In the wake of a surprisingly one-sided loss at Drake last week that ended St. Thomas’ winning streak in the Pioneer Football League at 13 games, the Tommies’ chances of rebounding on Saturday at Stetson took a major hit due to a pair of key injuries.
Starting quarterback Tak Tateoka, who was injured in the first half in the 52-21 loss to Drake and did not return, will not play this week due to a leg injury that could keep him on the sidelines for an extended period. He will be replaced by sophomore quarterback Amari Powell.
On the other side of the ball, a secondary that already has been playing without starting cornerback Branden Smith will now also be without starting free safety Ryan Calcagno, who
was injured late in the first half against Drake. The Tommies also have been playing without starting nose tackle Jordan Titus.
While Caruso said the Tommies are as banged up as any team he has had at St. Thomas, he is not using it as an excuse for his team’s poor play against a team that, until last Saturday, had not had much success putting points on the board.
“The way that it felt after that game was as disappointed as I have felt about our team, regarding league play, in 16 years,” Caruso said.
With the sting of defeat lingering into this week, the Tommies (4-3 overall, 3-1 PFL) have been challenged by their coach to deliver an appropriate response.
“I told the guys, ‘I’m crushed,’ but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to bring my absolute best,” Caruso said. “That’s what I think competitors do. One of the things we try to impress on
anybody around our program is that the privilege of pressure is real.
“It’s something we work really hard at, so everyone is going to give us their best game. There’s a reason why when you see a team play on Saturday it is playing better than it has all year on film. That’s not something I’m willing to trade away.
“Drake did a great job of staying on top of what they needed to, and they hit on a lot of things I’m sure they worked very hard on. That’s not normal, but it’s going to happen.”
Caruso recalled how he felt compelled, after only three days of practice in early August, to remind his players the importance of self-motivation and the need for leadership to permeate
throughout the roster. Those principles will be put to the test this week and beyond.
“There has to be an urgency in everything you do,” Caruso said.
The loss of Tateoka will, at the very least, change how the Tommies operate on offense. With Powell having shown a limited ability to throw the ball, and with the defense banged up, the Tommies will be relying on their running game to put points on the board and keep the defense off the field.
“Right now, we need the running backs and the offensive line to play the best they have played,” Caruso said. “That’s abundantly clear.”
Powell played the second half against Drake and was not able to get the Tommies into the end zone, with Drake outscoring St. Thomas 28-0 after the intermission. Powell, who has had trouble hanging onto the football, lost two fumbles against Drake.
Caruso will be relying on Powell to take a step forward.
“He has to take care of the football and make good decisions,” he said. “That game last week didn’t start separating until there were turnovers. We’ve shown that when we can take care of the football, we win football games. When we don’t, we aren’t winning those games.”
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