Was the Rebuild Successful?: Wesleyan Football 2016 Season Preview

Losing LaDarius Drew will be a tough hole to fill for the Cardinals (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics).
Losing LaDarius Drew will be a tough hole to fill for the Cardinals (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics).

Projected 2016 Record: 6-2

Projected Offensive Starters (*Ten Returning)

QB: Gerald Hawkins ’18*/ Mark Piccirillo ’19*

RB: Jaylen Berry ’17*

WR: Eric Mayreles ’18*

WR: Mike Breuler ’18*

WR: Kris Luster ’17*

TE: Ben Kurtz ’16*

OL: Beau Butler ‘18*

OL: Shane Jenkins ‘17*

OL: Matt Kuhn ‘17*

OL: Joe Wilson ‘19*

OL: Mitch Ryan ‘17*

Projected Defensive Starters (*Nine Returning)

DE: Jordan Stone ’17*

DT: Isaiah Thomas ’19*

DT: Grant Williams ’19*

DE: Jude Lindberg ’19*

OLB: Cole Harris ‘18

MLB: Shayne Kaminski ’18*

OLB: Brandon Morris ’19

CB: Nate Taylor ‘18*

SS: Zach Cuzner ’17*

FS: Justin Sanchez ’17*

CB: Elias Camacho ’18*

Projected Specialists (*Two Returning)

PK/P: Ike Fuchs ’17*

KR/PR: Eric Mayreles ’18*

Offensive MVP: RB Jaylen Berry (’18)

Berry had a breakout season in 2015, rushing for 435 yards on 97 carries in his sophomore season.  In a year of inconsistent quarterback play for the Cardinals, Berry often provided a needed jolt of energy for the offense, forming a dangerous 1-2 rushing tandem with quarterback Gerald Hawkins.  If Wesleyan moves to a more traditional system, with one quarterback taking the majority of the snaps, Berry could be in for a huge season.  But even if Hawkins and Piccirillo continue to split time, Berry will be there with needed stability for the Cardinals’ offense.

Defensive MVP: Jordan Stone (’17)

Much of Wesleyan’s success last season, and for much of the last decade, has been due to a hard hitting defense.  And the 2015 iteration of the Cardinals’ defense was led by All-NESCAC first team defensive end Jordan Stone.  Stone was devastating in the backfield, totaling 5.5 sacks and 10 tackles for loss.  Stone will be an even more crucial cog in Wesleyan’s machine this season, as Coach DiCenzo is missing graduated starting linebackers John Spivey ‘16 and Alex Daversa-Russo ‘16.

Biggest Surprise in Camp: Two QB’s (?!?!?)

In 2015, Wesleyan had the champagne problem of having two talented, young quarterbacks fighting for playing time in Gerald Hawkins and Mike Piccirillo.  And rather than choosing between the two, Coach DiCenzo ran a dual quarterback scheme, with Hawkins gaining the majority of the snaps due to his ability to keep plays alive with his feet.  However, Hawkins struggled with his accuracy during the 2015 season, an area in which Piccirillo showed great promise.  The Cardinals are now nearing opening night with this position battle still unresolved.  And as viewers of the TV show Friday Night Lights will remember from Season Three’s battle between deadly accurate JD McCoy and scrambling Matt Saracen, uncertainty at quarterback can lead to unrest on the team, and ultimately a narratively questionable plot decision to move to East Dillon High.

Biggest Game: vs Amherst, October 22, 1:00 PM

After back-to-back 5-3 seasons, the Cardinals seemed primed this season to make a jump into the upper tier of NESCAC football.  However, to do that they have to show they can play with the current upper tier, and their matinee with the Lord Jeffs is a golden opportunity. In their matchup last season, Wesleyan won time of possession 38:46-21:54  and total yards 392-290.  However, they were unable to stop Amherst’s offense in the second half and fell 27-18 in a very discouraging loss.  If you want to reach the top in NESCAC, you must go through Amherst, and the Cardinals have a real opportunity to do just that.

Best Tweet

LOVE the braggadocio in this tweet, like Wesleyan is the only school who can get a guy to bring his speakers to practice.

Summary:

Wesleyan established themselves as the cream of the crop in the NESCAC in 2013 and 2014, posting identical 7-1 records.  However, they took a step back last season, finishing 5-3 and struggling in close games.  This was probably due to inconsistent quarterback play from the duo of Hawkins and Piccirillo, both of whom had more interceptions than touchdowns.  Climbing back into the upper tier of the league will be challenging for the Cardinals, with Amherst, Middlebury and Trinity all looking to keep their places on the throne, and Tufts presenting a worthy challenger as well.

However, Wesleyan certainly has the talent.  They only lose one starter on offense in lineman Blake Harrington, keeping together most of an experienced offensive line.  This should give running back Jaylen Berry plenty of holes to exploit, and signal an improvement for whoever wins the quarterback job between Hawkins and Piccirillo. Coach DiCenzo and his staff will likely make the final call on this position battle after this Sunday’s scrimmage with Trinity.  Whichever quarterback is throwing the ball should have solid weapons, with an experienced core of receivers led by tight end Ben Kurtz ’17, who is returning from a hand injury. Dario Highsmith ’20 has also been a standout freshman at running back and wide receiver for the Cardinals so far during camp, and he figures to contribute significantly on the offensive side of the ball.

Defense should be Wesleyan’s calling card(inals) this season.  All-NESCAC First Team defensive end Jordan Stone leads an intimidating front line that returns all its starters.  The same goes for All-NESCAC safety Justin Sanchez (’17) and the secondary.  The Cardinals did lose senior linebackers Spivey and Daversa-Russo to graduation, an area which may be a problem defensively for the Cardinals. Other units will have to step up to mitigate some mistakes by the new starting linebackers.

