Rockets ready for MAC West battle with Western Michigan
The last time the Rockets met the Western Michigan Broncos on the football field, the score looked more like that of a basketball game.
Toledo squeaked out a 66-63 victory in a duel that featured more than 1,400 yards of combined offense and made national headlines.
“I think I said after the game, I’m 31 at that time and I felt like I was 51,” said UT head coach Matt Campbell. “It ended up being a shootout between two really good offenses, we felt like we had to score.”
Despite coming out on top, senior linebacker Dan Molls remembers what surrendering 63 points felt like and said he and his defense took it personally.
“We won the game, but the very next thing that comes to mind is the fact that we let up 63 points,” Molls said. “As a defensive guy and speaking on behalf of the defense, that’s something that we take a lot of pride in. We’ve got to be able to put our offense into more comfortable situations and make it easier for our team to win.”
With two of the most electric offenses in the conference set to do battle again Saturday night, more fireworks were expected.
That is until WMU (2-2, 0-0 MAC) senior quarterback Alex Carder injured his throwing hand late in last week’s 30-24 victory over Connecticut.
Carder is arguably the most talented quarterback in the Mid-American Conference and did not return last week after exiting late in the third.
He was listed as questionable Monday night, but head coach Bill Cubit announced after Tuesday’s practice that Carder had been ruled out.
Junior Tyler Van Tubbergen took his place as the Broncos held off the Huskies. He threw just six passes and has only thrown 35 for his career, but did complete 19-of-20 against Akron last season for six touchdowns in the season finale.
Carder, who threw for 548 yards and seven touchdowns a year ago at the Glass Bowl, is second in the MAC with 1,049 yards.
Van Tubbergen will get the nod Saturday night.
“He came in the game and managed the game extremely well in the second half,” Campbell said. “When I looked at their play calling, it didn’t change much throughout the game. He was able to lead their team to victory. The game plan for us, no matter who’s in at quarterback, will be very similar.”
The matchup between the Broncos passing attack and the Rockets secondary will be huge regardless of who’s under center. UT (3-1, 1-0) ranks 116th in the nation in passing defense and is allowing over 325 passing yards per game.
Opposing quarterbacks have completed 65 percent of their passes.
“Anytime you’re putting in something new schematically, that’s the nature of the beast,” Campbell said. “When you have a new defense and you’re trying to align and assign correctly, making sure that we do things the right way, I think it’s a natural progression. We have to do a great job of keeping the football in front of us and we have to do a great job of of tackling.”
A key player for the UT defense to keep in front of them is freshman wide receiver Jaime Wilson, whose 37 catches rank second in college football. Just four games into his career, the Belle Glade, Fla. product has racked up 430 yards and four touchdowns.
Campbell said he’ll use a rotation of cornerbacks and also rely on his safeties and linebackers to shadow him.
“We’ll have to do a great job of identifying where that receiver is and make sure we don’t put that guy in position to beat us,” Campbell said. “They throw the ball really well, that’s something they’ve always done there with great consistency. He’s certainly a young man that’s been very impressive early in the season.”
The Rockets know a thing or two about airing it out as well.
Junior Terrance Owens patrols an offense ranked third in the MAC in passing, right behind Western Michigan.
Owens has completed 65 percent of his passes and thrown for 1,027 yards and nine touchdowns. He hasn’t thrown a pick all season and hasn’t been intercepted since last year’s shootout with the Broncos, a span of 230 passes.
Like Van Tubbergen, T.O. has an array of weapons around him, including junior receiver Bernard Reedy and redshirt freshman Alonzo Russell.
Reedy’s 29 grabs are second-best in the conference behind Wilson. Russell – an emerging star – has become a great deep ball target and leads the team with 372 receiving yards.
The UT offense will be relied upon to move the ball and take some pressure off the defense in a pivotal matchup in the MAC West.
“We’re ready to go,” Molls said. “It’s going to be a tough week of practice just because it’s an important game for us and it’s a huge step in this process. Everyone’s anxious to get going.”
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