Keys to the Game: Tufts football at Williams

More than enough has been said about Tufts football’s 27-game losing streak. Here’s how the Jumbos can snap it today at Williams:

1. Don’t throw interceptions

It’s easy for a lowly sportswriter to say, but if the Jumbos don’t turn the ball over they will have a decent shot. Tufts is averaging 353 yards of offense, fourth in the NESCAC, and 225 yards passing, second in the NESCAC. But the team is scoring just 10.5 points per game, which ranks dead last.

Interceptions have spelled the Jumbos’ demise in each of their last two games. Tufts took a 7-0 lead against Trinity last week before three interceptions — including two pick-sixes — helped the Bantams score 43 unanswered points. The previous week against Bowdoin, the Jumbos’ potential game-winning drive was derailed by an interception at the goal line.

Regular starter Jack Doll is expected to begin the game at quarterback, though he will be on a short leash after throwing eight picks in four games. Doll will try to find a rhythm with his receiving corps, something he’s done well in spurts. Last week after throwing his third interception, the junior was replaced by freshman Liam O’Neil.

2. Start with a bang

Considering that the Jumbos have scored first three times this season and lost each time, drawing first blood might not seem to matter much. But it could carry significant weight today at Williams, where the Ephs are under immense pressure to win.

Until this year, Williams had not lost its first four games since 1947. An 0-5 start would be humiliating for a storied program that won the NESCAC title just three years ago.

The Ephs, like the Jumbos, are a young and mistake-prone squad, and their minus-11 turnover margin has head coach Aaron Skelton scratching his head. If Williams falls behind early, panic could set in.

3. Trust Trause and Brady

Last week, Tufts out-rushed Trinity — which boasts one of the top ground attacks in the league — 251 to 181. During the Jumbos’ game-opening, 99-yard touchdown drive, junior tailback Zack Trause exploded for 84 yards. He’s averaging 5.2 yards per carry, good for fifth in the NESCAC.

Between Trause and freshman Chance Brady, who has looked great in his first four collegiate games, the Jumbos have the pieces to become a well-balanced offense. Though their spread formation is designed to be pass-heavy, they would be wise today to keep giving Trause and Brady the ball.

Williams has a young front seven and a defense that has allowed 162 rushing yards per game. In addition, the Jumbos rank last in the league in time of possession, something they can start to remedy by picking up chunks of yardage on the ground.

4. Score from in close

Ten times this season the Jumbos have driven inside their opponent’s 10-yard line. The results: four touchdowns, three field goals and three fruitless possessions. Their touchdown percentage in the red zone (33 percent) is second-to-last in the NESCAC.

Tufts’ spread offense is arguably not conducive to success in tight spaces, and even at the goal line the Jumbos have lined up in the shotgun with multiple wide receivers. Though they have some big targets, such as fifth-year tight end Nick Kenyon (who should return from a concussion that sidelined him against Trinity) and sophomore Jack Cooleen, Doll has thrown just one touchdown pass.

The Jumbos could try to run, but neither Trause nor Brady is as a prototypical goal-line back. Perhaps head coach Jay Civetti will consider calling on senior Jon Sobo — a 220-pounder who had a career-high 78 yards rushing last week — when a touchdown is needed.

5. Play 60 minutes

The players know this is a huge game for the program — just as they knew the game against Bowdoin was huge for the program. There’s a reason Tufts was featured in the Boston Globe yesterday. Williams is having a down year, and after today’s game the Jumbos are left to face Amherst (4-0), Colby (1-3) and Middlebury (3-1). They need this one.

Tufts has been in a position to win twice this season and numerous times over the past three years. But the Jumbos have yet to play a complete game, 60 minutes of solid football. If they do — well, you know the rest.

The team departs for Williamstown at 7:30 a.m. and would be well-served to get some sleep on a three-plus hour bus ride.

Kickoff is at 1:30 p.m. Watch live here: http://nsnsports.net/colleges/williams-college/. Get live stats here: http://ephsports.williams.edu/livestats/landing. For updates throughout the game, follow @TuftsDailySport.

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