St. Thomas defense gets in right place at right time

  • Article by: RACHEL BLOUNT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 13, 2012 - 12:14 PM

Good things come to players such as Ayo Idowu when they adhere to the Tommies' defensive philosophy.

hide

Ayo Idowu ran back a fumble 25 yards for a TD last weekend against Wisconsin-Oshkosh. It was his second TD in three weeks.

Photo: Jim Gehrz, Star Tribune

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

The St. Thomas football team's defense is built around the concept of individual responsibility, of knowing one's specific job and performing it with precision. In that system, linebacker Mike Valesano said, the cumulative effort of 11 smaller heroes means that no one needs to be Hercules or Superman.

That does not prevent the occasional star turn. Twice in the past three weeks, defensive lineman Ayo Idowu has gotten his hands on a loose ball and run for a touchdown, the first scores of his career. While those plays were instrumental in playoff victories over Elmhurst and Wisconsin-Oshkosh, Idowu's embrace of his usual role outside the spotlight -- along with that of his teammates -- is what really got St. Thomas to Friday's NCAA Division III championship game against Mount Union.

The Tommies are ranked 11th nationally in scoring defense (14.1 points per game), seventh in run defense (76.9 yards per game) and sixth in third-down conversion defense (58 first downs made in 212 attempts, 27 percent). During the regular season, they held MIAC rival Bethel to its first shutout in 90 games; in last Saturday's semifinal victory over Wisconsin-Oshkosh, they allowed only 25 rushing yards and forced four turnovers.

Though Idowu got the glory, he is quick to note that his touchdowns resulted from the Tommies' collective effort. In both cases -- the go-ahead score in a tight game against Elmhurst and the opening score in the victory over Oshkosh -- his teammates caused the fumble by disrupting a pitch, then cleared his path to the end zone. They will face their sternest test this season against No. 1 Mount Union, which boasts the most productive offense in Division III.

"We won't change what we do," said Idowu, who leads the No. 3 Tommies with five sacks and 16 tackles for loss. "Our focus is always on stopping the run first. And we're definitely a team defense. We're a very close group of guys."

'Clear minds make fast legs'

Tommies coach Glenn Caruso said the steady play of the defense has been his team's touchstone throughout the season. Defensive coordinator Wallie Kuchinski directs a 3-4 scheme in which players are expected to know their duties and stay on task.

The defense is constructed to adapt to a variety of situations, and it often mixes up its personnel to keep opposing teams guessing. But Caruso said it is not unnecessarily complicated; one of his credos is "Clear minds make fast legs," and Kuchinski's schemes ensure the Tommies' speed and instincts are not compromised. They also make use of a broad array of talent, with key statistics spread out among a large group of players.

Kuchinski came to St. Thomas when Caruso took over the program in 2008, inheriting a defense that had given up more than 35 points per game. Idowu, who played at Woodbury High School, already had decided to play at Concordia (St. Paul) when he spoke to Caruso.

But Idowu could not forget how convincing and passionate Caruso was about his desire to turn around the Tommies' undistinguished program. He changed his mind and committed himself to that same ambition, bringing a fun-loving personality inside a 6-2, 251-pound body. Though Idowu missed some time this season with an ankle injury, he was determined not to let it spoil his senior year.

"I wanted to make an impact on this team in the short term and the long term," said Idowu, who has 47 1/2 tackles -- third-most on the team-- and is adept at harassing quarterbacks. "I owed it to them. I had an epiphany in the middle of the Concordia game, and I decided I was going to stop thinking about my ankle hurting. I was just going to play as hard as I could."

Since that game-- a 21-7 victory on Nov. 3 -- Idowu has flourished. The first time he returned a fumble for a touchdown, he surprised himself by running 86 yards. The second time, much to his relief, he had to cover only 25 yards. In addition to the two scores, Idowu has forced a fumble, broken up three passes and recorded three tackles for loss in four playoff games.

Consider him impressed

Mount Union coach Larry Kehres is keenly aware of his performances and those of his teammates. Kehres offered the Tommies' defense a major compliment, saying it reminded him of his own -- which is ranked at the top of Division III.

"To be a good defensive unit, the coaching staff has to put you in position to make good plays," Kehres said. "They are in good position. And they're quick, they're really in good physical condition, and they're very, very good tacklers."

Caruso said the defense has grown in confidence throughout the season, and he attributes its strength to its consistent ability to play hard, play fast and run to the ball. And, occasionally, to its ability to run the ball in for a touchdown, with one man finishing the work egun by 11.

