Fluellen, Rockets gallop past Western Michigan 37-17
KALAMAZOO, Mich. – Junior running back David Fluellen had big shoes to fill this season, replacing those left behind by Adonis Thomas.
Fluellen entered Saturday’s game with 287 rushing yards and left with 518, leading Toledo (5-1, 2-0 MAC) to a 37-17 road victory over the Western Michigan Broncos.
Like any smart running back, he knew who to give the credit to.
“I give all the credit to the offensive line,” Fluellen said. “I felt like anybody could have run through the holes with how big they were. I’m just blessed to be running behind those guys.”
Thomas ran for 216 yards in last year’s 66-63 slugfest and a pair of touchdowns. He added 77 more receiving yards and another score.
“All week, I was in the film room and I actually watched what he did last year because he had a good game,” Fluellen said. “I was just studying what he did and that helped me on the field today.”
Fluellen brought back some of those memories Saturday night, galloping for 213 yards on 21 carries and three touchdowns.
“[Adonis] always told me that I always had the physical ability,” Fluellen said. “Once I get the mental aspect down, I could be a good player.
His rushing totals and three scores were both career-bests. He also caught five balls for 34 more yards.
“Flu,” as he’s known by teammates and fans, didn’t waste any time getting his monster performance started by capping off an eight-play, 67-yard drive with a six-yard run to put the Rockets up 7-0 just 2:40 into the game.
His second touchdown came later in the quarter, sprinting 53 yards for the score. Fluellen ran right for about 13 yards before making a nifty cutback near the WMU 40 and took off down the field. Redshirt freshman receiver Alonzo Russell threw an outstanding block to spring him.
“It was a zone play to the right, Zac [Kerin] pulled with me so I followed him out and saw a little bit of daylight and I just hit it as hard as I could,” Fluellen said.
Fluellen racked up 94 yards in the first and UT outgained Western 259-14 in the opening quarter.
With 6:47 to play in the third, Fluellen hit paydirt one last time from 22 yards out.
Russell hauled in a 27-yarder on the play before to set-up the score.
Lost in the joy of Toledo’s win will be the loss of senior defensive end T.J. Fatinkun, who exited the game with a lower leg injury in the first quarter and did not return.
After the game, Campbell said his injury will likely end his season and essentially his career at UT.
“It’s tough, especially for a competitor like T.J.,” Campbell said. “He’s worked so hard to get back and you don’t know why these things happen but as I told T.J., it won’t define him. One of the great things about T.J. is leadership and his ability to respond and if I know T.J. he’ll respond to this.”
Western Michigan (2-3, 0-1 MAC) was playing without All-MAC senior quarterback Alex Carder who injured his throwing hand on the helmet of a defender last week.
Carder returned to Kansas earlier this week and hit a pin inserted in his middle finger.
Backup Tyler Van Tubbergen got off to sluggish start and never fully found his stride. His first two throws were well behind the intended target and misfired on his first four attempts.
“I definitely came in comfortable,” Van Tubbergen said. “You just always have to be ready. Today, it just didn’t work out.”
Van Tubbergen ended the night completing 26-of-46 for 232 yards and a touchdown. The UT defense forced him into three interceptions, one of them to sophomore corner Jordan Haden who returned it 63 yards for a touchdown.
“The coaches called a good play and I had an opportunity to make a play on the ball,” Haden said. “I saw the tight end coming across the field while I was sitting in the flats and then I just ran for the end zone.”
That touchdown couldn’t have come at a better time as the Broncos were driving well into Toledo territory and trailing by only 11 with over 10 minutes to go in the third.
The four turnovers forced tonight increases Toledo’s number to 11 on the season.
“We’ve got some guys that are great athletes and we believe in them,” Campbell said. “The biggest thing we’ve done is identify our best players and make sure they have a roll they can be successful at.”
The Rockets have won four straight since dropping the season opener to Arizona. They’ll return to the Glass Bowl next Saturday for homecoming to face Central Michigan at 3 p.m.
“Our kids have bought in. They understand what’s ahead of us. It’s not going to be an easy road and we’re going to have practice really well on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday if we want to play well on Saturday.”
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