We would like to send our thoughts to the Bates football team, the Pappas family, and the Bates College community, as they mourn the loss of Troy Pappas.
Today’s game: Amherst (2-0) at Middlebury (2-0), 1:30 P.M
Both teams come into this game undefeated on the season. Amherst, the NESCAC defending champion, is riding a ten game winning streak after an undefeated 2011 season. The Lord Jeffs are a top tier team loaded with talent and an early season favorite to win the conference. Today’s game is a huge opportunity for Middlebury to prove that they deserve consideration in the top tier as well. Unfortunately for the Panthers, it’s the top tier for a reason, and breaking through with a win against Amherst will take a superlative performance.
Weather forecast: 30% chance of rain through 3PM, with winds up to 10 miles per hour, according to The Weather Channel. Any poor conditions will be an advantage to Amherst, a ground-and-pound team, against Middlebury’s pass-first offense.
-In 2010, the two teams met in Middlebury, and Amherst came out on top 38-31. Middlebury took a 9-0 lead into halftime but Amherst responded with 24 third quarter points on the back of quarterback Alex Vetras, who went 11-14 with two passing touchdowns and a rushing touchdown in the frame. Donnie McKillop was 47-62 for 421 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception.
–Last season, Amherst knocked off the Panthers at home 48-28 on the way to its undefeated season. Evan Bunker had a characteristically dominant performance, rushing for 139 yards and 4 touchdowns on 6.8 yards per carry. Blake Grauer added 193 passing yards and two touchdowns, with no interceptions. On the Panthers side of the ball, it was a one-dimensional attack, as the team put up a measly 50 yards on 2.2 yards per carry on the ground. Mac Foote, on the other hand, was a gaudy 46-73 for 400 yards, with three touchdowns and three interceptions. Four Panthers receivers had nine or more catches in the game. One positive to take away from Foote’s performance (other than the fact that he can put up huge numbers) was that the interceptions all came toward the end of the game (from 1:14 left in the 3rd quarter onward), and all were during long, sustained drives (8 plays or more). That is to say that were it not for self-inflicted wounds, Middlebury could have potentially ended the Lord Jeffs’ undefeated season early. Of course, it also says that Amherst makes big plays in big moments, and there is no reason to believe they will not continue to do so.
Keys to the game:
-Fast Start for Panthers’ Passing– If recent history is any indicator, Middlebury will look to pass early and pass often. This year’s offense has put up 42 points and five passing touchdowns in each of its first two games, and needs a stellar performance today if they want to pull out the win. If the Panthers pass offense is in rhythm early, it could give them the lead they need to force Amherst out of their running oriented gameplan.
-Fast Start for Lord Jeffs ‘Rushing– Amherst’s rushing unit seems to have not lost a beat with the loss of Evan Bunker, as they are averaging an astounding 308.5 rushing yards per game. Junior Ryan Silva leads the way, averaging over 150 yards per game. In each of the first two games, Middlebury’s pass offense has taken a few series to get into gear. If Mac Foote and co. waste two or three drives, this rushing offense can take a lot of time off clock with their long, methodical drives, and make it difficult for the Panthers to ever find their game.
Matchups to watch:
-Amherst DB Landrus Lewis (vs. Mac Foote, and the Middlebury Special Teams): Landrus Lewis, arguably the best defensive back in the NESCAC, will have his hands full against the Panthers offense, but needs to make good reads on Foote and turn them into big plays for the Lord Jeffs. In last season’s matchup, he forced a fumble and made an interception. Lewis is also the top kick returner for Amherst, and Middlebury has looked very weak in the return game early this season.
-Middlebury LB Tim Patricia and John Wiet vs. Ryan Silva and Tyler Jacobs: First-year linebacker Tim Patricia is generating some hype at Middlebury, as he leads the team in tackles through the first two weeks. According to head coach Bob Ritter, Patricia has an “inordinate amount of poise for a first-year player.” John Wiet, the senior linebacker, is second on the team in tackles, and together, these two will face their toughest test of the season against the Lord Jeffs’ rushing attack.
Prediction: Middlebury 35, Amherst 28
I’m taking a big upset win for Middlebury here on Fall Family Weekend. The main factors in my decision were:
1) The passing numbers Middlebury has put up against Amherst the past two seasons, combined with the passing numbers they have put up in the first two games this season. Driscoll, Chapman, and Rankowitz, the most-feared triad of pass catchers in the NESCAC, could simply take over this game.
2) The fact that although both teams have played poor opponents in their two games this season, Middlebury’s margin of victory is 17 points greater than Amherst’s.
3) The matchup between Middlebury’s suddenly-play-making defense and Amherst’s inexperienced quarterback, Max Lippe, who has averaged under 130 passing yards per game and could find himself in a shootout on the road.
If Midd wins this one, it sends a message to Trinity, Amherst, and Williams that they have company in the top tier. If not, with Williams on the horizon, they could be on their way back to their familiar resting place in the middle of the league.
Coverage: Damon and I will be broadcasting the game on WRMC 91.1 Middlebury College radio, available online. Please tune in.