Poor execution put the football team in a deep hole from which they could not recover Saturday, leading to a 42-17 loss to Toledo at Lincoln Financial Field. The Owls fell to 0-3 to start the season, giving up more than 40 points for the third time in as many games.
Player blunders ended a number of promising drives. The offense drove 51 yards to the Toledo 27 yard line on its first possession, but handed away the scoring opportunity when quarterback Mike McGann fumbled on a weak-side option. Rockets’ linebacker David Thomas recovered and returned 41 yards to the Temple 31, leading to Toledo’s first touchdown, a 14-yard strike to from quarterback Bruce Gradkowski to running back Trinity Dawson.
Meanwhile, the Owls squandered their next two possessions. On third and five from Temple’s 25, McGann completed a pass to senior running back Michael Billops, but Billops accidentally stepped out of bounds a yard short of the first down marker. On the next drive, wide receiver Bruce Gordon bobbled a pass that was then picked off by safety Keon Jackson.
Jackson returned the interception 66 yards for a touchdown, the fourth return for a score of his career. The Rockets led, 21-0, with 4:17 still remaining in the first quarter.
Gradkowski was as accurate as advertised, though he threw for only 182 yards. Gradkowski was 20 for 29 with four touchdowns, finding a different receiver on each score. He broke two school records: career completions and career passing yardage.
Less than two minutes into the second quarter, Gradkowski found wide receiver Jon Allen for a 16-yard touchdown to give the Rockets a 28-0 lead. On the third play of the next possession, Billops provided the Owls’ play of the game, a spinning, 78-yard touchdown run. Billops ended in the endzone despite pulling up with a cramp in his leg just as he broke away, he said.
Down 28-7 at halftime, the Owls struck first in the second half, finishing off a 17-play, 7-minute-and-15-second drive with a 29-yard field goal by kicker Ryan Lux. But the Rockets added two more touchdowns in the fourth quarter, and by the time wide receiver Brian Allbrooks caught a 20-yard scoring pass from freshman quarterback Colin Clancy, even Allbrooks couldn’t do much more than hand the ball to the official and run to the sideline.
The Owls, in their first contest with a Mid-American Conference opponent as a MAC affiliate, were determined to show they could play with the defending MAC champions. To do that, though, the Owls had to remain mistake-free.
They did not, but Wallace said he was impressed with the very fact that his players came back and played hard a week after getting doused by Wisconsin.
“[The players] got beat 65-0 and got up off the ground and fought back,” Wallace said. “I’m proud of that. That’ll last them a whole lot longer than winning a football game.”
Billops rushed for 121 yards and a touchdown in his first career start. His 6.7 yards-per-carry average was by far the best posted by an Owls’ running back this season. Entering the game, the Owls were averaging 0.8 yards per carry as a team.
Despite his costly bobble, Gordon was another rather bright spot. He made eight receptions for 103 yards. Allbrooks also had three catches for 47 yards and a touchdown.
Ben Watanabe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.