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."