The ghost of Bruce Gradkowski hovers above the Glass Bowl like a dark cloud.
It's not totally fair to Toledo's current quarterback, Clint Cochran, but that comes with playing the most glamorous position on the field.
Cochran is not as good as Gradkowski, and may never be.
Few will dispute the fact that Cochran needs to play a lot better if the Rockets are to challenge for another Mid-American Conference championship.
He had a solid outing against Iowa State in the opener, completing 39 of 49 passes for 367 yards and three touchdowns, to go along with three sacks and an interception. But Cochran's numbers were not great in his last two starts against Western Michigan and Kansas: 33-of-77 for 354 yards, two interceptions, and one touchdown. And he has been sacked six times.
If it weren't for Kansas' ineptitude in both overtimes last Friday, the Rockets would be 0-3, not 1-2.
You can't blame all of Toledo's offensive struggles on Cochran, especially since the Rockets returned four starters on the line, virtually all their receivers, and a stable of solid running backs.
Perhaps offensive coordinator John Shannon needs to simplify the game plan to take some heat off Cochran.
"He's a sophomore quarterback who is still getting used to being the starter," coach Tom Amstutz said yesterday. "He's played against some very good competition. A quarterback's job is just to run the offense. Everyone has to do their part to make an offense successful."
Cochran, a redshirt sophomore who backed up Gradkowski last season, hit on just 15 of 47 attempts for 136 yards and one touchdown in the 37-31 double overtime win over Kansas four days ago.
And Toledo's offense was dreadful in the second half, mustering only 28 yards and no first downs against a Jayhawks team that committed five turnovers and has won just three of 21 road games in Mark Mangino's four-plus years as coach.
Cochran hasn't exhibited Gradkowski's scrambling ability or his arm strength.
"Bruce was a special player," Amstutz said. "But I think back when Bruce was a sophomore, early in his career, he didn't look so smooth against some of the teams his second and third games."
Gradkowski, a backup for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and owner of 19 school records, completed 14 of 24 passes for 127 yards and two touchdowns and no interceptions in his first start as a redshirt sophomore in 2003, but the Rockets lost 28-18 at Nevada-Las Vegas.
The following week, he hit on 14 of 16 passes for 250 yards and three scores in a 49-3 demolition of Liberty. Gradkowski was only 10-of-20 for 147 yards in his third start, but he threw two touchdown passes as Toledo handed Marshall a 24-17 setback in Huntington, W.Va. - just the Thundering Herd's second home loss in 52 games.
Gradkowski had a coming-out party in his fourth start. He completed a MAC-record 49-of-62 passes for 461 yards and three touchdowns as the Rockets shocked No. 9 Pittsburgh 35-31 at home.
Cochran's fourth start of the season - and fifth overall - comes Saturday against Division I-AA McNeese State, which clobbered lowly West Virginia Tech 76-0 last week after getting drubbed 41-10 in its opener at South Florida.
Cochran, 1-3 as the starter, needs a big effort in the Glass Bowl to send Gradkowski's ghost into temporary hibernation.
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