Football | Football prepared for test at Bowdoin
Road game provides chance for first win
Published: Friday, October 5, 2012
Updated: Friday, October 5, 2012 02:10
It’s midterm exam time on campus, and not only in the classroom. On the football field, where the Jumbos prepare to take on Bowdoin this Saturday, it’s also their chance to show just how much progress they’ve made since the beginning of the season.
With 31 practices down and just 27 to go for Head Coach Jay Civetti’s team, this quasi−midseason test will be especially important, as the squad enters a daunting second half of the season after this week’s game in Brunswick, Maine. They follow up their tussle with the Polar Bears with three games against opponents that are a combined 5−1, so if Tufts intends to break a losing streak that now stretches over more than two years, now is the time.
And having already played and defeated the Polar Bears in a preseason scrimmage on Sept. 14, the Jumbos have plenty to analyze and improve on.
That Friday night, Tufts secured a shutout victory, 7−0, in a game that showcased the young team’s promise. But much has changed over the past three weeks for the Jumbos, and the team feels even more prepared heading into their first game on the road.
“When we went into the scrimmage we were still learning the offense,” senior quarterback John Dodds said. “I think three weeks later we’re getting a lot better at running our offense and we’re definitely more confident coming out into this game.”
The key for the Jumbos, if they hope to display their progress, will be to come out of the gates strong and not fall into an early hole. In their first two games, Tufts fell behind by three and two touchdowns, respectively, in the first quarters, prompting Civetti to make changes to practice in an effort to get his team ready for the first whistle.
“As a group, we felt like giving the kids an opportunity to start fast and get into a period where they have to compete right away,” Civetti said. “Practice is designed like a game and we’re just trying to simulate [transition] to the best of our ability and give the guys a chance to come out and compete right away.”
The early deficits have forced the offense into an extremely pass−heavy attack. Dodds has thrown the ball 115 times — falling one short of the school’s single game record of 71 against Bates — over his first two outings, and the Jumbos have almost entirely shirked the running game in an effort to stretch the field. Tufts ranks second in the NESCAC in passing yardage per game but dead last in rushing yards, and will look to even those numbers out against Bowdoin.
“Balance is always the theme,” Civetti said. “Fundamentally we want to be able to run the ball more.”
In their first two games against Middlebury and Amherst — perhaps the two best teams in the NESCAC — the Polar Bears’ defense has been torched for 399 yards per game. But the Jumbos aren’t taking that as any sign that the going will be easy for their offense.
Meanwhile, on the defensive side, Tufts will look to shut down Bowdoin entirely, much in the way it did three weeks ago.
“That was another high–energy scrimmage for the defense,” said sophomore linebacker Tommy Meade, the team leader in tackles through two weeks. “We didn’t come out dead; we came out ready to play. That’s what we really need to bring into this next week.”
In their first two games, the Jumbos have already allowed 66 points and nearly 384 yards per game. Most of those come from early, sloppy mistakes, and Civetti feels this problem is easily remedied with improvements to the tenacity with which the team plays.
“I expect the defense to tackle the football better, to play physical football and to get off the field on third down,” he said.
After two missed opportunities in their first two weeks, the Jumbos need to put on a convincing performance this week with the cream of the NESCAC crop looming just around the corner.
In their second go around with Bowdoin, the clocks in the fourth quarter will hit double−zeroes and the result will count in the standings. And as Tufts rides the bus back for the first time this season, they hope to be staring down their next set of difficult opponents with a win in hand — a midterm exam passed with flying colors.
“The expectation first and foremost is to win the game,” Civetti said. “To win the game, [we have to] play physical football and be more physical than Bowdoin. [We have to] play fundamentally sound football, [and we have to] play smart football.”