Toledo shoots for sixth-straight victory this Saturday against EMU Eagles
Published: Wednesday, October 10, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, October 10, 2012 05:10
The Rockets head into this weekend’s game at Eastern Michigan fresh off their first conference scare of the season, a 50-35 Homecoming victory over Central Michigan last Saturday.
In the first half, junior wide receiver/returner Bernard Reedy turned the ball over twice and quarterback Terrance Owens threw his first interception since Nov. 8, 2011, snapping a streak of 276 passes without a pick.
The turnovers resulted in a pair of touchdowns and helped put the Rockets in a 21-17 hole at the half.
“We left a lot of plays out there,” said junior quarterback Terrance Owens. “We weren’t executing and managing the game well. In the second half we came back and executed much better.”
After Central’s opening drive of the second half stalled, Reedy bounced back with a 66-yard punt return for a touchdown, giving Toledo a 24-21 advantage.
Reedy finished with 107 yards in punt returns, 94 yards in kickoff returns and tied a career-high with 10 catches for 92 yards. His 293-all purpose yards were a collegiate best for Saturday and tied him for fourth most in a game in program history. Reedy’s output earned him Mid-American Conference Player of the Week honors. In total UT piled on 33 points in the second half, including two pick-sixes in the fourth quarter to pull away from the Chippewas, who upset Iowa two weeks earlier.
“We have to be more consistent,” said UT head coach Matt Campbell. I challenge the guys on the team to hone their craft, excel at what you do and be the best you can possibly be.”
Consistency is becoming increasingly important as the target on Toledo’s back grows larger, and the stakes grow higher, with each win.
A victory against Eastern (0-5, 0-2 Mid-American Conference) Saturday would tie UT with its longest win streak since 2005 (6) and earn them bowl eligibility with a clash against No. 21 Cincinnati a week away.
As usual, head coach Matt Campbell is preaching an eye-on-the-prize approach.
“We haven’t even talked about bowl eligibility and I don’t know if I care about that,” Campbell said. “What means something to me is we’re playing really well in our conference right now. We set out at the beginning of the season to be the best we can in the Mid-American Conference and give ourselves a chance to win a MAC Championship. Getting to a bowl game is our number two goal.
“To me, you need the precision of worrying about the next weekend and that’s where we are right now. It would be a great honor [to be bowl eligible] but we’re playing another great MAC opponent and if we’re not ready to play we’ll get beat.”
The statistics suggest that Campbell is giving the Eagles a bit too much credit. As poorly as UT has performed defensively at times this season (99th out of 120 in total defense at 451.83 yards allowed per game), Eastern has been worse.
EMU ranks 110th in points allowed (37.2 per game) and 114th in total defense (487.6 yards per game).
Owens, who completed 22-of-33 for 229 yards last week, could find a more difficult challenge in Eastern’s secondary than some expect, though.
While Eastern Michigan’s rush defense is dead least in nation at 305.40 yards allowed, the pass defense has been outstanding, surrendering 182.20 yards a game, good for 21st in the country.
Senior defensive back Donald Coleman leads the team and is 10th in the nation with almost 11 tackles a contest while sophomore strong safety Sean “Pudge” Cotton is third on the team with 8.4 tackles per game and first on the team with a pair of interceptions.
The Eagles smothering secondary could spell an abundance of early touches for junior running back David Fluellen, who will be looking for his fourth 100-yard game of the season. A solid start by the league’s fourth-leading rusher should loosen up the secondary for Toledo’s spread offense.
Owens was benched for a series in favor of senior Austin Dantin last week after his interception.
Dantin completed 3-of-7 passes for 17 yards, however, after a couple of first downs the drive sputtered and All-MAC hopeful Vince Penza came on to punt.
T.O.’s pick was just his second turnover of the year but both mistakes have resulted in him riding the pine.
Conventional wisdom suggests yanking a signal caller after every mistake could make him second-guess himself. The focal point of the MAC’s third-best scoring offense (33.8 points per contest) sees things differently.
“It’s a learning experience,” Owens said. “I know what I have to do after to make it work.”
It’s hardly conceivable, but Eastern’s offense is fairing worse than its defense, mustering 263 yards a game. Their abysmal average places them second-worst in the country in front of winless Tulane’s 195.
After throwing for over 1,500 yards the past two seasons, Alex Gillett has backslid this year. The senior quarterback connected on 44 percent (26-of-59) of his passes the first two games, averaging 166 yards through the air and throwing for four touchdowns against the three interceptions (all v. Illinois State).
Gillett (9-of-15 for 66 yards) then split time with sophomore Tyler Benz (5-of-9 for 78 yards) against Purdue on Sept. 15. Though neither quarterback completed 50 percent of his passes in the 54-16 loss to the Boilermakers, Gillett did not throw a pass during losses to Michigan State and Kent, prompting some to speculate that he is injured.
“I don’t know if it’s an injury, I’m not 100 percent sure why he hasn’t played the past few weeks,” Campbell said. “I do know the guy who has come in and started has played with some consistency to give them a chance to be successful.”
The Rockets have suffered a number of injuries of their own, particularly along the defensive line.