COLUMBIA, Mo. — Toledo coach Matt Campbell probably will not appreciate the suggestion that his offense is a disaster.
But the Rockets managed all of 205 yards a week ago in a game they probably could not have won at Florida, and made so many mistakes at so many crucial times here Saturday in a game they very well could have won, well, you can pick whatever word you want.
Disastrous, disappointing, downright dreadful. And those are just the “d” words.
Don’t misunderstand. This effort was far better. UT outgained Missouri’s offense on fewer offensive plays. But the mistakes were crushing. The final score was 38-23, which was competitive, but could have been oh, so much more.
Especially so on a day David Fluellen was exceptional with 17 carries for 111 yards and 10 receptions for 100 yards. Alonzo Russell wasn’t bad either with seven catches for 101 yards.
You look at those receiving numbers and figure Terrance Owens, the quarterback, must have been tremendous too. Maybe not so much.
OK, we do realize the Rockets have played two successive Southeastern Conference opponents on the road under broiling sun. It gets easier now, although that home opener next Saturday against Eastern Washington may be far from the cakewalk you’re expecting. Ask Oregon State.
UT’s defense, which might well be better than we thought, produced three consecutive stops of note in the first half Saturday. On the first, the Rockets produced two sacks. On the next, Jordan Martin picked off a pass. On the last, there were two more sacks.
Toledo’s offense started subsequent drives at its own 48-yard line, at midfield, and at the Missouri 26. Those possessions produced two field goals, six points.
“Our defense did a pretty good job making plays,” Owens said. “We have to take advantage of the situations the defense gives us.”
At the end of the first half, down 17-9, the Rockets drove from their own 25 to the Missouri 3 in large part because of a scenic catch-and-run by Fluellen. On second down, with 0:07 on the clock, Owens was pressured and was off-balance, maybe even heading to the ground, his weight on his back foot, and he let it fly, and the ball was picked off.
“You drive all the way down there and have a chance to put points on the board ... that’s a tough deal,” Campbell said. “I think he was trying to hit somebody in the back of the end zone.”
That’s what T.O. did, not what he was trying to do.
“I was actually trying to throw the ball out of bounds,” Owens said.
Even more disastrous.
Here’s another “d” word; decisions.
Owens was intercepted twice more in the second half, both coming at crucial times and the first being a killer. Still down by eight points and taking a snap at the Mizzou 22, the UT quarterback went back, jumped to loft a pass over the only defender bringing pressure, and had the ball slip right out of his hand and into the arms of the most surprised defensive lineman in America, Missouri’s Markus Golden, who had an uninterrupted 70 yards of bright, fake grass to cavort upon.
The other interception was in the vicinity of midfield and, well, we can’t begin to explain or describe it.
Owens had company in the bone-headed department. Tackle Josh Hendershot had three false starts, all on third-down plays. Disastrous. The defense wasn’t perfect either. Ask Cheatham Norrils, who twice was flagged for pass interference in the end zone.
“It was mostly our mistakes,” Fluellen said. “We have to score the ball [from] the red zone when we get there. It’s just mistakes we’re making we can easily fix. Look, the SEC is one of the best conferences in the country. We’ve played two great teams and we’ve got to take our hats off to them.
“[But] we’ve taken a step forward each week. We’re getting better. Honestly, we’re right where we need to be.”
And where the Rockets are is headed home, finally, and soon thereafter proceeding into Mid-American Conference play.
Maybe Fluellen is correct. Maybe his team is on the brink of something good. But fewer offensive disasters would help.
Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6398.