PHILADELPHIA - Temple University football has been down in the dumps for the very good part of two decades.
The Owls have enjoyed just one winning season since 1984 and, after yesterday's 42-17 setback to Toledo, are three losses into what will likely be a 15th consecutive losing season.
So the only word to properly describe the first 11 minutes of the Temple-UT game, at least in the eyes of the Owls, would be "typical."
Temple had five first downs. Toledo had five first downs. The Rockets led 21-0.
And that was that.
"If you can jump on a team quick, especially when you're on the road, it can take the heart and soul out of them," said quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, who accounted for five touchdowns at Lincoln Financial Field and, as expected, set two UT career records.
And safety Keon Jackson produced a school record of his own with his fourth career interception
return for a touchdown and that was part of a solid, early defensive effort that led to the Rockets' quick advantage.
Temple won the coin flip, elected to go on offense, and immediately drove to the Toledo 27, but quarterback Mike McGann was hit by UT free safety Tyrrell Herbert on an option keeper and linebacker David Thomas returned the fumble 41 yards to the Temple 31.
Gradkowski soon produced the first score on a 13-yard screen pass to Trinity Dawson and made it 14-0 midway through the first quarter with a 22-yard strike to wide-open tight end Chris Hopkins in the back of the end zone.
Temple responded by again driving into UT territory, but a McGann pass went off the fingers of receiver Bruce Gordon and Jackson plucked it out of the air and streaked 66 yards for a touchdown that made it 21-0 with 4:17 still remaining in the opening period.
"We took the wind out of their sails," Jackson said. "We gave up some yards, but we kept fighting and hunkered down.
"You always hope you'll be the ones who make the big plays and that definitely made a difference today.
"I thought the guy was going to make the catch, but when he bobbled it, it went behind his head and I was just in the right place at the right time."
UT scored the next time it touched the ball, as well, with Gradkowski finding true freshman tight end John Allen uncovered along the left sideline just
1:30 into the second quarter for a 16-yard play that capped a nine-play, 77-yard drive.
The Rockets never seemed quite as sharp thereafter, but a third win in as many starts was pretty much in the bag by then. Temple, which will join UT as a Mid-American Conference member in 2007, fell to 0-3.
"Not as sharp?" said Toledo coach Tom Amstutz. "I don't know about that. I thought Temple kept battling.
"Plus, there always comes a time in the game when the game plan changes, when you start playing to win and maybe you don't attack so much as you manage and use the clock. I thought we did fine."
Gradkowski completed 20 of 29 passes for 182 yards. He passed for four touchdowns, ran for another, and was intercepted once.
He broke Gene Swick's 30-year-old record for career passing yards and Ryan Huzjak's record for career completions.
The senior from Pittsburgh now has 7,410 yards passing on the strength of 613 completions.
"I actually forgot about it until somebody came up and congratulated me on the sideline," Gradkowski said.
"It's great, sure, but I'm focused on team goals. Getting off to a fast start is important, but we still have to learn to push through the whole game."
The Rockets are off until Tuesday, Sept. 27, when they will travel to meet nationally ranked Fresno State in a game that will demand a 60-minute effort.
Yesterday, just a fraction of that was more than enough.
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