when Puzzo ended the game with a TD strike to Schafer, keeping Trinity from suffering a huge upset. Also, it should be noted that Trinity’s defense still looked impenetrable despite finally giving up points. They dominated the Ephs inexperienced attack, with LB and Player of the Week Carty Campbell ’18 returning an interception 34 yards. They should to the same to Hamilton.

Hamilton has definitely seen the game plan that Williams used to limit Trinity. However, they probably do not have the personnel to repeat it. They have two solid linebackers in Cole Burchill ’19 and Tyler Hudson ’19, but neither of them are intimidating backfield presence, preferring to work in the secondary. And their D-Line has been roasted all season to the tune of 204 rushing yards per game (!!) Add in another inexperienced offense (despite a bevy of weapons that might make Puzzo fairly jealous) and Trinity should get back on their blowout grind this week.

Predicted Score: Trinity 42, Hamilton 6

Bowdoin (0-3) @ Tufts (2-1), 1:30 PM, Medford, MA

One of the most versatile offenses in the league takes on the worst defense in the league. Not exactly a recipe for a tight game. Tufts can beat you in a lot of different ways on the offensive end, but they all start with QB Ryan McDonald ‘19. McDonald has had a couple huge passing games (and one very bad one against Wesleyan,) and has six touchdowns and two interceptions on the year. But his greatest weapons is his legs. He has 295 yards and two touchdowns on 5.1 yards per carry. He does have an unfortunate fumbling habit (3 on the year) but he is undoubtedly one of the deadliest offensive forces in the league, and has been chiefly responsible for Tufts’s offense thriving even without Chance Brady.

Ryan McDonald ’19 is the key to Tufts’ offense.

Bowdoin’s defense is allowing an incomprehensible 477 yards per game this season. They seem to have found some modicum of consistency at QB in Griff Stalcup ‘21, but they simply cannot stay in games long enough for him to really get into a rhythm. If they could find some way to disrupt McDonald’s throwing, Tufts RB Dom Borelli ‘19 is battling an injury and may not play, limiting their rushing attack. They could play contain on McDonald and force him to make downfield throws. However, I don’t see their secondary being good enough to stop those throws even if they do that.

Predicted Score: Tufts 40, Bowdoin 10

Sometimes the Box Score Lies: Stock Report 10/26

This picture is awesome. (Courtesy of Brewster Burns/Bates College)
This picture is awesome. (Courtesy of Brewster Burns/Bates College)

Another week down in the NESCAC, and we’re 62.5 percent of the way through the season. With nearly 2/3 of the NESCAC schedule behind us, you’d think that the championship picture would be fairly clear by now. On the contrary, things have only gotten murkier. While Amherst has impressed more than anyone else so far, they’re not out of the woods yet. Both the LJs and Trinity are 5-0, and Middlebury and Tufts are lurking at 4-1, just waiting for one of the top teams to slip up. Even Wesleyan, despite a heartbreaking loss this weekend to Amherst, is still barely alive at 3-2. And let’s not forget about the micro championships that are still up for grabs. The Little Three is under way and the CBB will get going this coming weekend, plus there are still a couple of huge rivalry match ups coming in Week 8 that always provide intrigue regardless of the standings.

As mentioned, the Little Three has begun with Amherst pushing their winning streak to 16 games, meaning they have beat every opponent in the NESCAC both at home and away since their last loss (they don’t play Hamilton). The win over Wesleyan didn’t come easy with the Jeffs down 9-0 in the first half mostly because of three first half interceptions by Reece Foy ’18. The score at halftime was 12-7 Wesleyan, but the Cardinals should have been up more as they had those three turnovers, a blocked punt, and more than 200 yards of offense in the first half. Wesleyan ended five of their six first half possessions in Amherst territory, four of which got inside the Amherst 30 yard line. To get only 12 points from those drives was a killer for Wesleyan.

On the other side, Amherst made up for their offensive deficiencies with big plays with Foy’s three touchdown passes coming on 33 and 40 yard strikes to Jackson McGonagle ’16 and a 65 yard bomb in the second half to Devin Boehm ’17 where Boehm was wide open. The only drive that Amherst really sustained was their final touchdown drive that took 5:08 and essentially ended the game putting them up 27-18 with 3:05 left.

For the second straight week, Amherst was dominated in the box score but won relatively easily. Wesleyan had 10 more first downs, 73 more yards, and held the ball for 38:46. The turnover margin was +2 for Wesleyan, and to boot Amherst had 101 penalty yards.

