After conquering the UAA last year, Chicago football's next goal is clearly marked on their schedule: November 17 NCAA Division III Playoffs, 1st Round. And with four straight victories to begin the 2001 season, the Maroons have shown that they can adjust to the departure of last year's seniors. However, unlike last season, these Maroons feature a high powered offense with a capable and steadily improving defense. Whether this new alignment can produce another UAA championship will be resolved over the next few weeks against inter-association competition.
With victories against Lake Forest (34-3), Rose-Hulman (24-20), North Central (42-35), and Case Reserve (51-34), the Maroons have gone from possessing one of Division III's stingiest defenses to having one of its most potent offenses. Last season's second-ranked defense in Division III has passed the torch to an offense in the top 20. The drastic shift came as a surprise to head coach Dick Maloney. We expected the defense to slip a bit now that Dan Philips, Jason Slous, and Nick Freeman have graduated, and we expected the experience and talent we have on offense to provide more points. The degree to which our team strengths changed was pretty surprising," he said.
Despite the strong start, Maloney is committed to shoring up the defense so that U of C can vie for the hotly-contested UAA championship. We need to work on fundamental skills, like tackling, because a missed tackle can turn a six-yard gain into a fifteen-yard play ", said Maloney. Our opponents have been spreading us out by throwing quick passes that leave our linebackers out in space which means they are unable to make the plays they usually could."
The offense appears to be a very special unit this year. Third-year quarterback Josh Dunn has a quarterback rating of 151.87, completing 63 percent of his passes for an average of 267.5 yards per game. Second-year tailbacks Sam Owens and Aaron Carlock have split the bulk of the carries, averaging 4.3 and 5.8 yards per carry respectively. The fierce wide receiving corps includes second-year Jim Raptis (23 receptions, 16.2 yards per catch, three TDs), second-year Joe Polaneczky (22 receptions, 12.1 yards per catch), and fourth-year Brian Gutbrod (17 receptions, five TDs). Adam Cushing, the senior tight end, has 13 receptions with a hefty 13.5 yards per catch. In the trenches, Chicago's offensive line is experienced and talented with senior right tackle Rick Lloyd, third-year left tackle David Neils, third-year center Bryan Cross, third-year left guard Jake Hajer, and second-year right guard James Dowd. Their performance is evident in the points that Chicago has accumulated over the first four games, and recognized by d3football.com, which named the offensive line its National Team of the Week" for their performance against North Central. Maloney lauded the offense for its execution thus far: The offensive line hasn't given up a sack, we have had a balanced attack, and we've even managed to control the clock despite the success of our passing game."
As for the defense, there has been the expected dropoff from last year, yet the team is enthusiastic about the future. Forth-year defensive tackle Arlen Wiley has emerged as a true leader on defense, and the defensive front of Wiley, third-year defensive end Sean Dillon, third-year defensive tackle Eric Berndt, and third-year Jay Stiffler has responded with quality play. The quick-strike and no-huddle approaches of opponents has limited Chicago's pressure on the quarterback, and caused the young secondary to rack up tackles and other teams have racked up yards. The key to stopping these offensive approaches is in making adjustments. Experience allows your team to make these adjustments naturally, but even with our youth on defense, better tackling would help in stopping our opponents," said Maloney. Even in giving up many points, Chicago's defense has shown promise for great things in the future. If the offense continues to put up points and keep the defense off the field, they should benefit from less pressure and less fatigue.
As for the overall state of the team, Maloney remains satisfied yet hungry for more. Chicago has three goals for the season: to win the UAA, to go undefeated, and to secure a playoff berth. So far, Chicago has performed well enough to accomplish these goals. The next test comes when Chicago travels to Rochester on October 13 to face their next UAA challenge.