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Published: Friday, 10/18/2002

Catching up at UT

BY RON MUSSELMAN
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Andrew Clarke grabs a pass in practice. The sophomore tight end caught six passes for 59 yards and a touchdown against Ball State. Andrew Clarke grabs a pass in practice. The sophomore tight end caught six passes for 59 yards and a touchdown against Ball State.
ALLAN DETRICH Enlarge

Andrew Clarke's numbers keep climbing, even if it is slowly.

Six days ago, the University of Toledo tight end snagged a career-high six passes for 59 yards and one touchdown in the Rockets' 37-17 victory over Ball State.

In 16 career games, the 6-3, 243-pound sophomore is averaging a touchdown reception every six catches.

That's four touchdowns on 24 catches, good for 329 yards and a 13.7 average.

“A lot of guys would like to go out there and catch 10 passes a game and rack up 110 yards and a score or two, but I know my job,” Clarke said. “My job starts on the line and blocking at the point of attack and goes from there.

“It's icing on the cake any time I get a catch.”

So far, so good.

Clarke ranks third on the Rockets (4-2, 2-0 MAC West) in receptions with 16 for 184 yards entering tomorrow's game against Central Florida (2-3, 1-1 MAC East) at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando.

A year ago he backed up Chris Holmes, who was tabbed a fourth-team freshman All-American by The Sporting News, and finished with eight receptions for 145 yards and three touchdowns.

Clarke still was running No. 2 to Holmes at the end of spring drills. But Clarke had a strong preseason camp, wrestled the starting job away from Holmes, and will make his seventh consecutive start tomorrow against the Golden Knights.

“I think Chris and I have both probably gotten a lot better this year,” Clarke said.

Clarke and Holmes, a 6-6, 280-pound sophomore who has seven catches for 80 yards and one touchdown this year after grabbing 19 passes for 203 yards and three scores last season, quite frequently are on the field together in UT's two-tight-end alignment.

Both players are from Illinois: Clarke from Naperville; Holmes from Chicago.

“Those two have really sacrificed a lot and worked hard to improve themselves,” offensive coordinator Rob Spence said. “As freshmen they were both very productive. Now they are starting to become playmakers and they've gained confidence in their ability to catch the ball.

“They've always done a very good job of blocking and they continue to improve in that area.”

Toledo's offense has been very efficient inside the red zone. The Rockets have scored 26 of the 32 times (81.2 percent) they have been inside the opponent's 20-yard line, with 22 touchdowns.

“When we get down there, there's a lot of misdirection plays we do and that's where Chris and I come into play,” Clarke said. “When we go to the deuce formation, [receiver] Dont Greene comes out of the game. They have us running routes that Dont was running before.”

“Our tight ends are very talented, very athletic and very skilled,” quarterback Brian Jones said. “I feel comfortable going to either one of them any time in the game.”

The Rockets, who have dropped four of their last five road games, certainly will have their hands full with UCF, which is 18-4 at home under coach Mike Kruczek, and its lightning-quick defense.

Knights senior defensive end Elton Patterson has 26 career sacks, including four this year. Senior cornerback Asante Samuel collected two interceptions in UCF's 31-27 victory over Western Michigan last week, including a game-saver at the goal line with 31 seconds remaining.

“This is the best defensive line that we've played against and the most team speed that we've seen since I've been here,” Spence said.

UCF also has an explosive offense, averaging 306 yards through the air, which ranks 11th nationally.

Junior quarterback Ryan Schneider has thrown for 750 yards and seven touchdowns in the last two games. The Knights also have three receivers with 20 or more catches, led by senior and future NFL draft pick Doug Gabriel. He has 32 receptions for 565 yards and four scores and is averaging 113 yards per game.

“It's going to be a real tough game for us,” Clarke said.

QUICK HITS: Starting tailback and leading rusher William Bratton, who suffers from the rare blood disorder sickle thalassemia, was excused from practice yesterday “because he was not feeling good,” UT coach Tom Amstutz said. Freshman Aston Martin ran with the No. 1 offense. However, Amstutz said Bratton will make the trip to Orlando with the team today and will start against UCF. ... Free safety Demetris Simms from Fremont Ross, who has his left leg in a brace after being injured against Ball State last week, will not make the trip. He will be replaced in the starting lineup by sophomore Patrick Body. Body's starting spot at whip linebacker will be taken by sophomore Brock Dodrill from Defiance.



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