If Logan Woodside is as adept at analyzing a defense as he was last year analyzing University of Toledo’s depth chart, the Rockets should be fine regrouping from their first key injury.
Woodside’s decision to forgo his final months of high school and compete for early playing time is already proving to be a blessing. The freshman quarterback soon could be commanded to captain a ship traveling into the teeth of the Mid-American Conference schedule.
With the health of senior quarterback Terrance Owens in doubt, the 18-year-old Woodside finds himself in a spot the coaching staff prepared for when they began to tutor him starting in January to win the backup job.
Owens, who suffered a left knee injury early Saturday in a 33-21 win over Eastern Washington, is expected to return at some point this season. Until that day arrives, Woodside will be charged with keeping afloat the team’s Mid-American Conference title designs.
"We’ve been there, we’ve done that," coach Matt Campbell said after the game. "Every single year I’ve been here this exact situation has occurred. That’s why it was so important for Logan to come in in the spring for 15 practices."
Campbell today is expected to shed light on the availability of Owens who was taken off the field on a motorized cart and placed on crutches. An x-ray revealed no tear, said Campbell, but the coach spoke like a man resigned to the belief Owens, who has started 20 games in his career, will not be back for Saturday’s MAC opener at Central Michigan. A key road test at Ball State awaits the following week.
"We will have T.O. back at some time," Campbell said. "It’s just a matter of how quickly we get him back."
Results of Woodside’s first appearance as understudy were encouraging. After struggling early to make first downs, Woodside bounced back to manufacture two second-half touchdowns and avert an upset by the second-ranked team in the Football Championship Subdivision.
Woodside under ideal circumstances would have spent this season redshirting before competing next year to replace Owens. Patience however is not an option due to shortcomings in Toledo’s recruitment of quarterbacks over a three-year stretch. Dwight Macon (2010) transitioned to receiver, and Brian Blackburn (2012) moved to tight end. Blackburn returned to quarterback this preseason but he does not appear to be a part of the team’s future at the position. Toledo did not sign a quarterback in 2011.
Campbell plans to prepare Macon to back up Woodside if Owens can’t go. True freshman Michael Julian, who took a traditional route to college from high school and arrived in the preseason, is "getting ready to rock n’ roll," Campbell said. Ideally, Campbell would like to redshirt Julian. Transfer Phillip Ely is not an option. The Alabama import must sit out this season.
"We have a lot of faith in Logan," center Zac Kerin said. "He’s been the No. 2 quarterback since he got here. I was here [in 2009] when Aaron Opelt got hurt and Austin Dantin had to step up as a true freshman. I just pulled [Woodside] aside and said, ‘We have your back, don’t try to do anything too special. You’re good enough to win this game.’"
Campbell revealed after the game Owens was bothered by a sore arm in fall camp, giving Woodside time to practice with the first-team offense. Campbell added Woodside arrived to camp a "different football player" than the one that participated in spring drills.
"Logan practiced well the whole fall camp, so we were pretty confident in him coming in and doing a good job," said linebacker Junior Sylvestre, whose forced fumble and interception Saturday were among eight straight Toledo stops.
Woodside, who will turn 19 in January, acquitted himself well in his first live appearance since leading Franklin County to the third round of the Kentucky state playoffs. Ineffective with a scheme Campbell called "vanilla," Woodside loosened up once the playbook expanded. He was 9 of 13 after halftime, connecting with Bernard Reedy across the middle for an 81-yard TD strike and later leading a 12 play, 88-yard drive. The Rockets went ahead 31-20 with less than 9 minutes left on Damion Jones-Moore’s four-yard run.
"That just proves how we recruit," running back David Fluellen said. "We recruit good guys and guys who are going to be ready whenever they’re needed."
Woodside finished 14 of 24 for 185 yards. He was not intercepted and was not sacked. At times he played with the moxie of a veteran, which he is not. But nine months into his college career, he’s no longer a newcomer .
"If you know this kid, he’s a gunslinger," Campbell said. "He wants the ball in his hand and he wants to go."
Contact Ryan Autullo at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6160 or on Twitter @AutulloBlade.