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The Difficulty of Preparing for Hamilton

Coaches teach their players to look no further than the game in front of them, and to treat all games equally. For better or worse, journalists do not adopt the same approach. History and recent play would suggest that Hamilton has little hope of winning this game. A by the numbers, if you will, of how the conditions under which both teams enter this game:

-Middlebury has won the past 17 meetings between these schools

Hamilton has not seen this beauty in a long, long time.

Hamilton has not seen this beauty in a long time.

-The Panthers have won 14 of their past 16 games, including 7 straight at home

-Hamilton has lost 10 games in a row, and 21 straight on the road

-Middlebury enters the game following a 27-24 victory over then-undefeated Trinity, ending the Bantams 14-game winning streak

-Hamilton comes of a 24-0 loss at Williams, in which the Continentals turned the ball over 5 times, allowed 7 sacks and managed fewer than 200 yards of total offense

-The Continentals have a NESCAC-worst -129 point differential, thanks no doubt to their -10 turnover differential

-Mac Foote threw for 456 yards and 5 touchdown passes in Middlebury’s 50-21 win in Clinton, New York last year

Given these parameters, it is difficult to imagine Hamilton traveling to Middlebury and overcoming the historical trends, all of which are conspiring against Hamilton in this game. In a game where winning will not be a particular helpful barometer of how Middlebury played, here are a couple of things the Panthers should do in this game:

1) Play error-free football: Middlebury has turned the ball over in all but one game so far this season. Foote has been stellar the past two weeks, in spite of his three interceptions, and should continue his play of late today. Further, he and his wide receivers appear in sync for the first time all season. The Panthers should put a crooked number on the scoreboard today.

2) Shut down Chase Rosenberg: Regardless of what the stats say, Middlebury has been one of the best run defenses in the NESCAC this year. The Panthers limited Colby, Amherst and Trinity, three of the top five rushing teams in the NESCAC to 108 yards below their combined season averages. However, they’ve struggled at times to limit opposing quarterbacks through the air, as Sonny Puzzo, Adam Marske and Maz Lippe—not exactly a who’s who of NESCAC quarterbacks—have all had fine afternoons against Middlebury. So while James Stannell is easily the Continentals’ most dangerous offensive weapon, Middlebury cannot overlook Rosenberg.

3) Pressure the quarterback and force turnovers: As well as this Middlebury defense has played, it has not forced many turnovers this season. In fact, the Panthers are dead last in the conference, having forced just 8 takeaways this year. Up front they’ve done a better job pressuring the quarterback, thanks in large part to the emergence of sophomore outside linebacker/defensive end Jake Clapp. It also appears that defensive coordinator Doug Mandigo has also employed more blitzes in 2013, often blitzing Matt Crimmins and Zach Faber off the edge. Particularly against Hamilton this weeek, and Tufts next week, the Middlebury front needs to get home and force errant passes. And on the back end, the secondary and linebackers dropping into coverage need to be more opportunistic.

4) Don’t let Hamilton hang around: The Middlebury offense has done a tremendous job on opening drives so far this season, scoring points on five of its six first possessions, including three touchdowns. From there, however, the Panthers have often stalled offensively as they have scored just 14-first quarter points this season on non-opening drives. Furthermore, the second quarter has been the only one in which Middlebury has been outscored by its opponents (50-35).

The Final Word(s): Middlebury 42 – Hamilton 10

Ultimately, Middlebury has yet to play a complete game so far this season, and too often has allowed less talented teams to play with them for long stretches of games. Coming off a program-defining win a week ago, Middlebury cannot revert to inconsistent play offensively and bend-but-don’t break play defensively. The Panthers have yet to truly dominate a team on both sides of the football, but there is every reason that should be the case today.

We will be broadcasting the game on WRMC 91.1, which can be accessed online here.

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