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July Rewind: Defense has historic year for Football

Photo by Mike Ekern
Photo by Mike Ekern

Editor's Note: Starting July 7 and running through the rest of the month, will highlight 25 memorable events from St. Thomas' successful 2017-18 athletics year


Fast and Furious D

St. Thomas Football won the conference championship with an 8-0 finish for the sixth time in the last eight seasons. That included a fourth consecutive victory over archrival St. John's.
UST lost a close game on the road in the NCAA playoff quarterfinals and was ranked No. 4 in the final national poll.
Coach Glenn Caruso's defense had some amazing performances and statistics. Two Tommie defensive players received All-America honors -- seniors lineman Austin Jochum and safety Isaac Seering --  but the speed, depth and balance on that side of the ball created problems all season for opponents.
The Toms' rushing defense led the way -- its 21.9 yards a game allowed on the ground not only led all 662 NCAA programs, but is the best single-season total at all NCAA levels since 2001.
UST's defense's 157.6 total yards allowed per game not only ranked first nationally but were the fewest allowed by any NCAA team in one season in the last 20 years. That was 50 yards better in 2017 than the next closest team.
Coordinator Wallie Kuchinski returns several starters or key contributors in 2018: Adam Brant, Matt Mitchell, Blake Weber, Michael Franzese, Mark Dowdle, Peder Olson, Chris Fondakowski, David Danhauer and Luke Swenson. 
Here are more defensive highlights from the Tommies' 2017 season:
  • UST broke a conference and school record with one net yard allowed (51 plays) against Gustavus, the fewest yards ever allowed in a conference game.
  • UST's 16 tackles for loss against Gustavus tied a school record.
  • UST allowed just one offensive touchdown in the 24-10 playoff loss at No. 1-ranked Mary Hardin-Baylor.
  • In three games this fall against teams ranked in the top 15 nationally -- Mary Hardin-Baylor (14-1), St. John's (9-2) and Berry (11-1) -- the Tommies allowed a combined total of minus-one net rushing yard on 65 attempts. In their other games, UMHB averaged 165 rushing yards; the Johnnies averaged 233; while Berry averaged 185.
  • Mary Hardin-Baylor's 143 total yards against the Toms rank as its lowest one-game total in the 20-year history of its program.
  • The Toms also finished in the top two this season among all NCAA teams in these defensive categories: fewest first downs allowed (1st, 8.4 per game); tackles for loss per game (2nd, 11.2); third-down conversion rate allowed (2nd, .203).
  • Austin Jochum became the third Tommie in a row to win the MIAC's annual Mike Stam Award for top lineman.
  • UST intercepted 19 passes, recorded two safeties, blocked six kicks, and averaged 11 tackles for loss a game.
  • The Tommies forced nine punts a game and averaged more than two turnovers a contest.
  • UST's defense allowed only 17 touchdowns in 13 games, including just three rushing TDs.


Previous July Rewind stories:

July 7: Men's S&D Rule the Pool

July 8: Women's T&F Quartet Saves Best for Last

July 9: Academics, Give Em an A

July 10: UST Coaches get MIAC, Region Honors

July 11: Several '17-18 Sports Make Postseason Runs

July 12: Key Injury Doesn't Stop Volleyball 

July 13: These Twists Made '17-18 Unique

July 14: Twin Siblings Aid UST Teams

July 15: Spaulding Leads Toms' 20-0 MIAC Run

July 16: Men's Hockey Scraps and Claws to MIAC Title

July 17: Milestones Galore for Teams, Coaches

July 18: Fun Facts Overflowed at UST in '17-18