"There has been so much blood and sweat shed for this opportunity, from everyone on this team and the ones who came before us," Idowu said. "The last three years at this time, we were in the library studying for finals. Now we're getting ready to try and win a national championship for St. Thomas. It's surreal."

 

  • related content

  • Ayo Idowu’s pursuit of a fumble took him right into St. Thomas coach Glenn Caruso during a playoff victory against Elmhurst.

  • NCAA DIVISION III CHAMPIONSHIP ST. THOMAS VS. MOUNT UNION

    6 p.m. Friday • Salem Stadium, Salem, Va.

    TV: ESPNU (104.1-FM)

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Los Angeles - LP: B. Wilson 7 FINAL
Chicago Cubs - WP: J. Grimm 8
Detroit - WP: M. Scherzer 3 FINAL
Kansas City - LP: J. Shields 2
Philadelphia - WP: J. Williams 3 FINAL
Oakland - LP: D. Otero 0
Toronto - WP: M. Stroman 6 FINAL
NY Yankees - LP: C. Capuano 3
Arizona - LP: T. Cahill 1 FINAL
Colorado - WP: E. Butler 5
Boston - LP: R. De La Rosa 2 FINAL
Baltimore - WP: C. Tillman 7
Milwaukee - WP: Z. Duke 1 FINAL
Pittsburgh - LP: M. Melancon 0
Washington - WP: J. Zimmermann 3 FINAL
Miami - LP: J. Cosart 2
NY Mets - WP: J. Niese 4 FINAL
Atlanta - LP: M. Minor 2
Chicago WSox - LP: H. Noesi 1 FINAL
Tampa Bay - WP: C. Archer 3
Cleveland - WP: T. House 7 FINAL
Minnesota - LP: T. May 3
Seattle - LP: C. Young 1 FINAL
Houston - WP: D. Keuchel 10
Cincinnati - LP: M. Leake 4 FINAL
St. Louis - WP: J. Motte 8
San Francisco - LP: Y. Petit 2 FINAL
San Diego - WP: A. Cashner 3
Texas - LP: C. Lewis 5 FINAL
LA Angels - WP: J. Weaver 8
San Diego 12:00 PM
Buffalo
Dallas 12:00 PM
St. Louis
Washington 12:00 PM
Philadelphia
Houston 12:00 PM
NY Giants
Minnesota 12:00 PM
New Orleans
Tennessee 12:00 PM
Cincinnati
Baltimore 12:00 PM
Cleveland
Green Bay 12:00 PM
Detroit
Indianapolis 12:00 PM
Jacksonville
Oakland 12:00 PM
New England
San Francisco 3:05 PM
Arizona
Denver 3:25 PM
Seattle
Kansas City 3:25 PM
Miami
Pittsburgh 7:30 PM
Carolina
Chicago 9/22/14 7:30 PM
NY Jets
NY Giants 9/25/14 7:25 PM
Washington
Connecticut 14 FINAL
So Florida 17
Old Dominion 45 FINAL
Rice 42
Troy 0 FINAL
(13) Georgia 66
Georgia Tech 27 FINAL
Virginia Tech 24
Eastern Mich 14 FINAL
(11) Michigan State 73
Iowa 24 FINAL
Pittsburgh 20
Bowling Green 17 FINAL
(19) Wisconsin 68
Maryland 34 FINAL
Syracuse 20
Tulane 13 FINAL
Duke 47
Hawaii 12 FINAL
Colorado 21
Marshall 48 FINAL
Akron 17
North Carolina 41 FINAL
East Carolina 70
Army 21 FINAL
Wake Forest 24
Virginia 33 FINAL
(21) BYU 41
(6) Texas A&M 58 FINAL
SMU 6
Rutgers 31 FINAL
Navy 24
Central Mich 10 FINAL
Kansas 24
Utah 26 FINAL
Michigan 10
Florida 21 FINAL
(3) Alabama 42
Louisville 34 FINAL
FIU 3
Fla Atlantic 19 FINAL
Wyoming 20
Indiana 31 FINAL
(18) Missouri 27
San Jose St 7 FINAL
Minnesota 24
Texas State 35 FINAL
Illinois 42
Massachusetts 7 FINAL
Penn State 48
Georgia State 14 FINAL
Washington 45
Appalachian St 20 FINAL
Southern Miss 21
Miss State 34 FINAL
(8) LSU 29
Northern Ill 14 FINAL
Arkansas 52
Middle Tennessee 17 FINAL
Memphis 36
Utah State 14 FINAL
Arkansas State 21
Miami-Ohio 24 FINAL
Cincinnati 31
Idaho 24 FINAL
Ohio U 36
Ball State 23 FINAL
Toledo 34
(14) So Carolina 48 FINAL
Vanderbilt 34
(4) Oklahoma 45 FINAL
West Virginia 33
Ga Southern 28 FINAL
South Alabama 6
UNLV 14 FINAL
Houston 47
Miami-Florida 31 FINAL
(24) Nebraska 41
New Mexico 38 FINAL
New Mexico St 35
(22) Clemson 17 FINAL
(1) Florida State 23
California 45 FINAL
Arizona 49
San Diego St 7 FINAL
Oregon State 28
(2) Oregon 38 FINAL
Washington St 31
Louisiana 9 FINAL
Boise State 34
Texas Tech 9/25/14 6:30 PM