In 2015 Wesleyan lost their three games by three points, four points and nine points, and those three losses came to league giants Middlebury, Trinity and Amherst respectively.  This is both a positive and a negative.  On the plus side, Wesleyan can absolutely hang with the top teams in NESCAC, as they did two years ago when they were 7-1.  However, it also points to a fundamental struggle in close games against good teams.  Winning close games is critical in NESCAC football, and it will be those kind of games that determine whether Wesleyan returns to their spot at the top, or remains one step behind.

It’s Not Your Imagination, Passing is Up in the NESCAC: Part Two

If you missed Part One yesterday, here you go. Otherwise, read on.

Tufts

tuftsRanked seventh in passing yards per game, Tufts is one of the few teams that isn’t passing the ball more this season. QB Alex Snyder ’17 doesn’t have the completion percentage of his predecessor, Jack Doll ’15 (who completed 70 percent of his passes), but he’s averaging more passing yards per game (191.7 to Doll’s 186.5). Snyder’s advantage in this regard can be explained by the fact that the Jumbos are averaging more than 50 yards per game this season than they did the last. All things considered, their passing game isn’t seeing the volume it has in recent years. Considering Snyder’s 173 pass attempts thus far in 2015, Tufts offensive scheme is very unlike the one that encouraged QB John Dodds ’13 to throw the ball nearly 350 times in 2012. Averaging close to 13 receiving touchdowns over the previous four seasons, the Jumbos offense is on pace to fall short of that average this fall, having found the end zone through the air only six times through week six.

Instead, RB Chance Brady ’17 has become the pinnacle of the offense. Averaging 104.2 ground yards per game, Brady has rushed for nine touchdowns. Despite Tufts dynamic ground game, its receivers are still producing. WR Mike Rando ’17 leads the team in receiving with 28 receptions. Ben Berey ’17, while not reproducing at the same clip that he did last year (38 receptions, one TD), is contributing to Tufts’ pass production with 13 receptions for 166 yards and a touchdown. The Tufts passing game is clearly not the same threat that it has been in recent years, but it remains a large part of its offensive production. The Jumbos feel that the way to success in the NESCAC is predicated by running the ball first and foremost. They will retain the ability to throw the ball a lot, but the rushing game will become more and more important.

Verdict: Enduring. But not likely to increase in the near future.

Wesleyan

WesleyanWesleyan is like Amherst in that its running game is just as valuable as its passing game. Through Week 6, the Cardinals are averaging basically the same amount of yards through the air and ground. QB Gernald Hawkins ’18 has averaged 157.0 passing yards per game but has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns. Unlike QB Jesse Warren ’15, who threw for 190 yards per game while firing 15 touchdowns, Hawkins’ arm is not what makes him a dangerous offensive weapon. Simply put, Warren wasn’t a threat on the ground; Hawkins is. He led the Cardinals in rushing through five weeks, until he was held out of most of the Bowdoin game because of health concerns.

Wesleyan’s running attack is paced by Jaylen Berry ’18, who has managed 59.5 yards per game and two touchdowns. WR Devon Carillo ’17 leads the team in touchdowns (five) and poses a significant threat as a productive pass-catcher (10 receptions). WR Mike Breuler ’16, who had only two receptions in 2014, has emerged as Hawkins’ top target. He has hauled in 29 receptions, making him the only player other than Carillo to break the double digit plateau. The ability of Hawkins and Mark Piccirillo ’19 to run the ball helps keep the defense honest and opens up the passing game, but the Cardinals are a team that ideally wants to be running the ball the majority of the time.

Verdict: Temporary. The Cardinals want to run the ball first and foremost.

Colby

colbyColby threw the ball nearly 300 times last fall, which accounted for over half of their plays. Through six weeks, the Mules have let the ball fly just 42.4 percent of the time. With an average of 150 passing yards per game, Colby is averaging fewer yards through the air than they have in three of their previous four seasons. QB Gabe Harrington ’17 has struggled to find consistency with his receivers, throwing for only one touchdown with nine interceptions. He is completing nearly 52.7 percent of his passes, but almost a fifth of them are short passes to RB Jabari Hurdle-Price ’17. Last season, WR Ryder Arsenault ’17 emerged as a leader of the WR core with 25 receptions for 263 yards and four touchdowns. As Arsenault has dealt with an injury that he sustained during Week 2 at Middlebury, Mark Snyder ’18 has stepped up in a big way. Snyder has been Harrington’s go-to guy in Colby’s passing attack, recording 25 receptions for 229 yards and a score. Colby has incorporated running backs into their passing game more this season, as Hurdle-Price is already converging on his receptions total from last year.

On the ground, the junior running back is averaging 101.8 yards per game while accounting for half of the Mules’ eight touchdowns. In 2014, 11 of the 17 touchdowns Colby scored were passing, but this year only one of the nine has been. Against Bates and Bowdoin, Colby should have better luck and improve their passing numbers. Even so, the passing offense has taken a step back from where it was, and it is unclear if a quality quarterback is on the roster right now.

Verdict: Temporary. This dip won’t last as they will get back to passing the ball.

Bates

batesI’ve heard it said that a rising tide lifts all ships. This fall, Bates is challenging that claim. After averaging only 116 passing yards per game over the past three seasons, Bates has thrown the ball with more efficiency at 130 yards per game, but the volume has essentially stayed the same. Bates has not topped 170 pass attempts in the last five seasons, and it’s unlikely that QB Patrick Dugan ’16 is going to change that this year. Dugan has attempted 122 passes thus far, which is similar to the pace QB Matt Cannone ’15 set last fall. When Dugan throws the ball in the air, it’s extremely likely that WR Mark Riley ’16 is going to be on the receiving end of the play. Riley has carried the receiving core with 33 receptions and 382 yards, which is nearly half of the team’s receiving yards.

