Blakeney positive despite loss

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 3, 2005

SAN JOSE, Calif. - There are no such things as &uot;good&uot; losses to Troy University head football coach Larry Blakeney. He hates to lose.

But as bad as Thursday night's 34-21 Silicon Valley Football Classic loss to Northern Illinois stung, Blakeney was able to put it in perspective. Asked if it put a damper on the season, the coach said, &uot;If you know me at all, you know how I feel about that. A loss puts a damper on me and the guys up here, too. But it's not the end of the world. There are a lot of good things on this football team we can look back on besides these stats.&uot;

Too much good happened this season for it be ruined on a rainy night in San Jose, Calif.

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The emergence of true freshman quarterback D.T. McDowell is at or near the top of that list.

McDowell's play early in the game frustrated Northern Illinois and staked the Trojans to a 14-0 lead that looked deceptively easy.

The freshman, whose first start came against LSU in Baton Rouge, guided Troy on a 78-yard touchdown drive on the opening drive.

One of his best runs of the night came when he was flushed out of the pocket on thrid-and-5, retreated about 20 yards, cut to his left and wound up with a 5-yard gain and a first down. On the next play he threw a perfect pass for 45 yards - the longest for the Trojans this season - to Jason Samples for a first-and-goal at the 1. That set up his own quarterback sneak for a score.

He was back at it on the second drive. He dropped back to pass and scrambled for 11 yards and a first down in NIU territory. He completed a 17-yard strike to Samples to the NIU 26. Two plays later, his screen pass to Jermaine Richardson went for 23 yards and a touchdown - and a 14-0 lead.

McDowell wanted more.

&uot;When we got back to the sidelines I told the guys, 'we're up by 14, but let's play like it's 0-0,'&uot; he said.

Soon enough, it was all even. Garrett Wolfe ran 50 yards for a Northern Illinois touchdown. Then McDowell was intercepted by Lionel Hickenbottom on a floated pass in the middle of the field, setting up a tying touchdown.

Suddenly, what came so easy the first two possessions went away as momentum shifted dramatically.

Northern Illinois' defense showed great discipline - and respect for McDowell. They stopped their reckless upfield pursuit and kept a spy on the quarterback. At least one Huskies player kept the freshman from splitting those running lines that were so wide early in the game.

McDowell also became less effective throwing the football. Once 3-for-3 in third-down situations, Troy finished 6-for-16. Once 3-for-5 passing for 85 yards, McDowell finished 6-for-20 for 122 yards. Questionable footing and wet footballs played a factor. The freshman tried to take blame for the loss after the game.

&uot; It's all my fault,&uot; he said. &uot;I know these guys will say that's not true, but I feel it is.&uot;

Well, it wasn't. Credit is due Northern Illinois.

&uot;That was a very good team from a very good, deep conference,&uot; Blakeney said of his Mid-America Conference opponent. &uot;I was worried about them. They've got those big, huge offensive linemen and great backs.&uot;

Northern Illinois rushed for a season-high 213 yards against Troy. Wolfe was the main weapon in the first half, gaining 84 yards on 15 carries. He hurt himself and was sidelined most of the second half. A.J. Harris, who lost his job to Wolfe early in the season, did the damage after halftime. He rushed 21 times for 118 yards in the second half.

Northern Illinois coach Joe Novak used Harris' effort as an example for his entire team.

&uot;If there is one kid I might mention that demonstrates what our football team is all about, it's A.J. Harris,&uot; he said. &uot;Wolfe beat him out earlier this year. He was in a tough situation. But he kept a good attitude and when the second half came today he played great - and with the toughness of a winning football player.&uot;

&uot;A great back will make you suffer,&uot; Blakeney said.

&uot;I don't know what happened (to Wolfe), but I wish he'd stayed out there after I saw the other one.&uot;

Linebacker Bernard Davis didn't want to give too much credit to the Huskies.

&uot;We made a bunch of silly mistakes,&uot; Davis said. &uot;We knew we were up against a great challenge, but the big plays they made were because of our mistakes.&uot;

Still, NIU posted five plays of 20-yard gains or more, three of those were for 40-yard gains or more.

Also, the Trojans didn't force a turnover. They had come into the game ranked first in the nation in making interceptions (25) and second in overall turnovers (32). The defense also recorded just three tackles for loss - a season low.

The disappointing blocked punt that set up Northern Illinois' go-ahead field goal further contributed to the hole from which the Trojans could not climb out.

&uot;I told the players before the game we're either going to win together or we're going to lose together. It's a three-phased game and we had breakdowns in all three phases.&uot;

The offense did struggle. Troy didn't have a completion in the second or third quarter. Worse, NIU's kept McDowell from hurting it with his legs.

&uot;Their quarterback made a couple of rookie mistakes and we took advantage of the sloppy field,&uot; said NIU linebacker Brian Atkinson, who recorded a game-high 11 tackles. &uot;We knew he liked to run, but on that field it would be tough.&uot;

&uot;He's a good quarterback,&uot; Hickenbottom said. &uot;He's young, but he has some experience under his belt. He's pretty slippery. But we did a good job against him.&uot;