Didn’t matter.

Stock Up

Trinity RB Max Chipouras ’19

This is an easy one, as the emerging frosh tailback garnered NESCAC Offensive POTW honors for his impressive performance. The rookie went for 155 yards on 18 carries (8.6 YPC) and three touchdowns. His longest jaunt was 28 yards, which goes to show that he was consistently productive all day long. Chipouras is big but still shifty, and after getting only eight carries for 64 yards in the first two games, he now ranks third in the league in rush yards per game and leads the NESCAC with 6.8 per carry.

Tufts Running Backs

Week 5 was an important statement game for Tufts, who, by handling Williams 30-15, further solidified its standing in the upper tier of the league. Leading the charge were Chance Brady ’17 and Dom Borelli ’19. Their talent has changed what used to be a pass-heavy offense into a run-first team. Brady is the workhorse of the pair and a known commodity, which begs the question how his stock could be “up”? Well, he’s increased his rushing total each of the past four weeks and has six touchdowns in the past three games. I’d say things are trending upwards for Brady and the Jumbos.

Trinity Defensive Line

After the Bantams surrendered 27 points to Tufts a week ago, questions began to circulate about just how good the Trinity defense was. The Bants answered those questions in resounding fashion, and the front absolutely dominated the Bowdoin O-line. The experienced Trinity D-line, anchored by nose tackle Matt D’Andrea ’17, surrendered only 63 rushing yards to the Polar Bears and helped force four sacks, two of which came from D-linemen. Of course, Trinity gets its toughest tests in the final three weeks of the season. The Bantams have started out 5-0 for five consecutive seasons, but everyone in Hartford is very aware of how the season quickly skidded to a half and a 5-3 finish a year ago. Time will tell if the Bantams’ defense can step up and be dominant against the better teams.

Jackson McGonagle '16 hauls in one of his two touchdown catches. (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)
Jackson McGonagle ’16 hauls in one of his two touchdown catches. (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

Stock Down

Bates Defense

Though the Bobcats are 0-5, they have been in some tight games this year and the defense had been stepping up as of late, even holdings Tufts to 17 points in Week 2. And then Saturday happened, when the Panthers went off for 41 points. Like most games in the NESCAC, the score was not indicative of how tough of a football game it was, as Middlebury led just 14-10 at halftime, and Bates had four takeaways – three interceptions and a fumble recovery. But in the end, the pass defense was porous. The Bobcats stopped the run very well, not allowing a run over seven yards until the Panthers’ final drive when QB Jared Lebowitz ’17 snuck through for a 40-yard TD dash off of a read option. In the passing game, though, Middlebury receivers just beat the Bobcats’ defenders one-on-one on multiple occasions. One long TD pass to Conrado Banky ’19 came on a simple go route down the left sideline where Banky just outran and out-jumped his defender. Overall, Middlebury had 6.3 yards per offensive play.

Wesleyan QB Gernald Hawkins ’18

We knew it was going to be tough for Hawkins to adjust and become an efficient passer, but his inability to move the ball downfield was exposed against Amherst. Hawkins only completed four passes of over 10 yards, the longest being 18 yards on the Cardinals’ final drive with Amherst laying off defensively. While he’s done a good job taking care of the ball, Hawkins’ limitations are hindering the Wesleyan offense. They’re happy to rely on their talented running backs, and the trick plays with Devon Carrillo ’16 throwing the ball and the change of pace with Mark Piccirillo ’19 lining up behind center are great, but you need to be able to threaten through the air on every down, and right now Wesleyan can’t do that.

Middlebury Passing Offense

How can Bates’ pass defense and Middlebury’s passing offense both be trending downward when the two faced off this week? Let me explain. It’s all relative, remember, so keep in mind that the Panthers’ passing attack is still elite when it comes to the NESCAC. But, interceptions have been somewhat of an issue this season for QB Matt Milano ’16, and they’ve really come in bunches, with two each against Colby and Amherst and three against Bates. Some are poor decisions, some are misplays by receivers, but considering that Milano had three picks all of last season, two of which came in Week 1, there’s some reason for concern. What really concerns me, though, is that Conrado Banky went down with an injury against Bates, and his status is unknown. Middlebury has some talented receivers who have barely seen the field waiting for an opportunity, but Banky was quickly turning into a star and seemed to have a solid connection with Milano, and losing him could prove costly.

