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Week 5 Football Preview: Wesleyan vs. Tufts

Photo by Steve McLaughlin
Photo by Steve McLaughlin

Wesleyan (4-0) and Tufts (2-2) meet for the 50th time Saturday in a series that dates back to 1892. An even rivalry has the Jumbos holding a slight 24-23-2 edge, and the last three games have been decided by a total of 13 points, including an overtime win by Wesleyan in 2017. That 2017 meeting under the lights on Andrus Field was just the second night game in school history and featured a thrilling comeback victory by the Cardinals in which WR Eric Meyreles '19 caught a 24-yard touchdown pass from QB Mark Piccirillo '19 with just six seconds remaining to force overtime. In the extra stanza, Piccirillo connected with WR Mike Breuler '18 for the game-winning touchdown and LB Shayne Kaminski sealed the victory with an interception on Tufts' ensuing drive.

Tufts avenged the loss by defeating Wesleyan at home last year though, 16-13. The game was also played under the lights and featured another thrilling contest between the two programs. The Cardinals' defense shut out the Jumbos in the second half but their comeback attempt fell just short. Wesleyan had a 334-to-227 edge in total offense with 189 yards passing and 145 yards rushing, while Tufts was held to just 55 yards on the ground.

The Cardinals enter week five with a perfect 4-0 record and are just one of two unbeaten teams remaining in the NESCAC, joining Middlebury who knocked off previously undefeated Amherst last weekend in a 34-31 overtime victory. The Cardinals have outscored their opponents 126-45 with wins over Colby (30-10), Hamilton (28-10), Bates (48-12), and Bowdoin (20-13), respectively. They currently lead the conference in passing touchdowns (9), PATs (15), defensive interceptions (9), sacks (12), and passing defense (141.8 yards/game). They also rank second in both scoring offense (31.5 points/game) and scoring defense (11.3 points/game).

Offensively, the Cardinals are averaging 380.5 yards per game (ypg) behind a balanced attack in which they are throwing for 184.5 ypg and rushing for 196 ypg. They are second in the league in rushing and are led by junior RB Glenn Smith who has 30 carries for 234 yards and three touchdowns. Smith is averaging 7.8 yards per carry and has back-to-back 100-yard games. In the win over Bowdoin last weekend, he rushed for a 31-yard game-winning touchdown with just 3:52 remaining in regulation. Sophomore QB Ashton Scott is a dual-threat and is second on the team in rushing with 212 yards on 53 carries and one TD. He is also 53-82 (65.6%) passing with 704 yards, nine touchdowns, and only one interception. Scott was named the NESCAC Offensive Player of the Week for his performance in week three, and his favorite target has been classmate Matthew Simco who has team-highs of 14 catches for 225 yards including two TDs.

On the defensive side of the ball, Wesleyan has been excellent and has pressured quarterbacks all season long. The unit is led by senior LB Chase Pratt's team-high 25 tackles, while junior LB Nick Livingston leads the squad and ranks second in the NESCAC in sacks with 3.5. Freshman DL Nick Helbig has made an immediate impact in the front-seven and has 2.5 sacks on the year with 16 tackles, while junior LB Babila Fomuteh has 2.5 sacks for a loss of 21 yards. Pratt, Jackson Eighmy, and Connor Krusac all have a sack this season and LB John Lewis II has half a sack as the Cardinals led the conference with 12 total. The secondary has been excellent as well as six different players have an interception, led by DB Ben Thaw and DB Danny Banks who have two each.

Tufts opened the 2019 season with a huge win, taking down the three-time reigning NESCAC Champions Trinity at home, 14-8. However, the Jumbos lost their next two games to Williams (44-8) and Amherst (26-16), respectively, but ended the losing streak by defeating Bates on the road last week, 33-28. Tufts is averaging 17.8 points and 338.5 yards per game while allowing 26.5 points and 376.8 yards.

The Jumbos' offense ranks second in the league in passing (243.5 ypg) but last in rushing (95 ypg). Senior QB Jacob Carroll has played the majority of snaps under center while freshman QB Trevon Woodson has seen action as well. Carroll is 62-101 (61.4%) for 781 yards, seven touchdowns, and four interceptions. Three Tufts' wide receivers have over 200 yards receiving as graduate student Frank Roche leads the way with 278 yards on just 10 catches, including two touchdowns. Junior OJ Armstrong has a team-high 29 catches for 227 yards and one score, and junior Brendan Dolan has 12 receptions for 215 yards and two TDs. The rushing attack is led by junior RB Mike Pedrini who has 220 yards rushing on 62 carries and one touchdown, while Woodson has rushed 22 times for 133 yards.

Tufts' defense has forced just three turnovers this season (two interceptions and one fumble) but has sacked the quarterback seven times. Senior LB Greg Holt has been excellent for the Jumbos and leads the NESCAC in tackles with 39. Sophomore DL Jovan Nenadovic is second on the squad with 26 tackles and has a team-high three sacks, which is also tied for third-best in the conference. The secondary is led by junior DB Michael Mughetto who has 20 tackles and one interception, while sophomore DB Jason Ndansi has a team-best three pass break-ups. Junior kicker Matt Alswanger was named the NESCAC Special Teams Player of the Week for week four after scoring seven points in the team's victory over Bates.