University of Toledo coach Tom Amstutz doesn't feel there's anything wrong with his team's downfield passing attack that wouldn't be solved by the occasional wide receiver making the occasional catch.
Steve Odom is the only UT wide receiver with more than eight catches and Andrew Hawkins is the only one with a catch-and-run play of at least 40 yards.
The Rockets are averaging 202.6 yards per game passing, which isn't horrible, but the gain-per-catch average is only 9.5 yards.
Under Amstutz, UT's attack has been built upon screen passes and quick outs. But the deep threat was always there for opponents to respect.
That hasn't so much been the case through five games. UT is 2-3 and 0-1 in Mid-American Conference play heading into a game Saturday against Central Michigan at the Glass Bowl.
When UT has gone deep, it hasn't been all that productive. A top individual effort by Hawkins turned a short pass into a 40-yard scoring play in a win over McNeese State, but the Rockets' only lengthy TD pass caught in the end zone came on a 37-yard strike from Clint Cochran to redshirt freshman Stephen Williams during a victory over Kansas.
In last Saturday's 45-3 loss at Pitt, Williams had his hands on two potential touchdown passes in a four-play stretch on UT's final possession of the first half. The first one was a drop with a defender in close proximity. The second probably merited a defensive pass interference call.
"There was a little contact, but I always think that when the ball is in the air, it's mine," the 6-foot-5, 185-pound Williams said yesterday. "I should have made the catch regardless.
"I've been thinking about those two ever since because those plays could have changed the course of the game. It makes me more determined to bring more energy and focus to Saturday's game."
Odom, a senior, has 26 catches for 275 yards and has yet to add to the 17 career touchdown receptions he brought into the 2006 season. He is the veteran, the captain, the most sure-handed of UT's receivers, and the leader of the pack.
"I think getting through situations like that is a test of character," he said. "Guys have to keep their heads up. Everybody messes up along the way. Everybody has bombed a test or missed a jump shot or free throw with the game on the line. I tell the young guys that it happens. But the key is what you do next."
Amstutz is confident that his mostly young receiving corps will eventually pass tests at key times.
"We've had a couple guys with the ball in their hands who didn't finish plays," he said. "I'd like to see those downfield passes caught. Those guys have to step up and make some plays. But they're good enough to do it. I expect it. I see it happening. Williams, since you brought him up, is very capable of making big plays and he's going to be a good one."
One issue that UT coaches and players sort of shrug off is that the Rockets have played three quarterbacks this season and, in the absence of Cochran, the injured starter, have alternated two freshmen during the past two games.
Each quarterback throws the ball differently, each has different arm strengths, and each has struggled at times to get in sync with the receivers.
Has the timing between quarterbacks and receivers been a factor?
"Maybe a little, but not much," Amstutz said.
"No, I don't think so," said Odom. "We're comfortable with all three quarterbacks. We just have to make sure our routes are crisp, catch whatever is thrown, and help whoever is doing the throwing be more comfortable back there."
Freshman quarterback Aaron Opelt said that "all the quarterbacks are getting plenty of reps in practice throwing to all the receivers. We're getting used to each other and we'll continue to time things up on the practice field."
Williams, a Texan whose 16.4 yards-per-catch average leads the Rockets, said the timing is different with all three quarterbacks and that "it would be nice, I guess" to have one guy getting all the snaps.
"But they all bring something different to the table, too, and can all help the team," he added. "The bottom line is, when our number is called to go deep we have to concentrate more and make plays to help the quarterback out. We're working hard and we'll smooth out the timing."
There is some good news for the UT receiving corps. An injury that knocked Hawkins out of the Pitt game was "greatly exaggerated" by a media report that speculated on it being a rather serious pelvis injury.
"He has a small bruise," Amstutz said of the junior who has eight catches for 104 yards. "He's back up and running and he's fine. We're thankful for that."
Amstutz would be equally thankful for some of his big-play receivers to start making big plays Saturday against Central Michigan.
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