(25) Oklahoma State
Appalachian St 9/25/14 6:30 PM
Ga Southern
(12) UCLA 9/25/14 9:00 PM
(15) Arizona State
Middle Tennessee 9/26/14 7:00 PM
Old Dominion
Fresno State 9/26/14 7:00 PM
New Mexico
(1) Florida State 9/27/14 2:00 AM
NC State
Duke 9/27/14 2:00 AM
Miami-Florida
North Carolina 9/27/14 2:00 AM
(22) Clemson
Texas-El Paso 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(20) Kansas State
Tennessee 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(13) Georgia
Vanderbilt 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Kentucky
Wyoming 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(11) Michigan State
Northwestern 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Penn State
TCU 9/27/14 11:00 AM
SMU
Iowa 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Purdue
Tulane 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Rutgers
So Florida 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(19) Wisconsin
Colorado State 9/27/14 11:30 AM
Boston College
Western Mich 9/27/14 11:30 AM
Virginia Tech
Maryland 9/27/14 12:30 PM
Indiana
Akron 9/27/14 12:30 PM
Pittsburgh
Bowling Green 9/27/14 2:00 PM
Massachusetts
Arkansas 9/27/14 2:30 PM
(6) Texas A&M
Kent State 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Virginia
Western Ky 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Navy
Minnesota 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Michigan
Wake Forest 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Louisville
FIU 9/27/14 2:30 PM
UAB
Miami-Ohio 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Buffalo
Colorado 9/27/14 3:00 PM
California
Louisiana Tech 9/27/14 3:00 PM
(5) Auburn
Texas 9/27/14 3:00 PM
Kansas
Temple 9/27/14 3:00 PM
Connecticut
(16) Stanford 9/27/14 3:15 PM
Washington
TX-San Antonio 9/27/14 4:00 PM
Fla Atlantic
South Alabama 9/27/14 4:00 PM
Idaho
Cincinnati 9/27/14 5:00 PM
(23) Ohio State
Rice 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Southern Miss
(18) Missouri 9/27/14 6:00 PM
(14) So Carolina
Boise State 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Air Force
Central Mich 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Toledo
Troy 9/27/14 6:00 PM
ULM
New Mexico St 9/27/14 6:30 PM
(8) LSU
Memphis 9/27/14 6:30 PM
(10) Ole Miss
Texas State 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Tulsa
Washington St 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Utah
(9) Notre Dame 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Syracuse
(7) Baylor 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Iowa State
UNLV 9/27/14 7:00 PM
San Diego St
Illinois 9/27/14 8:00 PM
(24) Nebraska
Oregon State 9/27/14 9:30 PM
(17) USC
Nevada 9/27/14 9:30 PM
San Jose St
Vancouver FC 0 FINAL
Portland 3
Houston 0 FINAL
Philadelphia 0
New England 0 FINAL
Columbus 1
San Jose 0 FINAL
Montreal 2
Seattle 1 FINAL
Red Bull New York 4
D.C. 3 FINAL
Chicago 3
FC Dallas 1 FINAL
Los Angeles 2
Toronto 40 FINAL
Brt Columbia 23
Edmonton 23 FINAL
Hamilton 25
Calgary 12:00 PM
Montreal
Ottawa 3:00 PM
Saskatchewan
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 season     
Aug 28 - vs. E. Illinois 6 pmX42-20
Sep 6 - vs. M. Tennessee St. 2:30 pmX35-24
Sep 13 - at TCU 3 pmX30-7
Sep 20 - vs. San Jose St. 3 p.m.
Sep 27 - at Michigan TBA
Oct 11 - vs. Northwestern TBA
Oct 18 - vs. Purdue 11 am
Oct 25 - at Illinois 11 am
Nov 8 - vs. Iowa TBA
Nov 15 - vs. Ohio State TBA
Nov 22 - at Nebraska TBA
Nov 29 - at Wisconsin TBA

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: How will the Vikings and Gophers do this weekend?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close