Like Colby, Bates much prefers to run the ball, but the schemes the two teams run are of course very different. RB Ivan Reese ’17 has handled the bulk of the carries, and slot back Frank Williams ’18 has run the ball for an average of 40.7 yards per game and a team high three touchdowns. Seven of the team’s eleven scores have come on the ground, and the Reese/Williams combination has accounted for six of them. Obviously since Bates runs the triple option, they are not going to suddenly start airing it out.

Verdict: Enduring. The Bobcats are not about to start the throwing the ball more.

Final Tally

  • Teams throwing the ball more: Seven (All but Tufts, Colby, and Bates)
  • Number of teams throwing the ball more which are expected to continue doing so: Five (Trinity and Wesleyan are temporary in our minds)

Despite the graduation of two successful quarterbacks last season in Jack Doll and Jesse Warren, names like Sonny Puzzo and Reece Foy have filled the void. Multiple receivers have burst onto the scene in 2015 and quarterbacks are taking full advantage of big play opportunities through the air. Whereas only six receivers averaged over 50 yards per game last season, there are 14 topping that mark this fall. Only one NESCAC receiver, Mark Riley, managed over 70 receiving yards in 2014, with 71.5. That number has been topped by six receivers thus far, with Middlebury’s Matt Minno leading the group at 98.0

Teams’ receiving arsenals are becoming the focus on offense, and secondaries are being exploited like never before. Middlebury has long been the only NESCAC team worthy of high praise for its aerial attack, but 2015 has created a different narrative. An outlier in much of recent history, the Panthers passing game is being converged upon. Smash mouth football has receded as the norm in the NESCAC and more exciting offenses have emerged. This isn’t just a short-term uptick either. Yes, there are some younger secondaries that are being exploited, but the vast majority of QBs will be back next year. They will have another year of experience. New NESCAC coaches are more willing to throw the ball than their predecessors. Buckle up because this trend is not going to stop.

Amherst vs. Amherst – I Mean, Wesleyan: Week 5 Game of the Week

Kenny Adinkra '16 is ready to rumble. (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)
Kenny Adinkra ’16 is ready to rumble. (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

Game Information: Saturday, Oct. 24, 1:00 PM at Pratt Field in Amherst, MA (Homecoming)

The Little Three is on, boys and girls. And Wesleyan is mad, oh, so mad. The Lord Jeffs gave the Cardinals their only loss of 2014, robbing Wesleyan of its second Little Three title in three years, its first sole NESCAC title, and its first undefeated season since 1969. This Cardinals team is much different, though, as we know. Still, their game plan is the same. Run, run, run. And Amherst is much the same. They’re almost the same team (get the title now?) If you like old school football (with one little twist), you’ve come to the right place.

What is that twist, you ask? Both QBs might be the fastest runners on their teams. If you really get down to it, of course, running quarterbacks are really old school (I’m talking original, no-throwing football), but the flexibility to line up under center one play and play smashmouth, run a read option the next, and roll out for a 15-yard pass on the third is still a rare commodity. But that’s what we have on both sides this weekend, with Amherst’s Reece Foy ’18 and Wesleyan’s Gernald Hawkins ’18. You’re watching the crown jewel of NESCAC quarterbacks for the next two-plus seasons face off live and in color this weekend.

Amherst X-factor: Linebackers Parker Chapman ’17, Jack Drew ’16 and Tom Kleyn ’16

Aside from the obvious intrigue at QB this week, this trio of ‘backers will be huge for Amherst for two reasons. One, Evan Boynton ’17 has clearly turned into a star, which means that teams are going to start planning for him, especially coming hard up the middle. I don’t think that will be a huge part of Amherst’s defensive strategy playing a run-heavy team and one that sweeps quite often, but it has to be in there at times because Boynton has so much success attacking the middle of the line. Wesleyan’s O-line and backs will be ready for it, and so Boynton’s linebacker mates are going to be shouldering a lot of responsibility this week. They need to be ready for Hawkins to take off, Jaylen Berry ’18 or Lou Stevens ’16 to come right at them, or for Devon Carrillo ’16 to break one out wide, while also keeping Hawkins from dumping an easy ball over their heads. The Cardinals’ offense is a tough one to game plan for.

Wesleyan X-factor: WR Mike Breuler ’16

Breuler had a career game last week with nine catches and a TD. And speaking of what other teams are looking out for, well … Breuler’s not it. As mentioned, Amherst will be expecting a lot of runs from different ball carriers, so Hawkins needs to keep them honest, and Breuler seems to be his main target with 19 receptions on the year. The second-leading receiver, Carrillo, had four of his seven catches in one game, and is more likely to have 20 rushes than five receptions. Hawkins hasn’t shown an ability to consistently take care of the ball and move the offense with his arm. Time to prove that by connecting with Breuler.

Prediction: Amherst 33 – Wesleyan 15

I’m sorry, but I think this game lacks drama. The Lord Jeffs have allowed 13 points at home in two games, and it’s Homecoming Weekend, which should provide a boost. I think a fiery Wesleyan team will make it interesting for a half, and then Head Coach EJ Mills makes enough adjustments to shut down the Cardinals’ rushing attack. That means more pressure on Hawkins’ arm, and that’s never, ever good against the Amherst secondary. A couple turnovers in the third quarter and this game gets out of reach quickly before Amherst starts milking clock with its own multi-faceted running game.

