Football Feature | Midseason Review: The state of Tufts football four games into the season
Published: Monday, October 15, 2012
Updated: Monday, October 15, 2012 08:10
With four games already down for the Tufts football team, the midway point of its 2012 campaign has arrived in a hurry. From the day the team arrived for preseason practices to Saturday’s loss against Trinity, the Jumbos have seen both progress and a good deal of frustration from their young football team.
Here is a look at where the Jumbos stand on both sides of the ball, major storylines from the first half of the season and expectations for their remaining four contests.
Over the past four weeks for the Jumbos’ offense, holes that were thought to have been filled have been reopened and then plugged again. The season has opened with massive contributions from an impressive number of players.
The clearest example of this has been under center, where senior John Dodds initially lost the quarterback battle with sophomore Jack Doll, but was thrust back into the starting role when Doll injured his shoulder in the first quarter of Week One.
Since then, Dodds has put up some of the best numbers in the NESCAC, throwing for 798 yards and averaging just under 200 yards per game to go with three touchdowns and four interceptions. Through their first four games, the Jumbos have been thrown for the second most yards in the league behind Middlebury, even while averaging only 4.3 yards per attempt.
That yardage per pass points to what may be the most glaring hole in the Jumbo offense so far: an inability to create instant offense and make big plays. In their closest game of the season, against Bowdoin in Week Three, the offense’s biggest issue was struggling to capitalize on legitimate opportunities to drive the ball on the Polar Bears.
Some of this stems from the flanks, on which the wide-receiving corps has struggled to pick up yards after the catch. The Jumbos have seen a rotating cast of characters take the bulk of their receptions each game, with senior tri-captain Dylan Haas, junior Pat Nee and senior Nick Kenyon all hovering near 20 receptions and 150 yards on the year.
The largest area of improvement has been from the team’s running backs. In their first two weeks, sophomore Zack Trause and junior Marcel Pitre put up big numbers and punched in their opportunities from the goal line. In the past two weeks, however, the Jumbos have seen the emergence of perhaps their tailback of the future in freshman Justin Weaver.
Along with scoring his first collegiate touchdown in Week Three, Weaver has rushed for 123 yards and picked up 40 yards in the air in his first two games as a Jumbo. With Weaver’s presence, the Jumbos have been able to balance out their offensive attack and bring down Dodds’ attempts, as nearly two thirds of his passes were thrown in the first two weeks of the season.
The philosophy for the Jumbos’ opponents this season has been pretty simple: pound the ball.
In four games, the Jumbos have faced 222 rush attempts, with teams targeting a defense that has allowed the second-most yards per game in the league at 412.2.
Injuries are partially to blame for Jumbos’ struggles on defense this season. Those complications have forced the team to start a number of inexperienced players that head coach Jay Civetti did not expect to be getting such extended minutes.
As a whole, the Jumbos’ strongest defensive performance came in against the Polar Bears, who the Jumbos managed to hold to 10 points until a final drive that a tired defense just could not slow down. On that drive, the tackling problems that have hurt the unit throughout the year resurfaced and showcased the struggles they’ve had in bringing down the ball carrier.
In each game, however, different players have been major playmakers, as the Jumbos have had three leading tacklers through their first four games. Sophomore linebacker Tommy Meade currently leads the team with 38 tackles, while senior Sam Diss has recorded 25 in the last three games to come up as the Jumbos’ second leading tackler.
The experience for the defense lies largely in the secondary, which has given up only 549 passing yards so far this year.
Senior defensive back Tommy Castle has picked off a pass and consistently done a good job of locking down opponents’ receivers and eliminating the big play passes.
Throughout the season, Civetti has lauded his defensive unit’s grit and their ability to give the offense good field position, particularly in the second halves of their games. The Jumbos have given up 92 of their 123 points in the first half, suggesting that a complete game from the defensive unit could lead to a strong finish to the second half of the season.
As the Jumbos prepare for their last four games of the season, they will be looking ahead to varying degrees in the strength of their opponents. In their final two contests, Tufts will play the undefeated Middlebury Panthers and the winless Colby Mules, along with matchups with Williams and Amherst the next two weekends.
Each team will bring in a different style to their matchup. Amherst will look to dominate on the ground, while Middlebury will continue to use its passing offense that has racked up just over 370 yards per game.