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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Monday, February 26, 2024

Football aims to take down undefeated Wesleyan in annual night game

Junior kicker Matt Alswanger completes an extra point during Tufts' 28–21 win over Williams on Oct. 20, 2018.

The Jumbos will look to earn back-to-back wins for the first time this season as they travel up to Middletown, Conn., to face the undefeated Wesleyan Cardinals. With wins over the Colby Mules, Hamilton Continentals, Bates Bobcats and Bowdoin Polar Bears to start their season, the 4–0 Cardinals will arguably face their toughest opponent of the season yet — the 2–2 Jumbos. 

The Jumbos are coming off a hugely important win last week against a resilient Bates team, squeezing out a 33–28 victory to stay alive in the NESCAC title race. Coach Jay Civetti praised the schemes Bates brought on Saturday.

“I really like the job Bates did. They’re a formidable opponent when at full strength,” Civetti, who also serves as the team’s offensive coordinator, said

With the win, Tufts finds itself in a deadlock with fellow 2–2 teams Trinity and Hamilton, while Middlebury and Wesleyan remain the only two undefeated teams left in the conference. The Jumbos, who appear to be hitting their stride on offense, have a fantastic opportunity to firmly reinsert themselves in the hunt for the division crown. 

While the team has a record of 4–0, Wesleyan has earned three of its four wins over winless teams, with Hamilton being the lone exception. The Jumbos’ two losses came against 3–1 teams, Williams and Amherst, and their win over the Bobcats required the offense to outgun Bobcats junior quarterback Brendan Costa.

“Costa is obviously their heart and soul,” Civetti said about Bates. “He’s a tough kid to slow down. We tried to have the best plan to cage him, but he’s very dynamic and does a great job in his role.”

Costa was effective all game, especially in the fourth quarter where he guided the Bobcats back into the contest.

Jumbo senior defensive lineman Kevin Quisumbing lamented the defensive letup in the fourth quarter of the Bates game.

“We have to finish if we want to win games,” Quisumbing said.

In terms of Costa, Quisumbing said that the defense wasn’t finding its gaps as well as it should.

“We should have been way more dominant, but we’re going to learn and improve on mistakes for Wesleyan," he said.

The Jumbo offense, which was the league's second-least prolific entering the Bates contest, put up a season-high 33 points mostly thanks to a rampant passing attack. Senior quarterback Jacob Carroll threw for 223 yards and two scores, including a fantastic sequence in the red zone in which Carroll threw a touchdown strike to senior fullback Winton Blount after being flushed out of the pocket.

The Jumbos mixed in some two-quarterback offensive looks by using first-year quarterback Trevon Woodson as both a runner and a thrower. Woodson was the team’s second-leading rusher in the Bates game and also threw for one score. Clearly, this offense is developing an identity of having constant big-play potential, and wide receivers graduate Frank Roche and junior Brendan Dolan have emerged as consistent threats on the outside. The addition of senior running back Dom Borellialso greatly benefited the cohesion of the Jumbo offense, as the all-purpose star caught a bubble screen for over 60 yards to set up a red zone opportunity.

The red zone was one area of the field where the Jumbo offense was not extremely prolific on Saturday, settling for a field goal as well as turning the ball over on downs at the 1-yard line. When asked about the red zone struggles, Civetti brought up the advantage that defenses have when defending the goal line.

“The defense gets an extra player, the most perfect player in football, and that’s the 12th man, the end line," Civetti said. Once again praising the Bates scheme, Civetti said it was hard to move the pocket or run effectively in those short-gain situations. 

Against a Wesleyan defensive line that Civetti described as “massive," the going will not get any easier in the red zone for the Jumbo offense. Civetti praised the Wesleyan defense for its unique ability to dominate the line of scrimmage.

“Their defensive line is really aggressive, and they cover up a lot of the offensive line,” Civetti said. “That line is so good that the linebackers can kind of play free.”

The immediate threat of the Wesleyan front four frees up linebackers like junior Babila Fomuteh and sophomore Isaiah Miller to become impact players on defense. Fomuteh and Miller, in addition to junior defensive back Julian Ross, are three prolific tacklers on a defense that has not allowed more than 13 points in a game all year. Additionally, they have not allowed a passing touchdown since week one against Colby, a statistic that does not bode well for this pass-heavy Jumbo offense.

On offense, expect Wesleyan to use a lot of different personnel groups and work through different formations to keep the Jumbo defense on its toes.

“They do a lot with a lot of different people,” Civetti said. “They’re explosive, they use a lot of formations, and a lot of play calls.”

Civetti noted the strength of the Wesleyan wildcard threat, sophomore wide receiver/quarterback David Estevez, as well as junior running back Glenn Smith. Both Estevez and Smith ran for two touchdowns versus Bates.

Quisumbing acknowledged the problems the Wesleyan offense presents but remains confident in his defensive unit.

“Once they get into certain formations, their play-list gets really limited,” Quisumbing said. “When they go into bunch, or other formations tight to the line, they’re probably going to run it or do one of three pass plays.”

Pre-play recognition will be hugely important for this Jumbo defense to stay ahead of the curve. 

Wesleyan’s balanced attack on offense has been especially dominant in the red zone, scoring nine times on 13 trips, including eight touchdowns. When asked about how to staunch this red-zone threat, Quisumbing gave an answer characteristic of the Jumbos team-first approach.

“The biggest thing is to not even let them into the red zone. We can’t give them a short field on offense, and we have to pin them deep on special teams,” Quisumbing said.

Limiting the Cardinals' ability to score touchdowns in the red zone, in combination with neutralizing their dominant defensive line, will be keys to the game on defense for the Jumbos. Offensively, the Jumbos will continue to rely on the passing ability of Carroll and his trident of wideouts: Dolan, Roche and junior O.J. Armstrong.

The Wesleyan game is unique in that it is the Jumbos' only night game of the season, which provides some additional motivation, as well as nerves, for both teams.

“This game has always been super fun ... it’s a different environment," Quisumbing said. "We’re ready to go, and I’m confident we can get a win.”

Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. Saturday in Middletown, Conn.