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Published: Thursday, 9/29/2005

Giveaways, not Gradkowski's absence, doomed UT

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

FRESNO, Calif. - Paul Pinegar, Fresno State's quarterback, completed 33 passes for 418 yards in his previous start and the Bulldogs lost 37-34 to the University of Oregon.

On Tuesday night, he completed nine passes for 69 yards against Toledo. The Rockets countered with a redshirt freshman, Clint Cochran, making his first collegiate start at quarterback, and he completed 16 of 24 passes for 163 yards.

And Fresno won 44-14.

Go figure.

You might presume from the above that the Bulldogs pulverized UT on the ground. Not really. Fresno netted 179 rushing yards, but that total, in and of itself, doesn't explain a 30-point victory.

Fact is, the Bulldogs didn't have to move the ball all that much to whip the Rockets.

Toledo pretty much took care of the whipping all by itself.

One UT fumble was returned for a touchdown. Another set up a 34-yard Fresno TD drive. A blocked punt was returned for an additional score. Fresno returned another punt 33 yards to the Toledo 27-yard line to set up a short touchdown drive. The Rockets kicked off three times and the Bulldogs averaged 39 yards per return.

Toledo entered Bulldog Stadium with a 3-0 record and a silver platter. As a result of the latter, the Rockets went home 3-1.

"We knew they were a good team, so when you give that good of a team that kind of field position it's really tough," UT inside linebacker Anthony Jordan said. "It's no one's fault. In football, stuff happens.

"But the score isn't representative of how our defense played. I felt we were tough. We would have liked to have been a little stiffer in the red zone, but we were on the short end of the stick, sort of behind the 8-ball, all night."

Cochran started in place of Bruce Gradkowski, who was not cleared to play by team doctors because of a concussion.

"Clint stepped in and did a good job," Jordan said. "He's going to be a great quarterback for Toledo. But you want No. 7 [Gradkowski] out there in a big game."

The guy who wears No. 7 was on the sideline, but in street clothes.

"I just helped signal in plays and when Clint came off I just tried to tell him what he did well and what I thought he could do better," Gradkowski said. "It was like I was playing through him. I thought he did real well.

"I told him before it started that he was not going to win the game or lose the game. All he had to do was manage it, one play at a time, and handle the pressure. He made good throws. We just turned it over in the wrong end of the field too much."

Cochran was guilty of one of those turnovers, trying to force a sideline pass that was intercepted and turned into a second-half field goal by Fresno. But he also passed for one touchdown and ran for another.

The pass accounted for the game's first touchdown; the run for its last. In between, Fresno scored 44 straight points almost without having to break a sweat.

"Clint's going to be very good," Toledo coach Tom Amstutz said. "What we needed was more help from other people."

Although Amstutz insisted Gradkowski's status would be a game-time decision, Cochran indicated that he knew by practice on Sunday that he would be the starter.

"I think anybody put in that situation would be a little nervous so, sure, I had some jitters," Cochran said. "But my teammates did a great job of picking me up and Bruce was always there for me, in practice and on the sideline. We felt we could win. Unfortunately, it didn't work out."

Cochran drove the Rockets from their own 17-yard line to the Fresno 35 before being sacked for a loss to end UT's first drive. The next time Toledo touched the ball, it went 62 yards in eight plays with Cochran throwing a wide receiver screen to Steve Odom, who broke free for a 36-yard touchdown play. After two possessions, the Rockets had 94 yards of offense and a 7-0 lead.

"Absolutely, it felt like everything was clicking," Cochran said. "Everybody was confident we could play with these guys."

And then they couldn't.

The turnovers and Fresno's long kick returns were key factors. So was the fact that the Bulldogs' defense turned up the heat on UT's young quarterback.

"Yeah, they switched it on a little," said Cochran, who was sacked a total of four times. "They brought some outside pressure and some blitzes and tried to get in my head a little. I'll tell you this, they've got some hitters who can really lay it on you."

Amstutz said Gradkowski would have played had he been cleared by the doctors, but admitted his senior quarterback's presence will be more important with the Mid-American Conference schedule looming.

"That's our No. 1 focus," Amstutz said.

"I'll be ready," Gradkowski said. "I hated sitting out."

Jordan recalled that the Rockets absorbed a couple one-sided losses in early non-league games last season and recovered to win the MAC championship.

"This was one game," the senior linebacker said. "I've been here long enough to know that one game doesn't define a season. We had a down spell last year and bounced back to win. The big games are yet to come."

UT, already 1-0 in conference play, faces only MAC opponents the remainder of the season, starting with a home game against Eastern Michigan on Oct. 8.

Contact Dave Hackenberg at:

dhack@theblade.com

or 419-724-6398



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