Jumbos to host Bobcats in Homecoming matchup

Senior quarterback Alex Snyder lunges ahead of a Wesleyan defender in the game against the Wesleyan University Cardinals on Sept. 24. (Evan Sayles / The Tufts Daily)

After rallying from behind in the fourth quarter last weekend to overcome a two touchdown deficit and defeat Wesleyan (0-1) under the lights during the team’s first ever night game, Tufts is now 1-0 and preparing for a matchup against Bates (0-1) on Saturday.

Last year, Tufts eked out a 17-16 win at Bates in the fourth quarter thanks to senior kicker Willie Holmquist, who knocked the game-winning 34-yard field goal through the uprights. Playing at home this time, the Jumbos look forward to their Homecoming matchup against the Bobcats.

For coach Jay Civetti, the most significant takeaway from Tufts’ season opener against Wesleyan is that players need to work better together to implement the game plan in order to be successful. 

“It wasn’t like the plays weren’t there offensively [during Saturday’s game],” Civetti said. “It was more just coming down to the execution of what needed to happen. We were able to drive down the field twice and win the game. With our seniors and with the leadership on this team, I don’t worry about us not taking an opponent seriously … Guys are not satisfied with what happened Saturday. They’re looking to be better than we were, as individuals and as a team.”

Though the sample size is small, the numbers point to an advantage for the Tufts offense and its ground game in particular. In last week’s contest against Trinity, Bates allowed 38 points and failed to score after its first possession. The most striking statistic is that Trinity ball carriers gained 294 rushing yards on 46 attempts. That averaged out to 6.4 yards per carry, highlighting a potential weakness in the Bobcat defense. 

The Bobcats’ vulnerability on the ground plays directly into the greatest strength of the Jumbos’ offense: Tufts’ dominant rushing attack, led by senior tri-captain Chance Brady as running back. Brady notched 151 yards and two touchdowns on 22 attempts in the comeback victory against the Cardinals. The biggest threat to the Tufts running attack is Bates’ senior linebacker Mark Upton, who was second in the NESCAC last year in two key categories: total tackles (71) and yards lost during tackles-for-loss (55). Preventing Upton from disrupting Brady’s running lanes will be essential for the Jumbos to make substantial progress on the ground.

On the defensive side, Tufts will seek to build on the in-game improvements implemented last week. The Jumbo defense conceded just 66 yards and no points during the entire second half after allowing the Cardinals to tally 244 yards and 14 points during the first two quarters. Tufts’ pass rush — which managed two sacks in the game against Wesleyan — will search for the vulnerabilities in a Bates offensive line that allowed eight tackles for loss, including three sacks, against Trinity.

“Pressuring the quarterback will help out our defense as a whole because it’s going to make it more difficult for the quarterback to see his reads and puts less pressure on our defensive backs,” junior defensive tackle Doug Harrison said. “That’s something that every week we focus on. Our goal is to hit the quarterback. We want to put that pressure on him and we want to give him as much trouble as we can so that makes his job a lot tougher.”

Meanwhile, the Bates offense is unique among NESCAC teams in its utilization of the triple option, a strategy that threatens the defense with three possible ball carriers on any given play. 

“There are all three phases with the triple option,” Civetti said. “You’ve got to stop the dive, you’ve got to force the pitch and then you get to tackle the pitch. When you play a triple option team, it’s really the only time that there is assignment-based football for the defense … It’s a big change of pace, but [defensive coordinator Kevin] Farr and the defensive staff are well prepared. They’ve got a great plan.”

The triple option relies on the quarterback’s ability to make multiple split-second decisions during the play based on the reactions of unblocked defenders and predictions of where running room will develop. In response, the Jumbos have spent considerable time readying themselves for this unique challenge.

“We definitely prepare for the triple option,” Harrison said. “Really in camp, we get that preparation – not as specific as we will this week, but we definitely have a preparation for it. [It’s] a baseline that we’ll build off of.”

Bates’ most central offensive player is sophomore quarterback Sandy Plashkes, who seems more comfortable making plays with his feet than he is slinging passes from the pocket. In one running play last week, Plashkes gashed Trinity’s defense for 57 yards, demonstrating his ability to generate chunk yardage on the ground. Despite that big run, Plashkes finished with a net 54 yards and a touchdown on the ground to go along with 36 yards and an interception through the air, as Bates’ offense found itself bottled up in the second half. Containing the quarterback will go a long way towards declawing the Bobcats’ offense this weekend.

The Jumbos face off against the Bobcats Saturday at 1 p.m. at the Ellis Oval.