The only way I see Wesleyan flipping the script is if someone breaks a big run or two, preferably Hawkins, as that would draw the linebackers in next time he rolls out. It’s going to take an A+ game, though for the Cards to go home victorious. What’s worse, the LJs are the league’s best at forcing pressure on the quarterback. For a young gunslinger, that spells trouble.

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.

 

 

The Cream Will Rise: The Weekend Preview

No team impressed more last week than Jeff Devanney's Trinity squad. (Courtesy of Robert LeBel)
No team impressed more last week than Jeff Devanney’s Trinity squad. (Courtesy of Robert LeBel)

Well, we went 4-1 in our predictions last week, but pretty much nothing went as expected. We got the Williams-Bowdoin game wrong. It seems as if the Ephs just have the Polar Bears figured out. They’ve now outscored Bowdoin 63-7 over the past two seasons. The Bantams won pretty handily as we thought they would, but we didn’t foresee a shutout coming. Hamilton forced OT before eventually falling to Tufts and QB Chase Rosenberg ’17 went completely bananas throwing the football. We got the spread on the Amherst-Bates game fairly close, so I guess that’s a check in the win column for the NbN staff. But the kicker was really Middlebury-Wesleyan, the Week 1 Game of the Week. I went for an ambitious 35-14 prediction in favor of the Panthers, and while they were able to rack up four TDs, the final score was much closer than I thought it would be.

So let’s take another shot. Week 1 provided us with some good information that will shed some light on the coming weekend.

Four to Watch

1. Wesleyan RB LaDarius Drew ’15
If you just look at the box score, you might think that Jaylen Berry ’18 has taken over as the Cardinals’ feature back, having garnered 122 yards on 21 carries as opposed to Drew’s 35 yards on six carries. However, that Drew didn’t enter the game until the second quarter was suspicious. There must have been a reason that Drew was held out for the first quarter – and I don’t know what it is, but I think it was predetermined for Drew to sit out the first quarter. Whether that’s true or not, by the time he entered the game against Middlebury, Berry had gotten rolling and there was no reason to stop him. I think Drew gets back into the action early on this weekend, and there should be plenty of rushing yards to go around for the Wesleyan backs tomorrow against Hamilton.
2. Hamilton QB Chase Rosenberg ’17
As a freshman and sophomore, Rosenberg started nearly every game, but as a team the Continentals found very little success. He was supplanted by transfer Brandon Tobin ’18 for the start in Week 1 and saw some limited action in the game’s first half, but a leg injury sent Tobin to the sidelines for good just before halftime. Rosenberg couldn’t have capitalized on his chance any better, going 14-23 for 301 yards and three touchdowns and no picks. Rosenberg will likely be the signal-caller tomorrow, so the pressure is on to keep up this level of play.
3. Middlebury RB Jonathan Hurvitz ’17
Head Coach Bob Ritter believes that Middlebury will be able to have an effective rushing attack as the season goes on, but the Panthers showed no evidence of that in Week 1. The passing game was working for Middlebury against Wesleyan in the second half, so it made since to continue to air it out, but 0.45 yards per rush is simply not going to cut it going forward. Hurvitz is the lead back for Middlebury, but Diego Meritus ’19 will see plenty of touches, too, and Matt Cardew ’18 – though he didn’t see the field against Wesleyan – could still make an impact.
4. Williams LB Russell Monyette ’17
Where did this guy come from? Monyette barely played a year ago, but in Week 1 he led the Ephs with six tackles, one for a loss, while filling in for the injured James O’Grady ’16. No word yet on whether O’Grady will be back for Week 2, and if he is we don’t know what Monyette’s role will be. Williams’ Week 2 opponent, Trinity, will look to pound the ball on the ground with multiple weapons, so the onus will be on the Williams linebacking corps to stop this multi-faceted attack.

Game Previews

Bowdoin (0-1) at Amherst (1-0): Amherst, Massachusetts, 1:00 PM

These are two teams coming off of vastly different Week 1 performances. Going into enemy territory is going to be a big challenge for Bowdoin. However, I think both teams regress towards the mean somewhat this week. We’re just learning what Reece Foy ’18 can do as the Amherst QB, and he might turn out to be as good as he was in Week 1, but don’t expect him to look great every single time out. As for the Polar Bears, there wasn’t much to like last Saturday. Still, I think another week to learn a new system, get comfortable with a new coach and to work out some kinks will prove to make a big difference. Will it be enough, though, to surprise the LJs? Doubtful.

Prediction: Amherst 31-Bowdoin 7

Wesleyan (1-0) at Hamilton (0-1): Clinton, NY, 1:00 PM

The Continentals played some inspired football last weekend. Hamilton fans came away pleasantly surprised, I would imagine, and this week we’ve tipped our cap to Coach Dave Murray and crew. There’s reason to believe that things are be turning around in Clinton. That being said, Hamilton played what might have been its best game and still lost to a middling Tufts squad. Meanwhile, Wesleyan looked very tough against Middlebury. I’m extremely impressed by how Coach Dan DiCenzo was able to get a green group so ready to play in Week 1, and that rushing attack is simply deadly. I think the good Hamilton vibes take a big hit this weekend, unfortunately. It’s going to get better, but this game could be ugly.

One thing I can’t predict is who will lead the rushing attack for the Cardinals, but I expect it will be as potent as in Week 1. WR/Wildcat QB Devon Carrillo ’16 is looking like a staple in the Cards’ attack as a sweep/option threat. I wonder if they might try to get him the ball in space with some screens out of the slot this week, as he had zero receptions against Middlebury.