Mid-Year Report: 5 Biggest Surprises So Far

Quarterback Noah Nelson '19 came out of nowhere to win NESCAC POTW Honors. (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)
Quarterback Noah Nelson ’19 came out of nowhere to win NESCAC POTW Honors. (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)

The NESCAC football season has brought us all of the drama and excitement that we could have asked. And while the standings are largely where we thought they’d be at season’s beginning, and many of last year’s standouts have built upon their impressive resumes, nevertheless there have been a myriad of surprises, as well.

Like the ending of the Departed – wait, maybe that’s a bad example. Like the big reveal of Darth Vader’s true identity in The Empire Strikes Back – do anyone of the younguns playing in the NESCAC today even know what I’m talking about – some things we just never see coming. And with that in mind, below are the five biggest surprises of the 2015 NESCAC football season, in order from “Oh no, someone ate the last Oreo” to “My car is gone, my girlfriend broke up with me and my house burnt down – I just saw it on Facebook”.

5. There Are Freshmen All over the Leaderboards

And that doesn’t even count last week’s Co-Offensive Player of the Week, Bowdoin QB Noah Nelson ’19, who isn’t eligible for the leaderboards despite a 328-yard, four-touchdown performance in Week 4. Amherst (Jack Hickey ’19) and Middlebury (Diego Meritus ’19) both have ball carriers in the top-10 in rushing yards per game, and Tufts’ Dom Borelli ’19 has shown some flashes of talent. On the receiving end, Middlebury’s Conrado Banky ’19 has turned a couple big plays into 64.8 YPG receiving, good for ninth in the NESCAC. On the defensive end, LB Phillippe Archambault ’19 (Bowdoin), LBs Ryan Neville ’19 (Colby) and Sam Friedman ’19 (Colby), DL Tyler Hudson ’19 (Hamilton) and DB Colby Jones ’19 (Hamilton), LBs Dagon Picon-Roura ’19 (Trinity) and Shane Libby ’19 (Trinity), and DB Alexander LaPiana ’19 (Tufts) are all making immediate impacts for their new squads. Every year some first-years make their mark right away, but it’s always impressive to see, and the number of contributors this year has been particularly large

4. The Tufts Jumbos Are 3-1, with a 34-27 OT Loss vs. Trinity

Sure, we predicted a 4-4 season for Tufts and they’ve won the games we expected them to. They also scraped by Hamilton and Bates by a total of four points. So we shouldn’t really be surprised by where Tufts stands right now. But then again, they did almost beat a 3-0 Trinity team that had yet to allow a point on defense. Maybe, just maybe, this team is getting better. And better yet, they’re starting to believe that they belong. For a team that hadn’t won a football game since Sept. 15, 2010 before last season, they seem to have arrived and become relevant at last.

3. The Wesleyan Rushing Attack

The Cardinals’ returned All-NESCAC running back Lou Stevens ’17 and brought back the formerly-injured LaDarius Drew ’15 to the backfield for this season. I would have bet my entire bank account (that probably sounds more impressive than it is) that at least one of those two would be running roughshod over the NESCAC already.

And yet, in Week 1 Jaylen Berry ’18 led the Cards’ attack with 122 rushing yards on 21 carries (5.8 YPC) and Drew and Stevens combined for just eight carries. On the season, Berry, quarterback Gernald Hawkins ’18 and slot receiver/Wildcat QB Devon Carrillo ’16 have all rushed for more yards than Stevens and Drew, and Drew has only played in two games this season, meaning that he is not recovered from his injury in 2014. Stevens finally got it going a week ago, running for 117 yards on just 12 carries including a 40-yard rumble, but it’s fairly obvious that we’re not going to see a workhorse emerge in the Cardinals’ backfield this season, with Head Coach Dan DiCenzo electing to spread out the carries.

2. The Maine Schools are a Combined 1-11

We had all three projected for either two or three wins, so the CBB was expected to be weak this season – but not this weak. If not for an offensive explosion from a newcomer at QB, Bowdoin could easily be 0-4 and the CBB would be 0-12. Something needs to change, because this kind of disparity is not good for the Maine schools or the league as a whole. Of those 11 losses, only three have really been close. Hopefully things turn around down the stretch, but that remains to be seen.

