UT looks for statement win at MAC leader CMU
After losing their last matchup to previously winless Miami on Oct. 31, Toledo will travel to Mount Pleasant, Mich. to take on league-unbeaten Central Michigan on Wednesday at 8 p.m. on ESPN2.
The Rockets (4-5, 2-3 MAC) hit the low point of their season last week following a last minute fumble at the goal line by sophomore tight end Danny Noble with 61 seconds remaining. The play was originally ruled a touchdown, cutting Miami’s lead to 31-30, but replay officials ruled Noble fumbled the ball into the endzone pylon which is a touchback, giving the RedHawks (1-9, 1-5 MAC) the ball and their first victory.
“We were going to go for two and win the football game right then and there,” UT Head Coach Tim Beckman said. “We were talking about what we were going to do on first-and-one, not realizing the ball had been fumbled. When [the officials] came over and mentioned to me that the ball had been fumbled, hit the pylon and went out of bounds, I flipped out a little bit.
“Not one play makes the football game because that’s not the case. Yes, Danny should’ve held on to the football so it shouldn’t have been a concern, but it didn’t happen that way. We have to take care of business and not let one play determine the game.”
Toledo also watched as their top-two quarterbacks, senior Aaron Opelt and freshman Austin Dantin, left the game after returning against Miami from previous injuries. The concerns are serious enough that freshman wide receiver Eric Page has started practicing at quarterback for the Rockets with junior Alex Pettee and freshman David Pasquale still officially holding the top-two spots on the depth chart.
“We tried to do a bunch of stuff with Eric [in practice],” Beckman said. “We put him back there at quarterback and let him do the whole offense instead of just trying to limit it.
“He’s not to where you want a quarterback to be right now, but could he come in and manage a game right now? I think so.”
Central Michigan (7-2, 5-0) will also have to account for the possible returns of Opelt (shoulder) and Dantin (ankle), whose status for Wednesday’s game still remain uncertain.
Opelt started against the RedHawks but was removed by the coaching staff in favor of Dantin after completing 2-of-6 passes for 7 yards in the first quarter, including an interception for a touchdown on just his second throw of the game. Dantin was removed at halftime after reaggravating his injury.
Opelt returned in the second half but removed himself with over seven minutes remaining, just one week after Beckman said playing through injuries was “one thing that we need to learn to do around here.”
“Aaron went out there the first series and he was a little rusty, and we felt that he’s probably not ready,” Beckman said. “He came to us at halftime and his eyes were flaring and he said ‘I want to play’ so he went back out there and played as long as he could play and then it just couldn’t happen.
“He went as long as he could, and that’s a mark of great character in my opinion.”
Despite the setback, Opelt is planning on returning to face the Chippewas this week.
“That’s one of those games you circle before the season starts, and I’ll do everything I can to be ready,” Opelt said. “[Miami’s game] might have set me back a little bit, but I think there’s a very good chance I’ll be back.”
The Chippewas won’t share Toledo’s uncertainty at quarterback with Dan LeFevour. The CMU senior quarterback has been named first-team All-MAC twice in his career has thrown for 1,848 yards and 16 touchdowns this season, while also rushing for a team-high 548 yards and nine touchdowns.
“He’s a type of quarterback that can change the game at any time,” senior defensive tackle Derrick Summers said. “If he’s got a lot of confidence to make big plays, he’s going to do it.”
The Rockets will attempt to control LeFevour with the help of Beckman, who said that the defense’s play this season is “killing him” and that he will take a larger role in the defense beginning with Wednesday’s game. Toledo ranks 114th out of 120 teams in the country allowing more than 37 points per game.
“It’s been good for me to get back involved with the defense,” Beckman said. “I haven’t been able to be as involved as I’d like to be.
“I really believe we’re getting better, but when you play three freshmen in the secondary, there are some things that happen that we’ve got to overcome.”
With the liabilities on defense, Toledo is prepared to attempt to outscore the Chippewas’ offense, which ranks second in the MAC at more than 30 points per game.
“It’s real hard,” senior running back DaJuane Collins said. “We’ve got to look at it like we’ve got to outscore whoever we’re playing. We’ve got to just outscore Central’s offense no matter how the defense does.”
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