Huskies and Rockets set for primetime on ESPN 2
The Rockets have torn through their Mid-American Conference schedule this season and Tuesday they will have an opportunity to improve to 5-0 in the MAC with a win against defending West Division Champion Northern Illinois.
Last year in DeKalb, Northern Illinois crushed Toledo 65-30 behind 584 yards of total offense, including 422 rushing yards. Quarterback Chandler Harnish fronted the onslaught with 162 passing and 149 rushing yards.
"We know what he's all about." said UT head coach Tim Beckman. "We saw that last year. This conference is known for having good quarterbacks and he's one of them."
As if Beckman's squad needed extra incentive, the clash between MAC West Division rivals will be broadcast live on ESPN 2.
"I honestly believe that everybody shoots at us as their rival," Beckman said. "Everybody plays us as good as they can possibly play us and we try to do the same."
Led by a running attack which produced 269 yards, Toledo rolled past defending MAC Champions Miami 49-28 last weekend.
"The challenge put to this football team is to compete for four quarters at the level they are capable of," Beckman said. "We ended up pulling out a victory against a championship football team."
Senior running back Morgan Williams plowed his way to a pair of touchdowns and 84 yards rushing and sophomore tailback David Fluellen added 66 yards and a score of his own.
In his first play back since breaking his arm against Eastern Michigan on Oct. 8, senior running back Adonis Thomas ripped off a 67-yard run before capping off the drive with a redzone touchdown. Thomas finished the game with 80 yards on the ground, leading the team with 8 yards per carry.
"We're happy to have him back, no question about it," Beckman said. "It's good to see number 24 running down the sideline."
The Rockets defense will have their hands full as well against a Huskies squad who ranks first in the MAC in total offense, averaging 463.4 yards per game.
Toledo's chief concern will be containing arguably the most dangerous player on their MAC schedule in Harnish, who leads the conference in total offense (304.4 yards per game). A serious duel threat, Harnish averages 89 yards rushing and 212.1 yards passing per game.
"What a class individual," Beckman said. "I can definitely see why he's won a bunch of football games. He's a great leader and he handles himself very very well."
Harnish is joined in the backfield by senior tailback Jasmin Hopkins who has lit the MAC up for six rushing scores the past two weeks with three touchdowns against both Western Michigan and Buffalo. Hopkins now has 12 scores in Northern Illinois' eight games.
However, the high-powered NIU attack will be met by a Rockets defensive unit which held Miami to 14 yards rushing last game. Toledo leads the MAC in scoring defense (10 ppg) and places in the top five in the conference in almost every major defensive statistical category.
"You go out and you make plays," said junior linebacker Robert Bell. "You force turnovers and try to be the best defense in the nation."
The Toledo defense will benefit from the return of junior linebacker Dan Molls, who was 10th in the nation last year with 143 tackles. Having been sidelined by an injured foot since the season opener, Molls was second on the team with five tackles against the RedHawks.
Junior safety Jermaine Robinson also returned last week, further solidifying a secondary which is already receiving outstanding performances from senior cornerbacks Taikwon Paige and Desmond Marrow.
Marrow is coming off consecutive two interception games which earned him back-to-back MAC West Defensive Player of the Week honors. He also led the team last week with six tackles.
We understand that in this conference every game is important," Beckman said. "You better come prepared because this conference is so balanced."
Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m. tomorrow night at the Glass Bowl. ESPN 2 will provide live coverage.
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