The Jumbos have been on a rollercoaster ride of a season. After sending a resounding message heard loud and clear across the NESCAC following their week one win over three-time defending champion Trinity, Tufts has struggled to consistently back up its early dominance. Following losses to Williams and Amherst, who have proven to be two of the most complete teams in the conference, Tufts got back on track with a win in an offensive battle versus Bates in Lewiston, Maine. Last week, the Jumbos found themselves with a real chance to unseat one of the top teams in the conference, the Wesleyan Cardinals, and reestablish themselves as a legitimate title threat.
The Jumbos executed an excellent defensive game plan throughout most of the contest and had their offense clicking on all cylinders in the first half. They quickly went up 10–0, and looked poised to blow the game open when junior wide receiver O.J. Armstrong dropped a wide-open pass streaking towards the end zone in the dying minutes of the second quarter. The Jumbos settled for a 10–0 lead going into the half, but the undefeated Cardinals (5–0) turned the tides in the final 30 minutes, putting up 13 points in the fourth quarter to rob the Jumbos (2–3) of a desperately needed victory. It was Matthew Simco who provided the dagger for the Cardinals, catching a 29-yard slant for the winning touchdown with just six seconds remaining. With the loss, the Jumbos’ best possible record this season is 6–3, which, barring something completely out of the historical norm, will most likely not be good enough for the regular-season title they so covet.
Homecoming weekend offers the Jumbos a chance to rebound against the Bowdoin Polar Bears (0–5) who have just one victory in their last four seasons. While the Polar Bears have struggled to stay afloat in this extremely competitive NESCAC conference, they should not be overlooked. The Polar Bears have one of the best backs in the league in Nate Richam-Odoi, who has averaged just under 100 yards per contest on the ground, including an average of one touchdown per outing.
“The tailback Richam-Odoi is a really good player; he’s very dynamic and he’s had some really big games,” Tufts coach Jay Civetti said. “You know, it’s a byproduct of staff putting him in good positions, and their [offensive] line creating gaps.”
The Bowdoin offense truly lives and dies with Richam-Odoi, a native of West Hartford, Conn., as the talented back has accounted for over 50% of Bowdoin’s offensive touchdowns this season.
The Polar Bears have played far better than their record suggests this season, with a number of results that make the Jumbo coaching staff nervous. Bowdoin lost to Williams and Amherst by similar margins to Tufts and lost in week four to Wesleyan 20–13. This is the same mark by which the Jumbos lost, a result that is sure to motivate an already hungry Polar Bear team looking to claim its first win of the year. If these two sides’ performances against the Cardinals is indicative of how their tie on Saturday will go, expect a much closer game than many would expect.
The Polar Bears also looked good in their season-opening 37–24 loss to Hamilton, claiming nearly 38 minutes of possession compared to Hamilton’s 22 minutes, largely thanks to a dominant performance by Richam-Odoi.
“They’ve got a strong wideout in Olson, number 15, and they’re able to put you in difficult positions defensively,” Civetti said.
A key matchup will be Jumbo senior linebacker and co-captain Greg Holt against Richam-Odoi. Holt will need to stop the talented rusher from getting to the second level.
The secondary has been a glaring defensive weakness for the Polar Bears all season, who got burned for five touchdowns through the air against the Bantams. Civetti called Bowdoin a “high-pressure team,” and expects them to bring 5–7 rushers every snap.
“They create some chaos and turmoil in that way, and can force you into a bad situation,” Civetti said.
When asked what positives Bowdoin might see from Tufts’ offense versus Wesleyan as they watch film, Civetti praised the big play ability of his offense.
“With our ability to throw the ‘go’ ball, we can stretch the field pretty quickly,” Civetti said. “[Senior quarterback] Jacob [Carroll] has a great ability to stretch the field and find out wideouts.”
For an offense that relies on giving routes time to develop downfield, the high-pressure scheme Bowdoin employs could restrict Carroll’s ability to find his teammates downfield.
“They blitz so much that it’s sometimes hard to protect for a long time,” Civetti said.
Expect junior running back and co-captain Mike Pedrini and senior running back Dom Borelli to get involved in a lot of draws and screens designed to beat that first line of the Bowdoin rush.
Tufts’ Carroll, who has looked better and better with each game, is primed to have his most prolific passing game of the year. Expect Carroll to turn to his main target wide receivers, graduate student Frank Roche and junior Brendan Dolan early and often, as well as the explosive Armstrong.
Despite coming off a soul-crushing loss that effectively ends the Jumbos’ chance at a NESCAC title, Civetti doesn’t appear fazed, and you can expect the rest of the team to follow suit.
“We had practice yesterday morning and guys were flying around and being as engaged as they could be,” Civetti said. “Coming back and playing in front of a homecoming crowd is really important.”
The energy will certainly be there in the stands on Saturday, and the Jumbos will be as ready as ever as they look to use the Wesleyan loss as an energizer.
“I’m just as equally excited as them to get out there and play again,” Civetti said. “We’re very lucky and blessed to have what we have here. While Saturday was disappointing, if anything, it fuels you to work that much harder to do something for each other.”
Holt expressed similar excitement about competing in the Homecoming game.
“I think the Homecoming game is a huge one because we do have a lot of alumni coming back, and you get to see your old teammates,” Holt said. “You want to put on a performance that they’re going to be proud of.”
Kickoff for Homecoming Saturday is set for 1 p.m. at Ellis Oval.