1. Passing Is up in the ‘CAC – and by a lot.

Last year, only two teams finished the season with over 200 YPG through the air – Middlebury (265.0) and Tufts (234.5). This season, through four games, EIGHT teams have at least 200 YPG passing, led by the Panthers (314.0) and capped with the Wesleyan Cardinals (200.8). From where is this difference coming? We thought, with the graduation of some top passers in Jesse Warren ’15 and Jack Doll ’15, that passing might be down this season. But on the contrary, passing is way up. The top-five passing defenses from a year ago are the same, and Trinity, Middlebury, Amherst, Williams and Wesleyan are performing similarly to a year ago. But Hamilton, Bates and Tufts, in particular, are relinquishing too many yards through the air. Even though Bates only threw for 110 yards against Tufts in Week 2, the Jumbos are allowing 290.0 YPG through the air. But it’s not just the lackluster performance of the Jumbos defense against the pass, but the arrival of some impressive QBs. Sonny Puzzo ’18 and Reece Foy ’18 are the league’s No. 2 and No. 3 passes to-date.

For awhile now the theme has been three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust in the NESCAC, but that appears to be changing.

 

 

More than the Main Course: Weekend Preview 10/9

 

The Bantams hope to keep their sparkling record and scoreless streak alive. (Courtesy of Robert LeBel)
The Bantams hope to keep their sparkling record and scoreless streak alive. (Courtesy of Robert LeBel)

Amherst and Middlebury is the main attraction this weekend, and Joe broke that down in detail yesterday, but the other four games still offer plenty to chew on. Trinity and Wesleyan are heavy home favorites against Hamilton and Colby respectively, but those games are still important measuring sticks. Bowdoin has beaten Tufts five straight times, and it would certainly behoove the Polar Bears to extend that streak to six in order to get their first win of the year. Bates and Williams meet in Western Massachusetts as both teams are in need of a win.

Four to Watch

1. Defensive End Zach Thomas ’18 (Tufts):

Zach Thomas
Tufts Athletics

Last year Thomas saw the field mostly as a kicker filling in for the injured Willie Holmquist ’16, and he has played great through two games at DE after playing there sparingly in 2014. He had 2.5 sacks against Bates, two of which came on third down to end Bates’ drives. Bowdoin allowed six sacks last week (admittedly Amherst is a different animal than most), and Thomas will get plenty of chances to rush the QB if Tufts gets up early. Along with Shane Thomas ’17 (no relation), the sophomore is part of a young group who are emerging for Tufts as difference makers, something that the Jumbos have lacked for a long time.

Shane Thomas '17 (56) is emerging as a force, leading the Jumbos in tackles. (Courtesy of Josh Kuckens/Bates College)
LB Shane Thomas ’17 (56) is emerging as a force and nice complement to DE Zach, leading the Jumbos in tackles. (Courtesy of Josh Kuckens/Bates College)

2. Wide Receiver Colin Brown ’16 (Williams):

Colin Brown
Williams Athletics

Brown and fellow wide out Darrias Sime ’16 probably spent much of the week drooling at the tape of Jack Cooleen ’16 ripping up the Bates secondary. Brown is 6’5″, but he was shut down last week against Trinity. A year ago he had by far his best game of the season against Bates hauling in eight catches for 96 yards. The young Bates secondary has to figure some way of forcing Brown and Sime to be physical, not just when the ball is in the air but also at the line of scrimmage. Unfortunately, that lies outside of how Bates usually plays, meaning that Brown should get a lot of clean breaks off of the line. Once he gets moving, he is much more difficult to stop.

3. Running Back Nick Gaynor ’17 (Trinity):

Nick Gaynor
Trinity Athletics

Hats off to Gaynor who has transitioned to running back almost as smoothly as one could hope. Given the long history of Trinity backs, nobody expected the Bantams to have to turn to a wide receiver. He has answered the call averaging 4.5 yards per carry so far. He still retains some of his receiver instincts to cut outside and only try to run through arm tackles, but that is also playing to his strengths as a shifty runner. The one concern for Gaynor is his three fumbles so far. Those are the only turnovers that Trinity has had all year. Freshman Max Chipouras ’19 could take carries away from Gaynor as the year goes along, but for now Gaynor is the signature back for the Bantams.

