9:00 PM ET, September 27, 2005
Bulldog Stadium, FRESNO, CA
FRESNO, Calif. (AP) -- Bruce Gradkowski watched his Toledo teammates from the sideline, wearing a cap and a grim expression.
The Rockets' star quarterback couldn't play, apparently because of a concussion -- and without him, Toledo couldn't even stay close to Fresno State.
Paul Williams caught a touchdown pass and returned a blocked punt for a score, and Tyrone Culver returned a fumble for another touchdown in the Bulldogs' 44-14 victory Tuesday night.
Bryson Sumlin ran for 106 yards and a score and also caught a TD pass to help the Bulldogs (2-1) rebound from a 37-34 loss at Oregon 10 days ago. That defeat knocked them out of the Top 25, but the Bulldogs still believe they've got their best shot yet at coach Pat Hill's first outright WAC title in his nine seasons.
And Gradkowski's absence didn't make this one-sided victory over the Rockets (3-1) any less sweet for Hill.
"I don't think it would have made any difference," Hill said. "He's a great player, but I think we were really dialed into what they were doing. I was hoping he was going to play."
Gradkowski, the Rockets' career passing leader in several categories, was held out of the game at the last minute. The school refused to give any details, but Gradkowski apparently was hurt during a win over Temple 10 days ago.
Clint Cochran, Gradkowski's freshman replacement, went 16-of-24 for 163 yards and a late rushing TD in his first career start -- but Toledo's first trip to Bulldog Stadium since the 1984 California Bowl wasn't much fun. Cochran was sacked four times, and Toledo managed just two scoring drives despite controlling the ball for more than 37 minutes.
"That's our redshirt freshman you're looking at in his first start, and I thought he did an outstanding job," Toledo coach Tom Amstutz said. "We just needed more help from other players. ... Obviously, you're going to miss an all-conference quarterback, but one player like that isn't any kind of excuse. We need him next week [Oct. 8 against Eastern Michigan]."
The Rockets started well, taking a 7-0 lead into the second quarter on Steve Odom's 36-yard TD reception. Hill and his coaches voiced their displeasure, and Fresno State hammered Toledo for the next two quarters.
"We started a little sluggish, but we had a little chit-chat, a little get-together, and the Bulldogs really played well after that," Hill said.
Capitalizing on two fumbles and another night of superb special-teams play, Fresno State scored 27 points in the second quarter of the mid-major powers' first meeting.
Paul Pinegar threw two touchdown passes, and the Bulldogs posted a blowout despite the Rockets' 304-248 edge in total yards. A big reason was obvious at the line of scrimmage, where Fresno State's powerful offensive line flattened and abused Toledo's defensive front all night.
"We were well-prepared for this game, all across the board," said Sumlin, who had the sixth 100-yard game of his career after a slow start to the season. "I don't think we've reached our potential yet, but we came out strong in the third series and didn't let up very much."
Williams caught a 1-yard scoring pass from Pinegar on Fresno State's first play of the second period, and Sumlin rumbled through the secondary for a 20-yard score on a screen pass.
Just 52 seconds later, the ball popped out of Trinity Dawson's hands and high into the air. It bounced straight to Culver, who returned it 34 yards untouched.
"Turnovers were the emphasis all week in practice," said linebacker Marcus Riley, who had 11 tackles. "Before today, we only had one turnover this season. We were concentrating on stripping the ball, because turnovers lead to points."
After Toledo's Andrew Hawkins fumbled 2 minutes after Dawson's blunder, Fresno State drove for Wendell Mathis' 1-yard TD plunge 25 seconds before halftime.
"You have those fumbles right before halftime and give a team like that a short field, and that's going to hurt," Amstutz said. "We have to rebound and get our focus back together and raise our whole level of football before next game."
Team Stat Comparison
|3rd Down Conversions||6-16||3-9|
|4th Down Conversions||2-3||0-0|
|TD||3:33||STEVE ODOM 36 YD PASS FROM CLINT COCHRAN (JASON ROBBINS KICK)|
Drive info: 8 plays, 62 yards.
|TD||14:57||PAUL WILLIAMS 1 YD PASS FROM PAUL PINEGAR (CLINT STITSER KICK)|
Drive info: 10 plays, 53 yards.
|TD||7:16||BRYSON SUMLIN 20 YD PASS FROM PAUL PINEGAR (CLINT STITSER KICK)|
Drive info: 9 plays, 82 yards.
|TD||6:24||TYRONE CULVER 30 YD DEFENSIVE FUMBLE RETURN (MISSED KICK)||7||20|
|TD||0:25||WENDELL MATHIS 1 YD RUN (CLINT STITSER KICK)|
Drive info: 7 plays, 34 yards.
|FG||9:14||CLINT STITSER 40 YD FG|
Drive info: 5 plays, 20 yards.
|TD||5:41||PAUL WILLIAMS 5 YD BLOCKED PUNT RETURN (CLINT STITSER KICK)||7||37|
|TD||3:38||BRYSON SUMLIN 3 YD RUN (CLINT STITSER KICK)|
Drive info: 3 plays, 27 yards.
|TD||1:38||CLINT COCHRAN 1 YD RUN (JASON ROBBINS KICK)|
Drive info: 8 plays, 50 yards.