Senior running back Michael Billops spun away from a tackler early in the second quarter Saturday and saw nothing but empty field.
He’d already gained 10 yards for a first down, but with nothing but green in front of him, Billops was thinking about six points.
Suddenly, he felt a twinge. It was a cramp, Billops claimed after the game, though he has had a nagging ankle injury that flared up at some point in the 42-17 loss to Toledo. Either way, his 78-yard sprint became more like a shuffling hobble. When he reached the endzone for his first career touchdown, a Toledo player was gaining and might have caught Billops given another five yards.
He wasn’t caught, though. Billops scored the fourth-longest touchdown run in Temple history.
“Probably, he thought he was never going to get his chance, but he hung in there and waited,” coach Bobby Wallace said of Billops. “He got frustrated sometimes because he knew he could do the job, but he knew he was just behind those guys.”
Entering the season, Billops had gained 58 yards on just 11 career carries. He compiled 121 yards on 18 carries against Toledo.
“Sure enough, now with Tim [Brown] being ineligible and Umar [Ferguson] getting hurt, it was his turn,” Wallace said. “I couldn’t be more proud of the way he reacted to it and handle it. Nobody was hurting more than he was after the game that we’d lost, but I know deep down inside he felt gratification for the way he performed.”
The No. 3 running back on the depth chart before the season, Billops could get his second career start Saturday as projected starter Ferguson could still be nursing sore ribs. Neither Billops nor Ferguson was certain to practice this week.
The Owls are therefore left pretty thin at running back, as they are at several positions.
“We’re kind of banged up at that position,” Wallace said. “We just have to wait and see.”
Career day at the Linc
Much-victimized freshman safety Keith Holt nabbed his first college interception to add a highlight to his career-high eight tackles. Junior linebacker Ryan Gore had nine tackles for a career high, and junior cornerback Chris Page totaled eight tackles for another career best. Junior free safety Garrett Schultz led all players with 11 tackles, also a career high.
Two weeks ago, senior linebacker Manuel Tapia seemed to tackle everything in sight with 12 total tackles officially. But after watching game film, the coaching staff insisted Tapia had made at least 15 tackles.
Defensive line stalwart Mike Mendenhall made just two tackles, possibly because the Rockets ran so few plays close to the line of scrimmage. The Owls’ top seven tacklers were linebackers, safeties or cornerbacks.
Freshman tight end Ben Hendy made his first career start, and sophomore Willie Hardemon made his first start at owl safety.
THINK ABOUT IT
The Rockets’ playmakers delivered for the 2004 MAC Champions. Quarterback Bruce Gradkowski hurled 29 passes and completed 20 of them.
Of those 20 completions, four were touchdowns. In other words, one-fifth of Gradkowski’s passes were for touchdowns.
To illustrate how impressive a rate that is, consider this: Gradkowski attempted an insane 399 passes last year. Had Gradkowski played that season throwing touchdowns with the frequency he did Saturday, he would have ended the 2004 season with 80 touchdown passes. (In reality, he threw a paltry 27) … Colin Clancy became the second Owls’ quarterback this season to play his first college game. Clancy completed 6 of 9 passes and threw a touchdown to wide receiver Brian Allbrooks.
Another explosive wideout may present problems
For the second straight week, a smallish but effective wide receiver lines up against the Owls’ thin cornerback corps.
Greg Jennings, a 5-11, 192 pound senior, will draw most of the defensive secondary’s attention Saturday, much like 5-10 junior Steve Odom did a week ago. Jennings presents more of a threat than Odom, however, and might be the most talented wideout the Owls have faced thus far, including Biletnikoff Award candidate Derek Hagan of Arizona State.
Jennings leads the nation with 33 total receptions and 11 receptions per game. He averages 112 receiving yards a game and over 10 yards per catch.
It doesn’t end there.
The next touchdown Jennings scores via catch-he has two so far this season-will give him the school record for career touchdown receptions. He’s also trying to keep alive a 26-game receptions streak and seeking his 14th career 100-yard game.
Throwing to him is a competent quarterback in senior Ryan Cubit, the five defensive backs in the Owls’ 4-2-5 scheme need to locate Jennings as soon as he breaks the huddle.
“He and Ryan just have a nice relationship,” Broncos coach Bill Cubit said. “They played high school ball against each other, and when Ryan came here [from Rutgers], they got real close.”
The Owls did manage to reign in Toledo’s Odom as they could not Hagan. Odom caught only three passes for 20 yards, but he was one of 11 receivers to whom Rockets quarterback Bruce Gradkowski complete a pass.
Freshman impresses in debut
Coach Bobby Wallace would not say there is a quarterback controversy brewing after freshman Colin Clancy went 6 of 9 for 85 yards a touchdown in mop-up duty Saturday.
The 6-0, 200 pound southpaw out of St. Thomas More (Conn.) Prep appeared in his first college game. Last season, Clancy set a school record by throwing for 1,340 yards and 19 touchdowns.
There are a number of factors to be considered before the Owls throw Clancy into a game in a meaningful situation, Wallace said.
For one, Wallace said after looking at film that McGann did not play as poorly as Wallace believed right after the game. Wallace said in the postgame press conference that he thought McGann did not play well.
Also, Clancy completed his passes in the fourth quarter against Toledo’s second-string defense with the Owls already down 32 points. The coaches were therefore impressed, Wallace said, but with reservations.
Punting and placekicking show some slight progress
Special teams executed fairly well all-around against Toledo. The Rockets’ average starting field position was their own 34 yard line, the Owls’ their own 27.
Punter Jake Hendy, who has battled inconsistency, had four punts for an average of 42.2 yards per punt. Hendy drew his coach’s ire against Wisconsin when he repeatedly failed to punt the ball out of bounds against the Badgers’ dangerous punt returners.
Senior kicker Ryan Lux finally got an opportunity to attempt a field goal and he capitalized on it. Lux knocked a 29-yard field goal late in the third quarter. He has converted all his extra points this season. … The Owls like to call themselves a running team. By virtue of the score, the Owls were forced to run 41 passing plays to 31 running against Toledo.