After falling just short of a win 36-28 in last week’s game against the Trinity Bantams (4-0), the Tufts Jumbos (3-1) look forward to their next game with the hope of returning to their winning ways. Tufts will host the Williams Ephs (0-4) on Saturday and coach Jay Civetti expects his players to bounce back from their first defeat of the season.
“We just need to focus on execution and playing physical football,” Civetti said. “We can’t steer away from our blueprint of who we are and what we do.”
The first task for Tufts will be getting the offense back on track. For the second consecutive week, sophomore quarterback Ryan McDonald took the majority of snaps under center. McDonald struggled against the Bantams; he tossed his first interception of the season while throwing only 103 passing yards, 67 of which came on one play in the second quarter. Moreover, he failed to make use of one of his greatest strengths, his ability to improvise on his feet. On 12 carries, the dual-threat managed 15 yards.
Notably, McDonald started ahead of senior quarterback Alex Snyder for the first time this season. Snyder entered the contest with less than two and a half minutes left on the clock, but it proved to be enough time to flash his talent. The veteran play-caller completed all three of his attempts for 128 yards, a touchdown and a two-point conversion, the latter two coming on passes to senior tight end Nik Dean. In explaining his relying on McDonald against Trinity — rather than Snyder — Civetti cited the specific structural needs of the offense.
“We knew that it was going to be a struggle,” Civetti said. “That was part of the reason Ryan [McDonald] played as much as he did. In order to allow [senior tri-captain running back] Chance [Brady] to have success, we felt like we needed to make [Trinity’s defense] be responsible for two runners.”
One of the various reasons for optimism about Tufts’ prospects against Williams is that no matter who the Jumbos have under the center, the plater will have Brady by their side. After getting just eight carries the week before against the Bowdoin Polar Bears (0-4), the dependable running back scurried 27 times for 94 yards and two touchdowns against Trinity.
Facing Brady and company will be a Williams defense that has allowed 189 rushing yards per game, ranking them second worst in the conference — trailing only Colby (1-3) — in terms of stopping the run. Although they have yet to secure a victory this season, the Ephs’ defense should not be underestimated; through four games, Williams leads the NESCAC with ten forced turnovers. Of their seven fumbles recovered, each has been secured by a different player, suggesting that the Ephs boast talented depth in their defensive unit. Meanwhile, rushing from the edge is sophomore defensive end Jameson DeMarco, who already has two sacks this season.
At the other end of the field, Williams has reason to be optimistic as well. The Ephs have scored increasingly more points in every game. Helming the Ephs’ offense is first-year quarterback Jansen Durham, whose NESCAC career has begun unsteadily, with as many interceptions thrown (six) as touchdowns. Last week, his favorite target was sophomore tight end/wide receiver Tyler Patterson. Against the Middlebury Panthers (4-0), Patterson notched seven catches for 176 yards and two scores, all career highs.
Coming into the matchup against Tufts, Williams will have rely on Durham and the passing game to carry the scoring load. Although junior running back Connor Harris has rushed for 71.3 yards per game – good for third best in the conference – he has yet to find pay dirt in 2016. In fact, halfway through the season, the Ephs are the only NESCAC team without a rushing touchdown. Having held Williams to just 35 yards across 17 carries in last year’s contest for just 2.1 yards per attempt, Tufts will seek a repeat performance in shutting down the Ephs ground game.
An indispensable element in that effort is first-year linebacker Greg Holt. Through the first half of the season, Holt has led the NESCAC in total tackles (53) and is currently second in solo tackles (29), trailing Bates’ senior tri-captain linebacker Mark Upton by a single takedown.
“It’s definitely a transition [between high school and college],” Holt said. “People are bigger and faster. The tempo’s different. I worked out pretty hard in the summer to try and prepare myself for whatever was going to come, but it’s something you can’t prepare yourself for. You’ve just got to [get] into the flow of it.”
In reflecting on his success, Holt was quick to acknowledge the support he’s received from the team’s veterans.
“[Junior linebackers] Steve DiCienzo and Chuck Calabrese have really stepped up and taken the time to show me what Tufts football is all about. They’ve really taught me that it’s a family and that you’re not on your own. Whenever you need help, they’re going to teach you, take the time to help you get through workouts and help you learn plays. It’s really been awesome having those guys treat me like a younger brother.”
Civetti has certainly noted the success of his young linebacker, and credits it to Holt’s work ethic and preparation.
“Greg’s a tremendous player,” Civetti said. “He’s a student of the game. He takes it very seriously. And I think he’d be the first to tell you that Steve [DiCienzo] has played better than him and the D-line’s the reason he’s having success — he’s a pretty humble kid, too.”
The Jumbos will host the Ephs on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. at the Ellis Oval.