Reporting Jeff Wald
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – The St. Thomas football team feels pretty good to be off to a 2-0 start, but the Tommies know that plenty of work is still ahead.
The Tommies, now ranked No. 4 nationally, beat St. Norbert 20-7 in their season opener and pulled away from UW-River Falls in the second half last week in a 45-22 victory. Practice hit a new intensity level this week as St. Thomas gets ready for its first MIAC contest.
A pair of 2-0 teams will face off at 1:10 p.m. Saturday at O’Shaughnessy Stadium in St. Paul as St. Thomas hosts St. Olaf in its MIAC opener. The Oles beat Luther in their opener 24-22 and won at Simpson College (Iowa) last week 31-23.
Excitement for the match-up is building as kickoff gets closer, especially now that St. Thomas isn’t sneaking up on anybody. The Tommies are 32-5 in Glenn Caruso’s era as head coach, including two straight NCAA playoff appearances.
“There is a greater excitement when you get ready to face teams in our league,” Caruso said. “Our first year (2008), we didn’t necessarily get everybody’s A game. We’re not sneaking up on anybody anymore. There’s a general enthusiasm for the first game because they’ve always given us a good game.”
The Tommies beat St. Olaf 49-14 last year in Northfield and got out to a 35-0 lead in the contest. But that was last year, and the Oles present a load of challenges for the Tommies this year.
Quarterback Dan Dobson is a legitimate threat to run and pass, and he’s got two targets in Stephen Asp and Jake Schmiesing. Perhaps their greatest threat is Leon Clark, the Oles’ top rusher who is also a kick returner and has the ability to break a big play at any time.
“Their offense is the ‘Holy Trinity’ so to speak, Caruso said. “I think (Clark) is one of the most explosive players that we’ll see all year. If you look at the total package, he’s a complete back. He can also catch the ball. I think he’s a stellar football player.”
St. Thomas has its own three-headed monster of quarterback Dakota Tracy, running back Colin Tobin and wide receiver Fritz Waldvogel. Tobin scored four touchdowns in last Saturday’s victory, Tracy ran for two touchdowns in their season opener and threw another one to Waldvogel. When the three are clicking, the Tommies are hard to beat offensively.
The St. Olaf defense also has nine starters back from last season. With that mix of talent and experience, Caruso’s offense could have its hands full moving the ball.
Caruso said the Tommie’s defensive key to Saturday’s game is to keep the chains manageable and not allow big plays on first down. As far as the offense, he said his team’s success comes down to ball security.
“If we can take care of the ball, our athleticism will take care of the rest,” Caruso said.
I’m not a betting man when it comes to Division III football, but it’s awfully tough to pick against the Tommies on their home field in this one. St. Olaf puts up a good battle, but St. Thomas wins by 10 points or more.
Caruso On Jerry Kill
University of Minnesota football coach Jerry Kill collapsed on the field Saturday at TCF Bank and had a seizure in the final moments of the Gophers loss to New Mexico State. Kill was released from the hospital early Thursday afternoon and went straight to practice and addressed the team. The Gophers coaches and medical staff still said they expect Kill to coach Saturday when the Gophers face Miami (Ohio), but it’s unclear if he’ll be on the sidelines or in a booth to ease his way back.
I asked Caruso if his coaching staff has a plan in place in the event something happens, medical or otherwise, where he can’t be on the field on game day.
“Absolutely we do. If I’m driving home and get hit by a garbage truck and I’m gone, the coaching staff knows who takes over and what everybody’s job is,” Caruso said. “To not have a plan is negligent, every coach out there has one.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with coach Kill and his family,” Caruso said. “Like all football coaches, he works very hard at what he does. We just hope for him and his family that everything turns out positive and that he can continue on.”