With four straight losses in which the Maroon football team (1-4) has scored an average of 13 points and starting quarterback Tony Pulice out with a knee injury, a new play-caller will have to get the team back on track in a hurry. The defense has struggled recently against potent running games, and pressure is back on both the offense and defense to pick up the slack.
Third-year Pulice struggled again during Saturday's homecoming game-a 38-21 loss to Pomona-Pitzer-throwing two interceptions before being pulled in the middle of the second quarter due to injury. He hurt himself trying to make a tackle on Pomona's third-year defensive back Raudric Curtis, who returned his third interception of the year for 22 yards.
Pulice ended up 8 for 11 passing-his highest completion percentage of the year-for 70 yards with no touchdowns, and he generally showed a strong arm and good mobility. The biggest problem, despite the high completion percentage, was Pulice's accuracy that had a lot of receivers reaching for balls either too far or too low.
Third-year Mike Costello replaced Pulice with just over 13 minutes left in the first half. Having thrown only four passes all year, Costello threw the only Chicago passing touchdown of the game but had trouble with the Pomona-Pitzer pass rush, taking five sacks for a loss of 20 yards.
"Mike did a nice job in the first half, especially on our last drive, but in the third quarter ran into a little difficulty throwing the ball. On our hot' plays-those are designed plays where you don't have as much protection and need quick reads-Mike and Phil [Marino] had trouble. On those plays, we need to accelerate everything and throw the ball faster," head coach Dick Maloney said.
"Part of that is getting game experience. Things like guys in motion and blitzes happen very quickly. When you hold on to the ball during those plays with less blocking, you will get sacked."
Costello showed talent both on the ground and in the air on his best drive that came with only 1:26 left in the second quarter. Costello had a run for 18 yards in the middle of four consecutive complete passes, culminating in a touchdown pass to fourth-year wide receiver Jim Raptis. The third quarter, in contrast, went completely south, as Chicago went three-and-out two times and did not score any points.
First-year Phil Marino took over the quarterbacking duties for the last two drives of the game and enjoyed a solid overall performance, going 5-7 for 55 yards and completing four consecutive passes on a late touchdown drive that ended with a 24-yard rush from fourth-year Sam Owens. Marino also struggled with the pass rush, as Pomona-Pitzer sacked him three times.
The mixed success of the quarterbacks and Pulice's injury will create an intriguing competition for the spot during the next few weeks. "We will evaluate the situation as practices and games go on. If Tony is back in a week, he'll probably be back at quarterback. If he is gone for a longer period of time-like three or four weeks-we will have to constantly evaluate ourselves at that position, just like we do with all the other spots. The longer you're out, the longer the opportunity for the other person. If Mike or Phil is doing better, then that player will plug into that spot," Maloney said.
After showing a significantly more aggressive and athletic defense the first few weeks, Chicago's new 5-2 formation has not held up well against the run. DePauw (4-2) ran for 253 yards and six touchdowns two weekends ago in a 51-10 rout that dropped the Maroons to 1-3. It marked their first significant defensive breakdown in a year where the defense seemed to be rapidly improving.
Pomona-Pitzer was also able to tear up the defense on the ground, running for 330 net yards-266 on 24 carries by fourth-year running back John Samples. The Chicago defense had tremendous trouble tackling him as Samples broke two or three tackles on many a run.
"He is an outstanding running back. He knows how to hit holes hard and make quick moves. We had some tackling issues, though, and that's when he would take the most advantage of us, producing his breakaway runs. The 5-2 formation is our regular check to the two tight ends, but since they ran outside most of it, it was not very effective," said second-year nose tackle Rob Tamillow.
This Saturday's road game against Washington University of St. Louis (2-4) marks Chicago's most important game yet and opens the four-game UAA regular season schedule, which the team has vowed to win.
Washington University doesn't feature nearly as potent of an offense as DePauw or Pomona-Pitzer, but their defense has been able to hold opponents to just over 20 points per game. Fundamentals like tackling and blocking will be extremely important in this recovery period that will feature a struggling defense and a new starting quarterback.
"Tackling should not be a problem for us. When we are aggressive and playing hard we make tackles, but when we aren't in the offense's face and sit back hoping things will just happen, we get beat," Tamillow said. "Our team still has yet to play at its full potential."