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Rockets will face uncommon foe in 2011 Military Bowl

Assistant Sports Editor

Published: Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Updated: Thursday, December 8, 2011 03:12

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File photo by Nick Kneer

Junior Eric Page has yet another shot to impress crowds at a national level in the Military Bowl.

After being spurned by the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl in Detroit, the Rockets were informed late Sunday evening that they will travel to Washington D.C. to play Air Force in the Military Bowl.

"We're very excited," said junior linebacker Dan Molls. "This is a great opportunity for us and the program. Especially coming off of last season with the way the season ended on the bowl game."

Last year Toledo (8-4, 7-1 Mid-American Conference) returned to the postseason for the first time in six campaigns, falling 34-32 to Florida International University in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl. Aided by a questionable call, FIU picked up a first down on 4th and 17 en route to scoring the game-winning touchdown. The loss dropped the Rockets to 8-3 all-time in bowl games.

The co-champions of the MAC West Division will be looking to improve their bowl record against the Falcons (7-5, 3-4 Mountain West) squad which has won their last two postseason contests, in addition to receiving a bowl bid the past five seasons.

"It means a lot [to receive a bowl bid for the second-straight year]," said junior running back Adonis Thomas. "It means this program is on the rise. Any recruit that comes in, it just goes to show you we're only getting better. We really want people to buy into our program and get top recruits here."

The game being aired on ESPN certainly will not hurt in exposing recruits to the developing Toledo program, but on the field the Rockets will have unique test in the Air Force offense.

The Falcons run a highly-disciplined triple option capable of wearing thin a Toledo defense which has been inconsistent as of late.

 "It's something different that we haven't seen," Molls said. "It's a good thing we have extra weeks to prepare for it. We're excited."

Air Force, who finished their 2011 campaign with two blowout victories over UNLV (45-17) and Colorado State (45-21),  ranks 19th nationally, averaging 458.8 yards of total offense. By the way, 320.3 of those yards averaged came on the ground.

The Falcons attack is led by senior quarterback Tim Jefferson who has thrown for nearly 1,500 yards on 60.9% passing with 12 touchdowns and six interceptions.

Jefferson was named Mountain West Player of the Week for his performance in Air Force's season finale against Colorado State. He completed 9-of-12 passes for 221 yards for a career-best three touchdowns.

Jefferson is joined in the backfield by senior running back Asher Clark who rushed for 1,096 yards during the regular season. Asher carried for over 100 yards on four occasions this season, including 111 yards against Colorado State.

"I'm going to do the best I can to make my reads and be disciplined football player," said senior cornerback Desmond Marrow. "We're definitely going to have to be disciplined when we play them."

Of course, as the entire country is now aware of, Toledo is no stranger to offensive production either. The Rockets high-powered assualt was on display again in their regular season finale, in which UT topped Ball State 45-28.

Though the Falcons defensive unit has given up less than 16 points per game the past five contests, they will need to stop one of the most explosive runners in the country in Thomas.

"Their defense is undersized but they play really hard," Thomas said. "They run an aggressive 3-4 defense and they really get after it."

The shifty Thomas is known for being relentless in his own right, and it has paid off during his abbreviated season. He has scored 11 touchdowns to go with his team-leading 963 rushing yards despite missing the better part of four games with a broken arm..

The second-team All-MAC selection is 18th in nation and fourth in the conference in rushing yards per game (107) and leads all MAC running backs with 6.5 rushing average. He went off for 145 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries against Ball State.

The Toledo offense boasts another NFL-bound threat in junior wide receiver Eric Page whom the Falcons will also need to account for. Toledo's all-time leading receiver has caught a program-record 112 receptions this year, ranking third in the nation and second in the MAC in receptions per game (9.3).

Factor in the first teammates both to be in the top 20 in passing effeciency (quarterbacks Terrance Owens and Austin Dantin) and the 2011 Military Bowl has all the fixings of an old-fashioned shootout.  

"Bowl season is all about offense," Thomas said. "Nobody wants to go to a bowl game and see a 6-3 or a 12-6 game.

"But they don't take plays off and they have guys out there on both sides of the ball giving a relentless effort. So, it's going to be a good game on both sides of the ball."    The Military Bowl will take place on Dec. 28 at 4:30 p.m. at RFK Stadium.

"It's an amazing opportunity," Molls said. "Anytime you get to play in an NFL stadium like that it's great. It's going to make the experience that much better for us and we're excited to get there."

 

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