In what has been a wild season for NESCAC football thus far, no team has established itself as a clear favorite. Similarly, not a single school appears out of the running for the division crown, as even the winless teams still pose a threat to conference powerhouses.
The Tufts Jumbos (1–2) will look to get back in the win column as they travel up to hostile Lewiston, Maine, on Saturday for a date with the gritty Bates Bobcats. The Bobcats (0–3) are one of those sleeper teams without a win who are still very capable of giving their opponents fits.
Despite falling 28–0 in week two against division-leading Middlebury, the Bobcat’s defense and special teams units were able to force four turnovers. Against a Jumbo team that has given up eight forced turnovers in their last two games, fumbles and interceptions will once again largely dictate the outcome of the game.
While this turnover issue has created a lot of extra possessions for the Jumbo defense, senior defensive back Miles Shipp does not appear fazed by the Jumbos turnover line.
“Turnovers are part of the game,” Shipp said. “We just try to go out and do our job no matter the circumstances.”
Despite the second-worst offensive point total through three weeks — in front of only Bates — Shipp and the Jumbo coaching staff still have confidence in the ability of their offense.
“We have a lot of trust in what our offense can do,” Shipp said. “We’d like to force some turnovers of our own to give them some extra possessions.”
Even though the Jumbos lost in back to back weeks, falling 26–16 at home to a talented Amherst team, there were certainly signs of improvement from the Williams thrashing just a week prior. Senior quarterback Jacob Carroll started to come alive, especially in the second half, combining with graduate student wide receiver Frank Roche and junior wide receiver Brendan Dolan on huge TD stikes to keep the Jumbos in the game. Tufts coach Jay Civetti, who noted that this was only Carroll’s second game playing in the past five years, lauded his quarterback’s 300-plus-yard performance.
“He did a great job on those plays, and the offensive line did a great job protecting him,” Civetti said. “He’s a very talented thrower who’s coming into his own.”
Carroll will once again have his hands full against a fast Bates defense.
“They’re an aggressively coached team,” Civetti said. “So taking the ball away and creating more possessions for their offense will be a point of emphasis for sure.”
Offensively, Bates features yet another running QB in junior Brendan Costa. The Westport, Mass. native has lots of experience against the Jumbos, having started for three straight years for the Bobcats.
“Costa is a really good player,” Civetti said. “His first college play was against us up there, and he took it 70 yards to the house.”
So while Bates may lack the supreme wide receiver talent of Trinity, Williams and Amherst, its run game will be an important part of getting the offense going.
“They are a little more spread-based than Williams and Amherst, and they do some different things to utilize the skill set of Costa,” Civetti said.
The Jumbos defense will have to be efficient in plugging the gaps and containing Costa. Shipp lauded praise on Costa and the Bates run game.
“They have really physical backs, and obviously Costa provides a lot of similar threats to the running quarterbacks of Williams and Trinity,” Shipp, a native of Monroe, N.J. said. “We have to be really disciplined in our assignments once again.”
The Bates run game has been quite evenly split among four members of the backfield, not including the mobile Costa. Running backs junior Liam Spillane, first-year Tyler Bridge and senior Matt Golden have all carried the ball 15-plus times this season. Against the Jumbos, however, one might expect to see junior running back Jaason Lopez taking a large chunk of the Bobcat carries. At five foot seven inches and 175 pounds, Lopez runs downhill with a lot of physicality and will be a difficult player to contain for Jumbos senior defensive leaders defensive lineman Kevin Quisumbing and linebacker and co-captain Greg Holt, along with the rest of the Tufts secondary. The Jumbo defense looked strong against Amherst, especially in the first quarter, only allowing 11 rushing yards. They will need to produce a similar performance all game if they want to contain this run-heavy Bates offense.
The run game will be a point of emphasis, not only for the Jumbos defense but for the offense as well. The Jumbos were only able to produce 56 net yards of rushing against Amherst, yet their most effective drives came when they got the run game going on first down. It should help Carroll greatly if the run game can put the jumpy Bates defense on their heels from the start.
Civetti said he expected Bates to crowd the box similarly to Amherst and Williams, in hopes of forcing the Jumbos out of their comfort zone by providing a lot of different looks up front.
“They have a ton of hard-working kids on defense,” Civetti said.
So, despite gearing up for what may be on paper one of the most favorable matchups for the Jumbos this season, Civetti does not see their path to the NESCAC title getting any easier.
“Never in my life would I say we have easier games ahead of us,” he said. “You know, Bates has led against us at halftime [last year].”
The Jumbos have had a mentality of keeping their heads down and focusing on their own job this whole season, and that does not seem set to change versus Bates.
“We’re gonna focus on ourselves, travel up to Bates and play in a tough place on the road,” Civetti said. “Hopefully we get the job done and get back in the win column.”
Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. Saturday in Lewiston.