Prediction: Wesleyan 33 – Hamilton 7

Colby (0-1) at Middlebury (1-0): Middlebury, VT, 1:00 PM

At face value this looks like an easy contest for Middlebury. But wait, do I smell a trap game? The Panthers got beat up against a physical Wesleyan team, and next week is circled on their calendars as they will be traveling to Amherst. For some reason, I’ve got a feeling that Middlebury is still shaking off the cob webs a little bit. The statistics don’t necessarily suggest that (except for the aforementioned rushing problems), but the offense doesn’t look to be a full steam yet. Defensively, the nearly 300 rushing yards allowed in Week 1 was very disappointing. That should get better, but will it happen this week? And for Colby, the questions are endless. Nothing went right against Trinity. What happened to that two-headed monster at tailback? And how was Trinity able to rip through the Mules’ D so easily? Perhaps they’ll do better against an aerial attack than they fared against Trinity’s ground game. But I don’t think they do well enough to overcome the home team.

Prediction: Middlebury 28 – Colby 17

Williams (1-0) at Trinity (1-0): Hartford, CT, 1:30 PM

The Ephs surprised us with a beatdown of the Polar Bears last week, but they did the same thing in Week 1 a year ago and ended up 2-6. Will this be a repeat of Williams’ 2014 campaign, or was the 27-7 win in Week 1 truly a statement of a new and improved Ephs squad?

I tend to lean towards the former. Maybe this team is better than a year ago, but I also think Trinity is elite. The cream is going to continue to rise to the top in the NESCAC, and I think that divide will become a lot clearer this week with Trinity, Middlebury, Wesleyan and Amherst all picking up wins. Oops, I guess I just spoiled my prediction…

Prediction: Trinity 38 – Williams 7

Road Teams Rule Week One: Football Stock Report 9/28

After what seemed like an eternity, NESCAC football returned in triumphant glory on Saturday, and a lot of what we anticipated came to fruition, but there were many surprises, as well.

Today we give you the risers and fallers in our estimation, as well as a few game notes from each contest.

Stock Up:

Hamilton Offense

Tufts isn’t the most stout defense in the NESCAC, but you still have to be impressed with how the Continentals moved the ball and the play of QB Chase Rosenberg ’17 and WR Charles Ensley ’17. After starter Brandon Tobin ’18 succumbed to an injury early in the first half, Rosenberg (the starter for the past two seasons) came on and proceeded to go 14-23 (69.9%) for 301 yards, three touchdowns and no picks. Ensley was on the opposite end of 107 of those yards, and displayed some top-notch athleticism with some of his grabs. His teammate, Pat Donahoe ’16, actually tallied even more yards – 174, to lead the NESCAC – so there may yet be some life in this Continental offense. We’ll wait and see whether or not Tobin returns, and how that might shake up the QB situation.

Connecticut Schools

Despite the loss, the Cardinals proved on Saturday that they still belong to the league’s upper echelon. The Cards ran all over Middlebury, and newly-minted QB Gernald Hawkins ’18 flashed potential throwing the ball, though the results were subpar on Saturday. The defense looks like it barely dropped off, and when you can control the clock and move the ball on the ground as effectively as Wesleyan, you always have a chance to win. Panthers players returned from this one bearing rave reviews of the Wesleyan team as a whole.

Meanwhile, the Bantams looked like they were playing a Pop Warner team on Saturday. A 34-0 win on the road, 439 yards of total offense and only 159 yards allowed. Enough said.

Williams QB Austin Lommen ’16

Expectations are great for former D-I players that transfer down to D-III, and that was true for Lommen last year. The BC transfer was about average last year, completing 60.1 percent of his passes and racking up seven touchdowns against nine picks, but it might be time to buy in on the righty. Lommen went 20-30 (66.7%) for 288 yards, two touchdowns and one pick. Lommen managed the offense well, and the Ephs went 6-8 on third downs in the first half, most of them courtesy of throws by Lommen.

Stock Down:

Bates O-line

Yes, the Bobcats were matched up against an elite D-line from Amherst, but still, their performance in the trenches does not bode well for the rest of the season. Bates needs to churn up yards on the ground in order to win (with the occasional shot downfield to Mark Riley ’16). The Bobcats’ backs gathered 199 yards on the ground on Saturday, but 80 of those came on one Shaun Carroll ’16 scamper. Take that out, and the Bobcats rushed for 119 yards on 45 attempts – a 2.6 YPC average.

Colby Backs

Along the same lines as the above, the Mules were unable to consistently move the ball on the ground. QB Christian Sparacio ’18 had the most success of any ball carrier, racking up 30 yards on seven carries. We are still expecting big things from classmates Jabari Hurdle-Price ’17 and Carl Lipani ’17, but it looked like Colby just ran headfirst into a brick wall against Trinity.

Bowdoin

Just to complete the Maine college trifecta, Bowdoin has to go in this spot. The offense was stagnant, and Tyler Grant ’16 didn’t get many opportunities with the Polar Bears trailing for much of their game against Williams. The loss of RB Trey Brown ’16 to injury will prove to be costly, as the Bowdoin coaches were hoping to be able to spell Grant far more this year than last – but alas, it was not to be. It was not a good opener for anyone in the black and white.

Game Notes:

Middlebury 28 at Wesleyan 25

Well, it wasn’t easy, but the Panthers hung on to go 1-0. Matt Milano ’16 wasn’t at his best early on, but was still very, very good. It was interesting that Jared Lebowitz ’18 got just one series. His entry into the game was pre-determined, but we don’t know what went into the decision to not use him for the rest of the game. Regardless, the passing game wasn’t the issue for Middlebury. The running game, however, was not effective. Somehow, the Panthers need to figure out a way to become a multi-dimensional team. They like to use screens to substitute for old-fashioned hand offs, but you still have to be able to give it to your back and let him work once in awhile.

