Football preview | How Tufts prepares for NESCAC’s trickiest opponent
Published: Friday, September 27, 2013
Updated: Friday, September 27, 2013 09:09
Any smart football coach will tell you that games are won and lost on the practice field. Most, though, will not mention a necessary prerequisite to practice: coloring.
For Tufts’ defense to be ready to face Bates’ nuanced triple-option offense on Saturday, the players need experience practicing against it. That’s where the scout team comes in.
And for the scout team to become a suitable Bates look-alike for a week, it must be well versed in the Bobcats’ playbook. That’s where coloring comes in.
“Literally, you’ve got a stencil and a bunch of pens and a lot of different colors, and you try to highlight where you want things and try to make it as realistic as it can be off of a card,” head coach Jay Civetti said. “We’re all hands on deck trying to get the guys to give the best look as we can for each other.”
Each Sunday afternoon, defensive coordinator Kevin Farr and his staff begin watching film from last year, figuring out the opponent’s offensive tendencies and determining which plays the defense should see during the week.
Then, on Monday, the coaches color.
“They do an incredible job,” sophomore Matt Cahill, a quarterback-turned-receiver who plays QB for the scout team, said. “They work really hard to draw out every single play that Bates is going to run, and then every person on the field has an arrow pointed to where they’re going to go.”
On Tuesday, the players look at the board in the football offices to see who will be on the week’s scout team. Then, at walkthrough, those players familiarize themselves with the assignment for the week — in this case, pretending to be Bates.
Soon enough, the note cards Farr and Civetti draw up on Sunday spring to life, ideally at something close to full speed. At that point, it’s the players’ responsibility to run the offense smoothly.
“There’s a bit of an art as to when you do it, at what point in the week,” Civetti said after practice Wednesday on Bello Field. “You cover it before you come out here, you run it when you’re out here, you go over it in walkthrough and then when you get to meet [Thursday] to watch the film, you cover it again.”
Scout team players are not just the guys who don’t see the field on Saturdays. Senior running back Jon Sobo, for example, had three carries at Wesleyan last week and is playing Bates’ fullback position on the scout team. One thing is clear: It’s not a role Civetti takes lightly. To reinforce that message, he names an offensive and defensive scout team player of the week every Friday afternoon, and on Saturday those two players lead the Jumbos onto the field.
“We did that at [North Carolina] State and at Boston College — coach [Tom] O’Brien, that was something I learned from him,” Civetti said. “I thought it sent the right message. It’s something that is as important as any position on the team.”
It’s especially important in the week leading up to the Jumbos’ game at Bates — “option week,” as the scout team calls it. Bates’ triple option is tricky to defend, and it has helped them beat Tufts in each of the past three seasons. Last week, Bates lost by just 11 points to powerhouse Trinity while amassing 290 rushing yards.
“You have to be able to prepare for the dive, you have to be able to prepare for the quarterback keep, you have to be able to prepare for the pitch — you have to be able to stop the pass, as well,” Civetti said. “The triple, historically, has been great if you can run it effectively, which Bates does, because it puts defenses in a bind.”
For the scout team, the week leading up to Bates is important, but it’s also a lot of fun.
“Option week is awesome, especially for [Cahill],” Sobo said. “He’s got all the power.”
“The handoff plays where I just give it to [Sobo], those are, a lot of the time, predetermined,” Cahill said. “But when we’re running outside and I have the chance to pitch it, that’s all based on the read. If I see somebody who looks like he’s gonna put me in the ground, then I’m gonna give the ball up.”
Later today, Cahill or Sobo — or perhaps freshman Max Athy, sophomore Frank Barba or junior Harrison Kidd — will learn that he will be leading the Jumbos onto the field tomorrow at Bates. But that’s not the goal. The goal is to make sure Tufts’ defense can slow down the triple option.
“We’re just trying to help the team any way we can,” Sobo said. “Matt’s moved to receiver, I’ve played a couple positions here — we’ll do anything we can to help the team. That’s the bottom line.”
At the conclusion of the season, Civetti names a scout team player of the year. Usually, before long, that guy is playing on game day.
“Some programs, some people might laugh at that job,” Civetti said. “I think it’s the only way we’ve got a chance to win.”