When the Owls were routed by Arizona State in Week 1, a few Owls defensive players lamented they had made the Sun Devils’ admittedly prolific offense look like the Greatest Show on Turf.
They didn’t expect a repeat performance last week against Wisconsin. At least, nobody said so publicly.
The Owls nearly gave up 500 yards of total offense for the second straight week in a 65-0 loss to the Badgers. Wisconsin quarterback John Stocco, a weak point of the offense coming in, looked more than capable. Stocco completed 12 of 19 passes for 180 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. A week before, the Owls’ defense gave up 300 rushing yards to a supposedly suspect ASU ground attack.
“Let’s start with Saturday,” coach Bobby Wallace said as he began his opening statement at the weekly media luncheon Tuesday. “The score probably wasn’t indicative of the game. I think [the score] was worse.”
The home opener is this Saturday against Toledo, but the optimism players typically express before the first home game was absent this week. Toledo quarterback Bruce Gradkowski is no John Stocco; in most minds, he’s much better.
Gradkowski threw for 276 yards and two touchdowns on 22-of-27 passing in the teams’ meeting in Ohio last season. In two games this year, Gradkowski is averaging just 236 passing yards per game.
That number is not indicative of the threat Gradkowski presents. In 2004, he became the first quarterback in Division I-A history to post a 70 percent completion percentage in consecutive seasons. He’s having an off year-for him-so far, completing just 65 percent of his passes.
However, Gradkowski’s attempts are also way down. The Rockets have blown away their first two opponents in the first half and spent the second halves trying to run out the clock. Gradkowski has attempted 52 passes this season, an average of 26 per game. In 13 games last season, he attempted an average of 31 per game.
“They’ve always been known to run the football pretty well,” Wallace said. “They’re pretty balanced right now, but that could be misleading because they’ve been so far ahead in games. They run the ball a lot in the second half trying to get the game over with.”
And if things go as they did in Toledo’s first two games, Gradkowski could be looking at another milestone fairly early in the first half.
He is just 39 yards shy of the school’s career record for passing yards and just eight completions away from that school record as well.
More troubling, the spread offense Gradkowski leads is inherently limitless in its possibilities.
“Their leading receiver and probably most dangerous player [Steve Odom] is 5-10, 170,” Wallace said. “He’s a little jitterbug, but it doesn’t matter if you’re in space. It gives [Gradkowski] the chance to get the ball to people out in space where they can make people miss and do those things.” #