As St. Thomas prepares to face Valparaiso at O'Shaughnessy Stadium on Sunday, one thing is clear: The Tommies are not outmatched in the Pioneer League.
The defense has been the story for St. Thomas (2-2) so far, but the offense is starting to catch up.
Through two conference games — a 36-0 win over Butler at home and a 27-24 loss at San Diego — St. Thomas ranks first in the league in total defense (allowing 300 yards per game) and is tied with Drake for first in scoring defense (13.5 points per game). Defensive backs Johnson Fallah and Joe Hird are tied for the league lead with two interceptions apiece — and the Tommies are tied for fourth in turnover margin at plus-1.
Still it might be just as important to note that the offense — which scored only one touchdown, on a fumble recovery, in two nonconference games — has started to come alive.
In Pioneer League play, the Tommies rank third in total offense at 379 yards per game, trailing Dayton and Davidson, and are fifth in scoring offense, averaging 30 points.
"We're starting to find a little bit of a balance, but I think we still have a very long way to go offensively to be where we are right now defensively," coach Glenn Caruso said. "The reason why is because every game is so totally different in terms of the riddle that you have to solve to be successful [on offense]."
Part of solving that riddle has been rotating personnel to find what works.
The Tommies have interchanged quarterbacks Cade Sexauer and Tommy Dolan in conference play — Sexauer has completed 23 of 38 passes for 291 yards, three scores and three interceptions, while Dolan has completed 8 of 26 passes for 78 yards — and they have thrown every kind of rusher imaginable at opposing defenses.
Against Butler and San Diego, St. Thomas combined to use nine ball carriers to gain 389 yards on the ground.
Sophomore running back Hope Adebayo is second on the team this season in rushing yards with 111 and is averaging 5.6 per carry.
He said that buying into the philosophy of a balanced rushing attack took some time, but the results speak for themselves.
"Everyone is getting their share and everyone is making plays," he said.
That communal element extends to matching the play of the defense.
"The defense has been balling out, especially the [Northern Iowa] game," Adebayo said. "That's when a lot of the players realized our defense is really elite and just how the offense needs to do more because the defense is elite.
"We need to be there for them when given the opportunity. They have given us a lot of opportunities and we just need to catch onto those. Once we get that figured out, no one will be able to stop us."