Football Game Notes: Middlebury at Bates, Saturday at 1 p.m.
Middlebury Panthers (1-3) at Bates Bobcats (0-4)
October 24, 2009 at Garcelon Field
The Bates football team is in search of its first win after accepting a tough 28-20 loss at Wesleyan last Saturday. The Bobcats had leads of 14-0 and 20-14 and statistically played the Cardinals very evenly.
Despite an explosive offense and outscoring the opponent by an average of 2.5 points per game, Middlebury has struggled to a 1-3 mark thus far. The Panthers opened the year with a 50-35 shootout loss at Bowdoin, followed by a 45-0 thrashing of Colby. The past two weeks have seen the Panthers lose by 10 points to both Amherst and Williams.
The Middlebury offense is built around junior quarterback Donald McKillop, who is on pace to destroy several NESCAC single-season passing records. McKillop is averaging an astronomic 384.4 passing yards per game (the current conference record is 2,206 yards, set last year by Trinity’s Eric McGrath; McKillop is on pace for more than 3,000), while completing 146 of 224 passes, an impressive 65.2 percent completion rate. With 10 touchdown passes thus far, he is also on pace to beat the conference record of 18.
McKillop has four targets among the top eight in the conference in catches. Senior wide receivers James Millard and Erik Rostad are tied for second with 33 catches apiece, while sophomore wideout Matt Rayner is seventh with 26 and junior tight end David Reed is eighth with 24. The Panthers’ rushing offense is ranked sixth in the NESCAC at 78.5 yards per game.
The Middlebury defense also has a central player in senior linebacker Eric Kamback, who tied the Panthers’ single-game tackles record last week against Williams with 20. But the Panthers have struggled to stop the run, ranking ninth at 155.8 yards per game, just ahead of Bates.
Bates’ offense has been relatively successful moving the chains all season long, with 63 first downs, sixth in the NESCAC. Reaching the end zone has been more of the problem, but Saturday against Wesleyan the Bobcat offense scored three touchdowns — a three-yard run by Tom Beaton, a 35-yard run by Dylan Taylor and a 27-yard pass from Ryan Katon to 6-foot-7 wide receiver John Squires, who had a breakout game with five catches for 69 yards. Taylor should continue to tote the ball, with senior running back Judd Smith expected to miss the game with an injury. Middlebury is last in total defense and has been porous against both the run and the pass, so Bates is likely to continue balancing the run and the pass to a nearly even level.
Through Bates’ first three games, the Bobcats have been far more successful defensively against the pass then against the run. Things got turned on their head a bit against Wesleyan, a run-heavy offense that was stuffed by the Bobcats for a mere 50 yards on the ground, but whose passing game had its best day of the season with 244 yards. Middlebury is throwing the ball a whopping 57 times per game, and the Bobcats will look for big games from a talented defensive backfield (senior Kyle McAllister, sophomore Cam Evans and first-year Kyle Starr). Bates will also hope that the pass rush continues to build up steam after getting its first two sacks of the season last week (one for senior Rich McNeil and one for sophomore Tyler Kuehl).
While winning the turnover game often leads to winning a football game, Bates has gone winless despite a +1.00 average turnover margin. Giveaways have been an Achilles’ heel for Middlebury, with an average margin of -1.50, thanks in great part to nine interceptions thrown by McKillop. If these trends still hold true on Saturday, turnovers could become the key to Bates grabbing its first win.
Bates tight end Sean Wirth is in a three-way tie for fourth place among pass-catchers in the NESCAC, with 28 (7.0 per game). Two weeks ago Wirth had 10 catches and 102 receiving yards at Williams, Bates’ first receiver since Dylan MacNamara in 2006 to have 10 catches or 100 receiving yards. Wirth ranks ninth in the league in receiving yards per game (65.8)…. Kyle McAllister and Kyle Starr both have two interceptions, tying them with several other players for third in the conference…. Tom Beaton ranks second in the league in kickoff return average (18.9) and is tied for sixth in touchdowns (3)…. Gavin Segall-Abrams is sixth in the NESCAC in punting (34.5-yard average)…. Brett McAllister ranks seventh in the NESCAC in tackles (41) and second in solo tackles (28).