The results are plain to see, but the reasons are not as clear. Why does senior quarterback Mike McGann play so much better in games he doesn’t start?
McGann appeared calm and patient in connecting on 23 of 38 pass attempts for 298 yards Saturday in relief of freshman Joe DeSanzo. Last season, he replaced then-starter Walter Washington for a few series and completed 7 of 12 passes for 165 yards and a touchdown.
DeSanzo’s ribs were still sore this week from an injury that forced him to leave the Clemson game. McGann would therefore likely make his seventh start of the season this Saturday against Miami (Ohio).
Until then, coach Bobby Wallace will try to figure out why McGann plays so much better off the bench.
“I think Mike’s harshest critic is himself,” said Wallace, who stressed that it was still uncertain whether DeSanzo will play. “I think [McGann] puts too much pressure on himself, and maybe when he doesn’t start and doesn’t know if he’s going to play, he’s not putting as much pressure on himself. He just comes out and relaxes and plays, because he was impressive to me on Saturday.”
McGann’s career has been a paradox in which he has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns but still amassed high total yardage. He is second in school history, behind Henry Burris, in yards of total offense and passing yards.
Big deals with blocking
Through all the offense’s struggles this season, the offensive line could at least hang its hat on one praiseworthy statistic. Through seven games, the unit had not allowed double digits in sacks.
That stat did not hold up against Clemson’s pass rush.
The Tigers made life miserable for McGann, registering six sacks and four quarterback hurries against a largely ineffective Owls offensive line. McGann also fumbled twice under pressure.
“It was probably our offensive line’s worst game, run blocking and pass protecting,” Wallace said. “[McGann] had a lot of pressure on him, but I thought he did a super job moving the football team.”
Without any open running lanes, senior running back Umar Ferguson had his lowest rushing total since Sept. 10 at Wisconsin. Ferguson carried 17 times for 48 yards Saturday and lost a fumble for the first time in two weeks.
The Owls’ departing seniors will play their final home game Saturday. The team roster lists the following as being in their final year of eligibility. Keep in mind that some of their statuses may have changed:
Steady leader dons cherry uni for last time
On Sundays, when he’s healthy, a defensive end who goes by the nickname “The Freak” lines up for the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. On Saturdays, another effective end lines up for the Owls, but the plays he makes aren’t freakish.
That’s not to say senior defensive end Mike Mendenhall is ineffective. Rather, his contribution is so consistent and predictable that he’s about as un-freakish as you can get.
Mendenhall has compiled 45 grunt-work tackles and 11.5 tackles for losses this season on a defensive line many opponents have tried to avoid. He also leads the senior-laden unit with four quarterback hurries and three forced fumbles.
“Mike Mendenhall is having a great season,” Wallace said. “Not good. Great.”
If “The Freak” earned his nickname because no one knows what to expect next, Mendenhall might be worthy of another name, because coaches and teammates always know just what they’ll get from him.
“… It’s almost as if you had a robot out there,” Wallace said, “because he plays so consistent that it’s unbelievable.”
Familiar ground for first-year head coach
Two years ago, Miami was trounced by Iowa, 21-3, in its season opener and went 11-0 the rest of the regular season. Last season, the RedHawks were 2-3 after five games and looking up at half of their MAC opponents in the standings.
Merge both those rough starts to make this season’s Miami team. The RedHawks fell to Ohio State, 34-14, to start the season and fell to 2-3 after a Week 5 loss to Northern Illinois. Since then, they have won two straight and the only challenging game left on their schedule is a Nov. 15 matchup with Bowling Green.
Miami coach Shane Montgomery, nothing if not a fan of sports clichés, was a RedHawks assistant the past four season before taking over the head job this fall.
“We dug ourselves in a hole, put our backs against the wall,” Montgomery said. “This is really the second year we’ve done that.
“We did the same thing last year in our loss to Marshall, and we knew after the Northern Illinois game [this season] … we’re going to have to take one game at a time and get some help in the conference if we were going to get back in the race. And you know, we’ve stuck to that.”
A traditionally productive offense has not hurt, either. Miami, the former home of Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, averages 32 points and 445 yards of total offense a game.
Wallace did not split hairs in describing the RedHawks offense. Playing out of a multiple spread offense, like most MAC teams, the RedHawks will expose weaknesses in any defense, he said.
“Offensively, they’ve got a lot of weapons,” Wallace said. “It’s not going to be a low-scoring game.”
Achievements and notes
Safety Bobby Fulmore kept the Owls in the game (for the moment) by intercepting a pass by Clemson QB Charlie Whitehurst at Temple’s 20 yard line. The score at the time was 7-0. It was Fulmore’s first career pick. … Senior wide receiver Brian Allbrooks is not expected to play after leaving last week’s game with an elbow injury. … The Owls had season highs in pass completions and yardage, but gained only 12 net rushing yards. … Temple’s Ferguson and Clemson’s Merriweather each carried 17 times, but Merriweather gained 60 more yards.