The fourth-ranked St. Thomas football team looks to continue its perfect season heading into this weekend’s game against Gustavus Adolphus College Saturday, Oct. 6, at O’Shaughnessy Stadium.
Last season, the Tommies took home a hard fought 20-7 victory over the Gusties. Coach Glenn Caruso, who has never lost to Gustavus as coach of St. Thomas, thinks this year’s Gusties (2-2, 1-2) present a different challenge.
“Their offense has different personnel from last year, especially at quarterback,” Caruso said. “On defense, the biggest strength is the fact that they return a lot of their personnel who are comfortable in their system.”
St. Thomas moved up one spot to No. 4 in this week’s D3football.com poll, passing up last year’s national champion Wisconsin-Whitewater. The Tommies maintained their No. 3 ranking in the American Football Coaches Association poll. St. Thomas shares the MIAC lead with No. 10 Bethel University (4-0, 2-0) and Concordia College, Moorhead (4-0, 2-0).
The Tommies and Gusties share no common opponents heading into this weekend’s clash; however Gustavus’ two losses against Augsburg College and St. Olaf College were by a combined five points.
St. Thomas faces a potent rushing attack from Gustavus senior quarterback Muresuk Mena, who is leading his team in both passing (553) and rushing (467) yards. Caruso said St. Thomas needs to find a way to stop the dual-threat quarterback.
“The biggest thing is making sure we are sound in our gaps and assignments,” Caruso said. “If little gaps open at inopportune times for us or opportune times for him, he’ll make you pay.”
Defensively, the Gustie secondary has struggled containing opponent’s wide receivers, giving up an average of 251 passing yards per game. Sophomore wide receiver Dan Ferrazzo thinks the Tommie receivers have benefitted from strong quarterback play.
“Matt (O’Connell) has played very well this year,” Ferrazzo said. “He is a dynamic threat, and he also puts us in positions to succeed.”
The Gustie offense has relied mostly on the ground game, running for 253 yards per game, while averaging only 148 passing yards.
Senior cornerback Jack Gavin said he believes the Tommie defense will need to get the Gusties out of their comfort zone.
“Our run defense has been very, very good this year,” Gavin said. “Our goal is to stop the run early and force teams to pass more, making them uncomfortable.”
With the mobile Gustie quarterback Mena, Gavin said he feels the team needs to limit the amount of space Mena has to work with.
“We have to contain him and prevent him from going outside (the pocket),” Gavin said. “We’re going to have to keep our eyes on him the entire game.”
Saturday marks only the second home game of the season for St. Thomas and its first since Sept. 8. Since Caruso’s appointment as coach in 2008, St. Thomas sports a 26-2 record at home.
Ferrazzo says he is looking forward to playing at home for the first time in 28 days.
“It will be nice to be back on campus and feel the atmosphere of game day,” Ferrazzo said. “Being at home is always assuring.”
Ross Schreck can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.