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Starting the Second Half

Middlebury is 4-0 for the first time since 1992 after beating Williams last weekend, ending a 12-game losing streak that began in 2001. The 30-13 victory against the Ephs increased Middlebury’s season point differential to +87, an average of over three touchdowns points per game.

As has become routine for these Panthers, they dominated the game on both sides of the ball. McCallum Foote shredded the Williams defense, putting up 431 yards on 43 attempts, relying on senior stud wide receiver Zach Driscoll. Driscoll had the game of his career, with 12 catches, 250 yards, and 3 touchdowns. He earned NESCAC Offensive Player of the Week honors for the second time this season, and was also named to the Team of the Week.  Credit is once again owed to the offensive line, as they held the Williams defense without a sack, and gave Foote the time to let Driscoll’s deep routes develop all game long. Middlebury’s line has only allowed two sacks all season.

On the other side of the ball, freshman linebacker Tim Patricia continued his excellent play in the middle, leading the team with 12 tackles, and keeping the dangerous Williams backfield in check. Captain John Wiet added 7 tackles and a sack. It was senior defensive back Daniel Kenerson, however, who put together the biggest single-game defensive performance of the season for the Panthers, as he picked off Eph quarterback Adam Marske three times, all in the second half. Kenerson led a secondary that allowed only 137 yards passing on 29 attempts.

Driscoll, who has been the team’s MVP of the first half, is on pace to break a number of single season receiving records and has cemented himself as one of the best players ever to wear a Middlebury uniform. By season’s end, Driscoll will be the most decorated wide receiver in school history. The 6’2” wideout has the third most receptions in a career and needs just 5 more to move into second place and 10 to hold the record, previously set by AJ Husband in 1998. Driscoll’s next touchdown catch will set the single season record for touchdowns, having already obliterated the all-time mark. Finally, he’s 273 yards short of the all-time receiving yard record, which means he will most likely graduate as Middlebury’s leader in receptions, yards and touchdowns.

Coming off a win over Williams and with Trinity looming next weekend, Middlebury needs to be careful not to overlook an edgy Bates team today. While this appears to be a potential trap game, the approach that coach Bob Ritter and his team take to every game and the unique offense that Bates runs should ensure that the Panthers are ready to go. One thing to watch, which will provide an interesting wrinkle is Bates’ offensive style. The Bobcats run the triple option offense, similar to what Georgia Tech uses.

Weather forecast: 65° F with 8-10 mph winds and 10-20% precipitation. In other words, perfect weather to play football.

Key to the game: Offensively, these two teams are like yin and yang. Bates has attempted fewer passing plays than anyone in the conference. Middlebury has attempted by far and away the most passes in the conference. Bates has called more running plays than anyone in the NESCAC but Trinity. Middlebury has rushed fewer times than anyone save Tufts. 72% of the plays the Bobcats have run from scrimmage have been running plays. Middlebury, meanwhile, passes on 65% of plays — and the number would be more distorted if they weren’t playing from ahead in the second half. And while Bates is a ground and pound team, the Bobcats average 25.5 points per game. It will be especially important in this game, then, for Middlebury to establish an early lead. If the Panthers can force Bates out of its running game and make the Bobcats try to beat them through the air, Middlebury will run away with this game. For the Bobcats, scoring early will be crucial. If they can hang around through the first half and run the ball effectively, eventually they may be able to wear down the Middlebury defense.

Matchups to watch:

Mac Foote vs. the Bates secondary: The Bobcats defense leads the NESCAC with 11 interceptions. The unit has been very opportunistic and Foote needs to be careful not to force too many passes into coverage, something he had a tendency to do at times, particularly when targeting Driscoll late in his drop backs. Foote will need to spread the ball and Billy Chapman, Brendan Rankowitz and Harrison Goodkind will play big roles in this game if the Panthers win.

Trevor Smith vs. the Middlebury front seven: Smith is limited as a passer, but he has rushed the ball 80 times this season, fourth most in the NESCAC. Smith makes the Bates offense run, quite literally. In the triple option, the quarterback makes option reads on running plays, assessing the defensive line, and particularly the defensive end, the way many quarterbacks read the defensive secondary on passing plays. Middlebury’s front seven has been stellar so far this season, but this will be a different test entirely from anything they’ve seen so far.

Prediction: Middlebury 42 – Bates 17. Bates will have some success running the ball, particularly early in the game, but the triple option is not ideal for trading scores with this vaunted Middlebury passing attack. At some point the Bobcats will be forced to air the ball out and the Panthers have made great plays in the secondary this season.

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