On the other side of the field, Wesleyan competed until the very last. Hawkins has loads of potential at QB, despite his struggles throwing. He’s a fantastic athlete, and when he took off for one 17-yard dash up the gut my jaw physically dropped. Obviously, he’ll need to work on throwing the ball – sort of important for a quarterback. As for the running game, I was really shocked that Jaylen Berry ’18 was used as the feature back, carrying the ball 21 times to LaDarius Drew’s ’15 six carries and Lou Stevens’ ’17 two – not because I doubt the youngster’s ability, but because he supplanted two former All-NESCAC First Teamers as the go-to guy on Saturday. That being said, I would not be surprised if next week Drew ran the ball 25 times for 150 yards, and the same can be said about Stevens. Furthermore, Devon Carrillo ’16 continues to be a threat with his legs in many ways – out of the Wildcat, multiple back sets and on sweeps. Defensively, I have to give a shout out to DE Jordan Stone ’16. He’s a physical beast and had a great game and it showed on the stat sheet as Stone gathered 2.5 sacks.

Amherst 37 at Bates 14

Amherst WR Nick Widen '17 and the LJs took care of Bates with ease. (Courtesy of Bates Athletics/Phyllis Graber Jensen)
Amherst WR Nick Widen ’17 and the LJs took care of Bates with ease. (Courtesy of Bates Athletics/Phyllis Graber Jensen)

I didn’t watch any game as closely as I did Middlebury-Wesleyan, but nonetheless there was much to be learned from every contest. Reece Foy ’18 got the start for Amherst, and – this is the surprising part – played every snap at QB. Last season Foy and Alex Berluti ’17 opened the season in a time-share until Max Lippe ’15 came back from an injury. That Foy was able to do enough in camp to completely takeover the gig says something in and of itself. Also of note, Kenny Adinkra ’16 got the lion’s share of the carries and was more productive than Nick Kelly ’17. Will that last, or will Kelly return to 2014 form and takeover the feature role as he was expected to do. OR, will the super-talented Jack Hickey ’19 start stealing away more carries?

For Bates, I know that the triple-option is the staple of their offense, but Mark Riley is just incredible. The Bobcats completed 11 passes for 117 yards, and seven of those catches went to Riley for 87 yards. I don’t think that if you put a prime-age Randy Moss on any team in the NESCAC he would take as large of a proportion of the catches as Riley does.

Williams 27 at Bowdoin 7

For the second straight year the Ephs stomped on the Polar Bears. (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics/CIPhotography.com)
For the second straight year the Ephs stomped on the Polar Bears. (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics/CIPhotography.com)

Not much went right for the Polar Bears in Week 1. I don’t know whether to credit Lommen or crucify the Bowdoin secondary for the Ephs’ success through the air. Overall, I’m reserving judgement on the Polar Bears.

For Williams, though, you have to feel good about this start. Maybe they’ve put something together in Williamstown right under our noses. Although, I vaguely remember writing something to the same effect one year ago after Williams’ 36-0 beatdown of Bowdoin in Week 1. Maybe Coach Aaron Kelton just has the Polar Bears’ numbers. Maybe he’s taping opposing coaches’ signals with a cell phone camera, and 15 years from now, when Coach is getting fitted for his fourth NESCAC Championship ring, and the twilight is setting on a decorated career, NESCAC officials will bust down the door and point a finger at him and call him a cheater for doing exactly what every other team in the league was doing…

I’m sorry, I wasn’t planning that. (And there’s definitely no illegal filming going on anywhere in the NESCAC.)

Trinity 34 at Colby 0

With Joe Moreno ’19, sadly, out yet again with a torn ACL, Nick Gaynor ’17 has become the team’s top back. From a fantasy perspective though, this is a tricky situation, as Gaynor, Ethan Suraci ’18 or QB Sonny Puzzo ’18 could be the team’s leading rusher any given week. I particularly don’t think Gaynor will see many goal line touches. Gaynor is a converted wideout, and Suraci is a much bigger body. Max Chipouras ’19 – who had just two touches – got a goal line TD on Saturday instead of Gaynor. No matter who’s behind him, the return of Puzzo under center is going to be huge for Trinity. Henry Foye ’16 did a great job when healthy last year, but I think that Puzzo brings elite talent to the QB position.

Tufts 24 at Hamilton 21

The best game of the day came between two perennial doormats that look to be rising from the ashes. Tufts already took the first step a year ago by going 4-4, but with the Jumbos still 0-infinity in their last infinity chances on the road, the Continentals were feeling really good about their chances. And with newly-transferred QB Tobin at the helm, it appeared that Chapter 1 of the fairytale was under way.

Then Tobin left the game with an ankle injury, and everything fell into the hands of Rosenberg, the beleaguered vet. And boy, did he respond.

Rosenberg matched a career-high with his 301 passing yards, the program’s fifth-highest single-game mark. His 21.5 yards per completion and 13.1 yards per attempt were Hamilton records. He threw three TD passes, all in the span of 12 plays in the second half. His receivers, namely Donahoe and Ensley, made some spectacular plays, but let’s give all the credit in the world to Rosenberg for his stellar performance.

Alas, the Hamilton offense could not punch it in with the first possession of overtime. K Zach Altneu ’18 boomed his field goal attempt through the uprights, but Tufts Head Coach Jay Civetti was able to call a timeout just in time, forcing Altneu to kick again, and this time he pushed it wide left.

