In his first start as the undisputed leader of the Towson offense, Joe Lee threw for 467 yards and two touchdown passes yesterday, answering questions about his ability to succeed Kevin Smith.
Yes, fairness demands an examination of the competition -- a Monmouth team that operates without scholarships -- but Lee looked comfortable in leading the Tigers to a 34-7 victory in front of 2,359 at Minnegan Stadium.
"It felt great," Lee said after his performance, 4 yards shy of a 471-yard effort by Smith against Marist in 1996. "I was just excited to be out there playing. It's good to know that if you work hard you can go out and play."
The senior was untested. Since 1996, he'd waited behind Smith, who left as the school's third-leading passer with 7,746 yards.
Lee entered having thrown 40 passes, completing 23 for 285 yards. But any doubts about him lasted about 15 seconds into the game. That's when he found sophomore Jamal White for 36 yards on the first play from scrimmage.
White wasn't listed as a starter on the depth charts, but established himself as the go-to receiver, exploiting his 6-1, 195-pound frame against smaller Monmouth backs such as 5-9 Jason Roach.
"A couple of times, he went up for a jump ball; the coverage was there but he could outjump [the defender]," Hawks coach Kevin Callahan said.
While White didn't score, he caught nine passes for 226 yards, the best performance by a Towson player since Mark Orlando's 238-yard day against Buffalo in 1994. Two of his catches (accounting for 49 yards) set up the Tigers' first score, a 3-yard run by Jason Corle.
Because Corle averaged 147.3 yards in three games against the Hawks, Callahan's staff hatched a game plan aimed at containing the senior tailback.
"Jason Corle has been Towson football for the last three years -- that's a fact," Callahan said. "In their games against Monmouth, he's been the difference every time. Not to the point of ignoring everyone else, but we had to do a good job on him."
The Hawks held Corle to 46 yards on 18 carries, but he also was part of Lee's air assault, catching four passes for 55 yards, including a 33-yard play in which he broke four tackles to give the Tigers a 13-0 lead with 4: 20 left in the second quarter.
By that point, Lee had completed 15 of 21 passes for 265 yards. At the end of 30 minutes, his 303 passing yards broke Dan Crowley's 1994 mark of 285 yards in a half.
"He was unbelievable," said Towson receiver Adam Overbey, whose 27-yard touchdown gave the Tigers a 27-0 lead with 10: 32 left in the third quarter. "Every read he made was right, and every pass was right where it had to be."
Since fall camp began, Towson coach Gordy Combs praised Lee, particularly his ability to throw a catchable ball that arrived on time. Combs said that with Monmouth unabashedly keying on the run, his offensive staff had no worries about resorting to the pass.
"They [Monmouth] were up with eight people a lot," Combs said. "We're not going to put a square peg in a round hole."
The large lead took pressure off the Towson defense, which looked to do better than the 30.5 points per game it gave up last season. The Hawks, who had averaged 36 points last season, gained only 185 yards yesterday.
"We felt that with the type of offense we had, if we could hold teams under 14 points, the offense could score at least 20," said Towson defensive back Ricky Crestwell, who gave the Tigers a 20-0 lead scoring on a 39-yard interception return late in the first half.
Crestwell's play freed the defensive line to tee off on quarterback John DiPasquale, who grew more and more ineffective as the day wore on. Towson sacked him five times, and the pressure resulted in two interceptions.
"They needed to pass, and we had so much pressure that they couldn't go down the field," said defensive end Andrew Hollingsworth.
Monmouth 0 0 0 7 -- 7
Towson 0 20 14 0 -- 34
Next for Towson
Site: Minnegan Stadium
When: Saturday, 1 p.m.
Joe Lee threw for 467 yards, the second-best yardage day for a quarterback in Tigers history:
Player Year Yards
Kevin Smith 1996 471
Joe Lee 1999 467
Kurt Beathard 1985 466
Theron Richards 1986 462