DUBUQUE — With three games of non-conference football under their belts, the Duhawks enter their bye week with a record of 1-2. While the team’s won-lost tally may be identical to the mark Loras took into conference play a year ago, little else about the 2014 incarnation resembles its recent predecessors.
“The biggest difference (this year) over the last couple years is that we’re competitive now,” says Duhawks head football coach, Steve Helminiak. “We’ve been in position to win in both losses this year. We’ve moved the ball offensively and scored points while not clicking yet offensively — that’s encouraging.”
Offensively, as Helminiak points out, the Duhawks have had some rocky footing at times, but they’ve shown many signs of an exciting, potent offense on the rise. The erratic ups and downs experienced by the Duhawk offense can be directly attributed to the systemic overhaul which took place this offseason. “The change in X’s and O’s has been drastic,” says Helminiak. “So it has been, and still is, a high learning curve. The players have adapted well – but are just at the tip of the iceberg.”
Despite the offense’s early growing pains, the unit has managed to amass some fairly gaudy statistics in non-conference play. Senior quarterback Dylan Jones has piled up 935 passing yards over the first three contests, placing him in the top 10 in all of NCAA Division III football in the statistical category.
“Dylan has made great strides within the new system,” says coach Helminiak of his maturing quarterback. “He has put a tremendous amount of time into learning the new system and great effort to transferring it to the practice and game field. Obviously, it has suited him well – his and our numbers speak for themselves.”
As the offense continues to grow into its new system, the defense appears already to be in mid-season form. Like the offense, the defense introduced a new scheme for 2014, and it’s been paying off in a noticeable way. “(They’re) Playing much faster,” said Helminiak. “They run to the ball extremely well. There are less checks and adjustments, allowing them to play at a high tempo. Our new schemes have allowed our guys to do much less thinking and more reacting.”
Less thinking and more reacting have translated to 15 sacks and seven interceptions for the revamped Duhawks defense; good enough to tie them for 4th and 2nd in D-III, respectively. After a dominant performance against Elmhurst in week one, and gritty showings in losses to UW-Stout and Augustana, the Duhawk defense looks poised to be the driving force of the 2014 squad.
While there is plenty of cause for optimism as the Iowa Conference schedule approaches, the Duhawks are well aware of the work yet to be done.
“Everything needs work,” says coach Helminiak. “We need to take care of the football much better, we need to be cleaner in assignments and communication. We need to play more physical and finish. We need to continue to play as a team, we need to continue to have a great attitude, and we need to continue to pick each other up.”