The Jumbos were conservative on their possession, moving the ball to the six-yard line before Snyder took a five-yard loss to position the football right in the middle of the field. K Willie Holmquist ’17 came up clutch for the Jumbos, who celebrated their first road victory since Oct. 3, 2009.

Aside from Rosenberg, CB Jimmy Giattino ’17 was a beast defensively for Hamilton and DL Tyler Hudson ’19 had an impressive debut. Last year’s tackle-leader John Phelan ’16 saw limited action, rotating with Mickey Keating ’17 at linebacker. We believe Head Coach Dave Murray is trying to protect Phelan who was banged up considerably during camp, but only time will tell if this timeshare continues. And lastly, Tobin’s ankle injury appears to be minor, which keeps the QB conversation in Clinton very intriguing. However, after a performance like that, how Rosenberg could not get the keys to the car for at least one more week is a mystery to me.

And in case you missed it, every road team won! Can you believe it? I don’t know how long it’s been since that happened in the NESCAC. Maybe between the 47 assignments I have this week and the job search I’ll try to procure that information.

It’s good to be back.

Week 1 Game of the Week: Middlebury at Wesleyan

The Panthers are prepared for a title run. (Photo by Joe MacDonald)
The Panthers are prepared for a title run. But nothing comes easy in the NESCAC. (Photo by Joe MacDonald)

Game Info: Saturday, Sept. 26, 12:30 PM at historic Andrus Field in Corwin Stadium

Both teams probably feel like title contenders right now, but around this time tomorrow one team will be in the driver’s seat and the other will be facing a steep uphill climb. If we consider the NESCAC crown a four-team race – which, barring a major surprise, it is right now – between Middlebury, Amherst, Wesleyan and Trinity, this matchup will push one team to the front of the pack.

The Wesleyan team presents a great unknown. As we’ve said time and time again, the roster turnover has been great, but we still expect there to be a lot of talent on the field for the Cards. Things have changed since current Athletic Director Mike Whalen came over from Williams, and one has to believe that he was able to accrue some talent in the classes that followed the incredible 2015 group.

As always, the Cards’ strength will be the running game, but the Panthers were very good against the run last season, allowing just under 104 YPG, and most of the talent in the front seven is back and should be better than ever. Granted, a lot of teams were forced to throw in the second half because they faced big deficits against the Panthers, but nonetheless running the ball won’t be easy for the Cards.

For Middlebury, the passing game is as potent as ever. Can Matt Milano ’16 have improved from his Co-Offensive Player of the Year form a year ago? We’ll find out soon enough, but with all of the weapons around him, I’m betting yes. And with two of the league’s best defensive backs having graduated from Wesleyan in Jake Bussani ’14 and Donnie Cimino ’15, Milano might just be able to find some openings deep down the field.

Last Meeting:

Wesleyan rolled into the Panthers’ home pad and stole a 22-14 victory in the 2014 season opener. The difference was a third quarter 41-yard INT return for a TD by Wesleyan’s dynamic safety Justin Sanchez ’17. Milano threw two interceptions in this one, and questions were swirling about whether the days of the great Middlebury QBs were over. After this game, Milano went 22-1 TD-INT over the rest of the season, so expect a more confident passing attack from Middlebury in this one.

On the flip side, Wesleyan struggled to run the ball, something that they rarely do. Kyle Gibson ’15 racked up 60 yards but on 25 carries (2.4 YPC). Lou Stevens ’17 wasn’t much better (2.8 YPC). However, the frightening LaDarius Drew ’15 is back this time around, and I think the entire league is excited to see what this powerhouse back can do. With Drew, Stevens and Jaylen Berry ’18 coming at the Panthers, stopping the run has to be priority No. 1. Middlebury’s Tim Patricia ’16 spoke to that effect, saying:

“We know that the run game is the staple of the Wesleyan offense. … With that in mind, this [week] we’ve been really focused on gap responsibility and swarming to the ball in the run game. It’s important that we stay conscious of our individual assignments so we can eliminate any threat of giving up a big play. Their backs do have big play ability, but we feel we can mitigate that ability.”

Middlebury X-factors: D-linemen Gil Araujo ’16 and Kyle Ashley ’16

We know about Jake Clapp ’16, Middlebury’s strong, furious pass-rusher, but Ashley and Araujo, who made the 2014 All-NESCAC Second Team, haven’t gotten much press this season (our bad). While the Panthers will cycle d-linemen in and out all game, these two are expected to get the lion’s share of snaps, and it will be on them to eat up blockers and create opportunities for the linebackers and safeties to make tackles. It’s an inglorious job, the d-line. But this pair is up to the task.

Wesleyan X-factor: QB Gernald Hawkins ’18

Gernald Hawkins '18 (Photo Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)
Gernald Hawkins ’18 (Photo Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)

I’d like to go a little under-the-radar with my x-factor pick, but the potential of Hawkins is just so intriguing. We don’t know for sure that Hawkins will see every snap in this one under center, but for now he is the team’s QB1 and has the chance to solidify that position this weekend.

Hawkins presents the rare (in the NESCAC) dual-threat option. The moves he shows off on film are nifty, and having a cadre of backs to hand the ball off to takes much of the pressure off of his shoulders.

Patricia wouldn’t give away any secrets in reference to Hawkins, saying only, “We’re aware of Hawkins’s ability to run the ball, and we’re well prepared for it.”

Prediction: Middlebury 35 – Wesleyan 17

Wesleyan fans and players are going to be offended by this prediction, but let me make my case. The Cardinals are, to some extent, are where Middlebury was last year in Week 1 – breaking in a lot of new players, particularly at the QB position, and while there is talent there, it will take time.

