The last time the Middlebury football team beat Williams was in 2000. I was 9-years old. Jeff was 8. Bob Ritter hadn’t been hired as the head coach. And the national deficit … well, there wasn’t one.
Since 2000 Middlebury has found all kinds of ways to lose to Williams. There have been defensive struggles, offensive shootouts, 2-point losses and 20-point losses. Middlebury won a NESCAC title during that stretch. But they didn’t beat Williams.
So why am I convinced that today will be different? (NOTE: Jeff disagrees.) In last year’s 48-28 win, Marco Hernandez and Tom Wohlwender ran wild, rushing for 5 touchdowns as Williams racked up 280 total yards on the ground. Darren Hartwell, meanwhile, caught 6 passes for 134 yards and 2 scores.
When I spoke to defensive coordinator Doug Mandigo this week, he stressed that the biggest difference between the defense this season vs. last season is the focus on not allowing opposing offenses to make big plays. Of course the goal of every defense is to limit explosive plays and actually accomplishing it is something different altogether. But through three games, the Panthers have allowed just 6 “explosive plays” (gains of 25 yards or more) and just 2 in their last two games. By cutting down on the number of explosive plays the defense is allowing, Doug Mandigo’s unit has given itself more opportunities to get stops and has done a great job getting off the field on third downs so far.
Offensively the Panthers are a juggernaut and if they can get score early and often (something that has been a considerable struggle so far this season) the defense is, in many ways, built to protect a lead. With that, here are some things to keep in mind:
Weather forecast: 50° F with winds around 10 mph according to weather.com
Keys to the game:
Middlebury: The Panthers need to start quickly. They’ve only scored 7 points on their three first possessions this season, with the lone touchdown coming on a short field after Bryant Adams intercepted Grant White in the first week. If the offense can force Williams to play from behind and make the Ephs one dimensional, the Middlebury defense will have a field day. If the offense struggles early and are forced to play from behind, the Ephs will be able to run the ball effectively with Marco Hernandez, opening up play action and passing lanes for quarterback Adam Marske and Hartwell and company.
Williams: Keep the Middlebury offense off the field. The Panthers ran 86 offensive plays last week against Amherst and it could have been more had they not slowed down late in the game to run out the clock. The Ephs will need to produce big plays to win, but equally important will be converting on third-and-short, something the Lord Jeffs failed to do last week. Opening running lanes early for Marco Hernandez will be crucial, therefore, both to keep the chains moving, but also to give the defense some much needed rest.
Matchups to watch:
Billy Chapman and Zach Driscoll vs. the Williams secondary: Chapman and Driscoll were able to get to any spot on the field last Saturday, burning the Amherst secondary for 23 receptions and 236 yards and 2 touchdowns between the two of them and it probably should have been more. Chapman in particular is crucial to the success of the offense, which targets the versatile tight end with short passes, often in place of the struggling Middlebury running game. If Williams can blanket Driscoll and Chapman — a tall order — the Ephs will extend their winning streak to 12 against Middlebury.
Tim Patricia vs. Marco Hernandez: Last week Patricia, the NESCAC Defensive Player of the Week, said that Middlebury’s defense is designed for the mike linebacker to make tackles. So far the defense has executed well as Patricia leads the team with 32 tackles. After limiting Ryan Silva to just 86 yards on 21 carries last Saturday, the freshmanPatricia faces another challenge this weekend in Marco Hernandez, one of the conference’s top running backs. If the Los Angeles native can limit Hernandez, particularly on third-and-short, and force Marske to air the ball out, Middlebury will win this game.
Prediction: Middlebury 38 – Williams 23 (Jeff says: Williams 28 – Middlebury 24)
The Panthers, regardless of what Jeff thinks, are too strong on both sides of the football for a 1-2 Williams team, albeit better than what the record says. The Panthers front seven has been dominant against the run this season and has the talent in the secondary to limit Hartwell and company to minimal yards after the catch. Williams will put up points in this one, but will not be able to stop Mac Foote and the Middlebury offense consistently enough to stay in the game beyond the first half.