Football prepares for Colby in wake of Hamilton loss

Junior wide receiver OJ Armstrong catches a touchdown pass in the end zone in the homecoming game at Zimman Field against Bowdoin on Oct. 19. Evan Slack / The Tufts Daily

The Tufts football team will travel north to Waterville, Maine, to face Colby in its second-to-last game of the season on Saturday. The Jumbos, who are currently ranked No. 7 in the NESCAC with a 3–4 record, will look to find a reinvigorating win against the 1–6 Mules. Currently, the only teams ranked lower than Tufts are Colby, Bates and Bowdoin, and the latter two have yet to win a game this season in the competitive NESCAC.

A week ago, the prospects of the season looked much better for Tufts as they came into a competitive game against Hamilton with a 3–3 record, which at the time was good for a 6th place NESCAC tie with the Continentals. Fresh off a 49–0 dismantling of the Bowdoin Polar Bears defense — who holds the title as the worst defense in the league this season in terms of yards allowed — the Jumbos’ hopes were high going into Saturday’s game against the Continentals, the winner of which would ultimately move up in the NESCAC rankings.

However, despite high expectations, the Jumbos struggled on Saturday in similar ways to how they have struggled all season. By the end of the first half, the Jumbos trailed by a score of 34–7, marking their worst first-half deficit since a 37–0 blowout to Colby in 2013.

Following the game against Hamilton on Saturday, Tufts three-time All-NESCAC senior linebacker and co-captain Greg Holt commented on some of the struggles the Jumbos faced defensively throughout the match.

“I think for us it was more of focusing on our assignments and keys, and we need to be able to be more sound,” Holt said. “We weren’t making the adjustments we needed to.”

Against Hamilton, turnovers were the straw that broke the camel’s back in the first and second quarters of the game on Parents and Family Weekend. In the opening drive, Tufts senior quarterback Jacob Carroll threw an interception on his own side of the field. Although Hamilton was unproductive in the drive that followed, they soon had their first touchdown opportunity on a fumble recovery off a high Jumbo snap. From then on, the Continentals rolled through the Jumbo defense.

Three of the Continentals’ first-half scoring drives came as a direct result of errors committed by the Jumbo offense and special teams. The high-snap fumble and a misplaced 3-yard punt both led to touchdowns, and another Carroll interception at the very tail-end of the half led to a cherry-on-top field goal for the Continentals as time expired in the second quarter.

In the second half of the Hamilton game, a reinvigorated defense paved the way for a potential offensive comeback attempt for Tufts, which would have marked the greatest comeback victory in coach Jay Civetti’s time with the team. However, down by only two scores with just under five minutes remaining in regulation, Tufts senior running back Dom Borelli threw a pass in the red zone that was intercepted by Hamilton, thus securing the insurance possession the Continentals needed for their 36–21 win.

Needless to say, the turnover battle has been a significant issue this season for the Jumbos, a team that otherwise possesses one of the most talented offenses and defenses in the NESCAC. 

There is no doubt that Carroll is potentially one of the most elite quarterbacks in the conference. He ranks third in the NESCAC in terms of total passing yards per game and leads a Jumbo team that has racked up more offensive passing yards than any other team in the NESCAC this season

However, because the Jumbos are a pass-focused team, Carroll can be forced to make tough decisions against significant pressure from the opposing team’s pass rushers. Although his eight interceptions are on par with those of NESCAC passing-leader Trinity quarterback Seamus Lambert, on Saturday some of Carroll’s passes resulted in incompletions that would have been interceptions had it not been for drops by the Hamilton secondary.

Fortunately for Carroll, Tufts goes up this weekend against a Colby team that ranks third-to-last in total sacks. However, although on paper the Mules have struggled somewhat to follow through on sacks, Civetti mentioned the pressure Colby creates for the line.

“We’ve got to be able to protect,” Civetti said. “[Colby] posed some problems for us in the last game as well.”

Although the Mules’ measly 1–6 record may suggest that they are an easy team to beat, an important distinction must be made in the type of defense Colby runs.

While it is true that the Mules secondary has let up the second-most total yards per game in the NESCAC this season, Colby possesses one of the stronger pass defenses in the conference. Their weaknesses lie in the protection against the run, where the only team to have let up more rushing yards per game are the last-placed Bowdoin Polar Bears.

Civetti acknowledged that the Jumbos would need to be able to run the ball against the Mules, also mentioning that Tufts struggles in the rushing game.

“We’re also probably the worst in the league in rushing, so we got a lot of work to do,” Civetti said.

If the Jumbos are to deliver a dominant performance against the Mules, they will either need to increase their reliance on the run — where they rank third to last in the NESCAC in terms of total rushing yards — or pick their passes wisely in order to avoid turnover situations. Additionally, the Jumbos will need to continue to focus on their offensive performance in the red zone, as they currently stand at dead last in red zone scoring percentage at 39%.

Defensively, the Tufts secondary are led by arguably the best middle linebacker in the league with Holt. A sense of focused aggression will need to be expressed in order for the Jumbos to come out on top. However, as explained by Holt and as shown in the defensive shutout of the Continentals in the second half of Saturday’s game, the Tufts defense has the potential to pave the way for a huge victory this weekend.

Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. on Saturday in Waterville, Maine.