September 30, 2005

Red zone blackouts leave football in the dark

Three games in the books. Three halftime leads. Three excruciating losses.

The first third of the season has not been kind to Chicago football. The Maroons fell to 0-3 after Illinois Wesleyan came back from a 13-0 deficit to steal a 20-13 squeaker at Bloomington Saturday. This was the biggest loss of the year for the team, who had previously lost by four- and five-point margins.

The team is still suffering from the same tendency to give up the big play on defense that dogged it throughout last year's 3-6 campaign. The Maroons have also been hurt by offensive inconsistency. The team has converted on just 40 percent of its red-zone possessions, and has not yet scored in the second half.

In efforts to address some of these issues, the team is looking at a number of options, including switching from a pressure to a cover defense on third down. The Maroons have also switched starting quarterbacks, benching last year's starter third-year Marc Zera after one game, and will be looking to third-year Matt Rinklin for the foreseeable future. The DePaul and Illinois transfer student has thrown for 551 yards and 2 touchdowns in two starts, but has also been intercepted four times.

The Maroons have had some successes, most notably in keeping their offense on the field. Chicago has finished all three games ahead of their opponents in time of possession, allowing the defense to stay rested and ready against tough offenses such as Elmhurst.

On offense, the wide receiver tandem of third-year Micah Dawson and second-year Mike Albian continue to be Rinklin's primary targets. Dawson currently leads the team with 314 receiving yards on the season, and he caught a touchdown against Elmhurst. Albian has nine catches for 146 yards, including a 64-yard touchdown reception. Third-year running back Nick Schey, who has not played since 2003, has carried the team's running game, rushing for 215 yards and three touchdowns.

Second-year linebacker Gaby Fernandez has been stalwart on defense for the Maroons, making a career-high 13 tackles against Elmhurst to push him to team-leading totals of 15 solo and 15 assisted tackles on the year.

The team faces six tough but winnable games to close out the season, starting with a road trip to DePauw (1-1) tomorrow. League play kicks off October 8 at home at Wash U (1-3). Chicago is aiming for its first UAA championship since 2000, and may have a shot in a league where only Case (3-1) is currently above .500.

Spotlight on: Colin Carrier