I still think Wesleyan will run the ball effectively, but as Milano and the Panthers roll up and down the field in the second and third quarters, the Cards will have to start abandoning the run game, which will spell disaster for Coach DiCenzo’s squad. No team can be successful when it becomes one-dimensional.

Is 35 points too high of a projection against the Wesleyan D, even with all the new faces? Maybe. And if I were a gambling man, I’d take the under if the line were set at 35 for Middlebury, but let’s face it, I’m a Panther myself, I’m excited for tomorrow, and sure, maybe I’m drinking the Kool-Aid a little bit. I’m seeing three TDs through the air for Milano, a goal line plunge from rookie RB Diego Meritus ’19, and a late-game scamper off a rollout from QB Jared Lebowitz ’18, just like I watched him do last week in Middlebury’s Blue-White scrimmage.

Patricia didn’t necessarily predict that the Panthers will go 8-0. But he came pretty close (0:57):

Bring on some football!

The Replacements (But Talented): Wesleyan Season Preview

Having Ike Fuchs back in the kicking game is one of the few constants for Wesleyan. (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)
Having Ike Fuchs ’17 back in the kicking game is one of the few constants for Wesleyan. (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)

Projected Record: 5-3

Projected Offensive Starters (*Two Returning)

QB: Gernald Hawkins ’18
RB: LaDarius Drew ’15
WR: Neil O’Connor ’17
WR: Mike Breuler ’18
TE: Ben Kurtz ’17*
TE: Dan Laorenza ’16
LT: Blake Cunningham ’16*
LG: Matt Polacek ’16
C: Matt Kuhn ’17
RG: Beau Butler ’18
RT: Shane Jenkins ’17

Projected Defensive Starters (*Two Returning)

DE: Jordan Stone ’17
DT: Shane Donovan ’16
DT: Jason Yu ’18
DE: Greg Blaize ’16
LB: Alex Daversa-Russo ’16*
LB: Shayne Kaminski ’17
LB: Jon Spivey ’16
DB: Justin Sanchez ’17*
DB: Elias Camacho ’18
DB: Zac Cuzner ’17
DB: Rob Manning ’16

Projected Specialists (*Returning)

K/P: Ike Fuchs ’17*

Offensive MVP: RB LaDarius Drew ’15

Drew is an elite talent in the NESCAC, and his return to the lineup after missing 2o14 with a foot injury might just be a Godsend. Running back is actually the Cardinals’ deepest position, with All-NESCAC First Teamer Lou Stevens ’17 and Jaylen Berry ’18 (5.6 YPC) backing up Drew – which means that this three-headed monster will be expected to carry a heavy load. A lot of responsibility will lie on the shoulders of captain and left tackle Blake Cunningham ’16 and his unit to create some holes for Drew and Co.

Defensive MVP: DB Justin Sanchez ’17

Sanchez and LB Alex Daversa-Russo ’16 were both Second-Team All-NESCAC last season and are the undisputed leaders of this defensive unit. Sanchez was the team’s leading tackler a year ago and picked off one pass. There is a bit more experience in Wesleyan’s defensive front than in the secondary, which might mean more chances for Sanchez to make plays and rack up big tackle numbers. Therefore I think he edges out Daversa-Russo as the team’s defensive MVP.

Biggest Game: September 26 vs. Middlebury

There are so many unknowns with this year’s team given the mass exodus (AKA graduation) from last year’s squad. For that reason, Week 1 will be a huge benchmark game for the Cards and first-year head coach Dan DiCenzo. Wesleyan will need to grind it out and shorten the game, not allowing the Panthers offense to get the ball too often. Look for Wesleyan to go right at the Middlebury front seven and try to overpower the Panthers while rotating all three of their running backs into the game. Sanchez and the rest of the inexperienced secondary might have difficulty slowing down the Middlebury passing attack, but they could force some errors and create turnovers for Wesleyan.

Best Tweet of the Offseason:

Are you kidding me, Justin Sanchez?

Summary:

There’s not much that’s known about the 2015 Wesleyan Cardinals. The returning starters are beasts, we know that. Drew, Stevens, Cunningham, Daversa-Russo and Sanchez will be counted on to produce big seasons this year. Matt Polacek ’16 and Shane Jenkins ’17 have experience on the O-line, so that unit shouldn’t miss too much of a beat and the running game will remain strong. Replacing Jesse Warren’s ’15 unparalleled efficiency at QB will be very difficult for the green Gernald Hawkins ’18, but he beat out three other talented players to win the job so clearly he’s shown that he can compete at this level. Hawkins went to Miramar High School in Florida, a big time program that won a state title in 2009. That was also the year AFTER  Jets quarterback Geno Smith graduated from Miramar High. Anyway, Hawkins is a threat both running and passing the ball, and his highlight tape shows him making really smart decisions against high level talent in Florida.

Among the newly-minted starters on the defensive side, DE Jordan Stone ’17 saw the most snaps in 2014. If this unit learned anything from the dominant 2015 class, which produced the very best YPG against average in all of D-III last season, they should still be an above average defense. The team’s overall MVP, however, might be K/P Ike Fuchs ’17, probably the league’s best kicker. Fuchs led all NESCAC kickers with 54 points last year. He hit 10 out of 13 of his field goals, and his misses came from 33, 34 and 43 – no gimmes at this level. He will take over the punting duties this year, as well, which were formerly handled by Warren.

Former Head Coach Mike Whalen, now the Wesleyan Athletic Director, has an amazing resume when it comes to building football programs in the NESCAC – first at Williams and now at Wesleyan. Now he hands over the reins to his former assistant DiCenzo, but only time will tell how this group will compare to the decorated 2015 class. Week 1 will – hopefully – answer a lot of our questions about the new wave of Cardinals.