The one bright spot
The Owls have been outgained, 1,051 yards to 310 in two games, but there is good news: they just saved some headache in the defensive backfield by switching senior Christian Dunbar to safety.
It’s not quite worthy of a GEICO commercial, mainly because so many other headaches remain and whether Dunbar will be able to perform consistently is still in question. But the 6-2, 235-pound senior from Liberia via Woonsocket, R.I., was the only real positive aspect.
Dunbar, who was penciled in as the No. 2 weak-side linebacker coming into the season after appearing in 11 games last year as a tight end, started at strong safety against Wisconsin and six tackles, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
For his efforts, the coaching staff named Dunbar the Owls’ Defensive and Special Teams Player of the Game. There was no Offensive Player of the Game because, as Wallace said, “No one deserved it.”
Dunbar recollected his position-jumping to this writer at the beginning of the season. He was recruited as a defensive back before arriving in 2001 and discovered the team needed a fullback. Then, before his college debut in 2002, he filled a need on defense and appeared in 12 games at linebacker. As a third-year sophomore, he started the final 10 games at defensive end, then became a full-time tight end last season. After going through spring drills as a linebacker, Dunbar began practicing at defensive end during the summer.
In between, there were probably a number of unofficial moves, taking a snap here and there to familiarize him with yet another position in case of emergency.
Every year, it seemed there was an emergency.
Barring any last-minute changes, which is always possible when Dunbar’s concerned, he will start at strong safety again Saturday. He and senior cornerback Ray Lamb will be the only members of the defensive secondary with any Division I-A experience prior to this year, as they were last week.
Some quick math reveals the Owls have lost by the largest combined margin of any 0-2 team in this young season.
The Owls’ 112-point disparity (128-16) between their total points and their opponents’ is the widest in the country, by a lot.
The second most outscored team is Louisiana-Lafayette, which due to its geographic location has bigger problems than football right now. The Ragin’ Cajuns opened up with a 60-3 loss to No. 2 Texas.
The next largest deficit belongs to Hawaii, which to this point might have played the toughest two games in the country. The Warriors are 0-2 and have been outscored, 105-31, by Southern California and Michigan State. The Trojans are the No. 1 team in the nation and the Spartans are one of eight undefeated teams in the Big Ten Conference.
Some other notables: Buffalo, Temple’s future rival in the Mid-American Conference, has been shut out twice and still hasn’t neared the Owls’ mark, being outscored by 69 points.
Ball State has given up 65 more points than they have scored (31-96). Ball State and Temple are the only two teams in Division I-A football that reported six or more players as academically ineligible for this season.
ODDS AND ENDS
Aside from Dunbar, Wallace said, the defense did not play all that poorly against Wisconsin considering the offense never gave the unit a chance to catch its breath. The Owls converted just 3 of 15 third downs, and still-or perhaps, as a result-senior defensive end Mike Mendenhall and senior linebacker Manuel Tapia combined for 17 total tackles. … Saturday’s game will be broadcast on CN8 and, due to a programming conflict, WNTP 990 AM.
Rockets tee off on soft non-conference foes
Toledo’s non-conference schedule turned out to be more difficult than the Rockets probably hoped last year. They opened with a loss to Minnesota before losing in embarrassing fashion to perennial Big 12 laughingstock Kansas. This season, it appears director of athletics Michael O’Brien and coach Tom Amstutz were more prejudiced in constructing the schedule.
The Rockets have yet to encounter an equal team, having beaten Western Illinois and Western Michigan by an average of 40 points per game. They are the only 2-0 team in the Mid-American Conference.
The Rockets led WIU, 41-0, in the first half of the opener, and had shut out the Broncos, 35-0, until a late touchdown pass and failed two-point conversion cut the score to 35-6.
Meanwhile, four of the Owls’ opponents are currently in the top 25.
“Toledo has played kind of an opposite schedule,” coach Bobby Wallace said. “They played that schedule last year, and this year they played a I-AA team and then Western Michigan last week, who played Virginia very well in their opening game. Western Michigan’s a good team, but their two games have been just the opposite of ours.”
Amstutz righted the ship after those losses last season, and the Rockets went on to beat Miami (Ohio) in the MAC Championship game.
When asked generally in a conference call how he got his players back into the mindset of winning, Amstutz declined comment three times.
Penalties still have not been a problem for the most part. The Owls were not penalized against ASU and penalized three times against Wisconsin. The Owls have not given up a first down via penalty. However, they have given up 53 first downs of the rushing and passing variety. … Opponents are averaging 5.8 rush yards per carry.
Evening the playing field… at least in theory
The next three weeks will bring a respite from the Bowl Championship Series conference heavyweights as the Owls face three MAC teams. Theoretically, that should put the Owls on a more comparable competition than Arizona State of the Pac 10, Wisconsin of the Big Ten, or Maryland of the Atlantic Coast Conference, the first team the Owls face at the end of this three-week stretch.
Results from last season make an actual reprieve unlikely.
The Owls went 0-2 against MAC teams last season, including a 45-17 loss to upcoming Toledo. Even MAC coaches have admitted that their conference’s teams don’t boast the same talent as BCS programs.
“I heard Gregg Brandon from Bowling Green, first time I ever heard a MAC coach say it and I was kind of surprised, but he said the athletes in the Big Ten are better than in the MAC,” Wallace said. “For a coach in the conference to say that was interesting because we don’t want to admit what’s true.”
When the season ends Nov. 19, the Owls will have faced four teams from the ACC, four from the MAC, and one each from the Pac 10, Big Ten and I-A Independents.
Ex-Owls progress report
Defensive tackle Dan Klecko (1999-2002) did not register a tackle though he appeared in the New England Patriots’ season opener, according to NFL.com. His father, Joe Klecko (1973-76), made news Wednesday when he reportedly hit a pedestrian while driving on a highway in New York. Wire services reported no charges were filed.