4. Defensive Lineman Tyler Hudson ’19 (Hamilton):

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Hamilton Athletics

The Continental defense has looked much better in 2015, and Hudson has been a stud for them already as a freshman. He was everywhere against Tufts with 4.5 TFLs, and he proved that it wasn’t a fluke against Wesleyan with a sack and pass batted down. His 5.5 TFL are the most in the league. Hudson is from Whitesboro, New York which is a 15-minute drive away from Hamilton. Coach Dave Murray is a longtime coach and recruiter in Central New York, and Hudson is exactly the type of football player that Murray is trying to convince to stay close to home. Already……….

Game Previews

Bowdoin (0-2) at Tufts (2-0): Medford, Massachusetts, 1:00 PM

These two met last year with the same records, and the result was Bowdoin’s first win of the year. The Jumbos have found a way to take that magic oil that helped them win all four home games on the road the first two weeks, eeking out an overtime win and a one-point win. They are still not a great football team, but they are coming close to good and that’s enough to beat the lower half of the league. Chance Brady ’17 might not play because of a concussion, but Dom Borelli ’19 has looked good as the backup running back so far.

Bowdoin has looked pretty listless in their first two games. QB Tim Drakeley ’17 has thrown the ball well, but the Polar Bears have been forced to get away from running the ball with Tyler Grant ’17 because they have fallen behind so quickly. The defense, especially that secondary, has to play better as a unit. Until Bowdoin wins a game, you have to pick against them.

Prediction: Tufts over Bowdoin 19-13

Hamilton (0-2) at Trinity (2-0): Hartford, Connecticut. 1:00 PM

The easy opening schedule for Trinity continues, though the Bantams beat Hamilton by just 12 points last year. That game was at Hamilton, and the Bantams don’t have to worry about a long bus ride this year. Sonny Puzzo ’18 is playing great, attacking the defense downfield and not making any mistakes.

Hamilton is going to struggle unless Trinity suddenly catches the turnover bug. They don’t have the athletes to match up with Trinity in the open field, and they can’t sell out against the run like they did against Wesleyan. Charles Ensley ’17 and Pat Donahoe ’16 are underrated receivers, but even they will have trouble against the Trinity secondary. The scoreless streak ends, but the Bantams still cruise.

Prediction: Trinity over Hamilton 28-6

Bates (0-2) at Williams (1-1): Williamstown, Massachusetts. 1:00 PM

QB Austin Lommen '16 and the Ephs could find no room to operate against the Bantams last weekend. (Courtesy of Robert LeBel)
QB Austin Lommen ’16 and the Ephs could find no room to operate against the Bantams last weekend. (Courtesy of Robert LeBel)

On the surface this is the same Williams team we saw last year: an easy win over Bowdoin before a shutout loss to Trinity. However, I think the Ephs have more going for them this year. Much of that rests on the shoulders of Austin Lommen ’16, and despite subpar statistics from him last week, I think he bounces back against Bates. Mark Pomella ’16 is there as a change of pace quarterback, but the Ephs will win or lose because of Lommen. The running game has not improved much, and the Ephs can be made one-dimensional. That might not be a terrible thing against Bates.

Williams’ biggest worry is that their young defense wilts against the triple option, though the Bobcats haven’t been very successful moving the ball so far this year. Shaun Carroll’s ’16 statistics are inflated by one 80-yard run, and the Bobcats have not sustained enough drives. After their tough loss last week, this game is a test of the Bobcats leadership and resilience. Bottom line for me is I see the Williams offense capitalizing at points a week after Trinity gave them chances to make plays and the Ephs failed every time.

Prediction: Williams 27 – Bates 20

Colby (0-2) at Wesleyan (1-1): Middletown, Connecticut. 1:00 PM

Colby has struggled to run the ball and is going up against a Wesleyan team that suffocates teams when they run. Gabe Harrington ’17 might throw the ball 30 times in this game, and he needs receivers like Ryder Arsenault ’17 to get open much more consistently than they have. Last week against Middlebury the only success that Colby had in the passing game was a few go-up-and-get-’ems from young wideout Mark Snyder ’18.

If Wesleyan’s talent is going to coalesce into a very good football team, this is the week for them to do it. A big victory would give the team a huge boost in confidence. Justin Sanchez ’17 has been relatively quiet, and tomorrow would be a great time for him to intercept Harrington once or twice. The front seven has already proven that it is up to snuff with Shayne Kaminski ’18 and Jordan Stone ’17 helping to lead the way. The Mules don’t have the horses (bad pun intended) to hang for four quarters.

Prediction: Wesleyan 30 – Colby 10