#24 Temple (10-3, 7-1 American) vs. Toledo (9-2, 6-2 MAC)
Marmot Boca Raton Bowl at 7pm on ESPN
Question mark: Will Toledo be the same without head coach Matt Campbell?
Earlier this month Matt Campbell left Toledo to become the head coach at Iowa State. He chose not to coach the bowl game. Some guys want to, some guys don’t. Everyone has their reasons. But now Jason Candle steps to the forefront. He has been offensive coordinator since 2012. Candle has a lot more on his plate now but his main concern is making sure there’s no drop-off with his players.
Game inside the game: Toledo rushing attack vs. Temple run defense
Toledo likes to run the ball. Temple likes to stop the run. The Rockets go for 213 per game on the ground. Temple only allows 126. Running plays are a battle of will. Offensive linemen clash with defenders each and every play in an attempt to open up running lanes for ball carriers. The battle in the trenches between Toledo’s offense and Temple’s defense will go a long way in determining a winner.
Player to watch: Toledo running backs Kareem Hunt and Terry Swanson
Normally, I try to limit the player to watch category to one player, but sometimes exceptions need to be made. That is the case with these two exceptional Rocket running backs that’ve combined to produce 1,764 yards and 17 touchdowns this fall. Hunt runs more between the tackles with Swanson coming in for the change of pace. The combination has been deadly. Both can carry the load for an entire drive. Both can catch the ball out of the backfield. Both should be coming back next year. Hunt is a junior, Swanson just a sophomore. Watch these two go to work to familiarize yourself for next season.
X-factor: Toledo offense vs. Temple defense on third downs
If you look at the Owls from a statistical angle it’s hard to figure out how they win. Sure, they hold opponents to 19 points per game, but how? It’s simple actually. The Temple defense makes stops on third down. They hold opponents to a 31 percent third-down conversion rate, good for fourteenth in the FBS. Toledo, however, ranks sixteenth in third-down efficiency at 46 percent. This is where I think the game will be decided. If the Rockets can pick up first downs and sustain drives the game will swing their way. If the Owls turn third downs into kicks they’ll be playing their game.
Prediction: Toledo over #24 Temple, 33-27
I think the Rockets, behind Hunt and Swanson, have what it takes to beat the Owls. That said, it will not be at all easy. This will be a back-and-forth game. Toledo will have to make a play late to earn the win. I believe they will.
As the calendar flips to its November page we start to realize some things. Fall is in full-swing, the weather is chillier (supposedly), and college football is nearing the home stretch. Thanks to the Mid-American Conference, November also means football every single day of the week.
No longer do we have to suffer through the mid-week blues that are caused by having no football to watch on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. The brilliant people of the MAC felt our pain and did something about it.
#MACtion officially began on Tuesday when the Northern Illinois Huskies went to Toledo for a showdown with the West division-leading Rockets.
Less than an hour before kickoff, the College Football Playoff Selection Committee awarded the undefeated Rockets with the twenty fourth spot in their first rankings of the season. That ranking will go down as the shortest-lived in history.
Northern Illinois at #24 Toledo
This game was entertaining from the jump. The Huskies fumbled on their third play from scrimmage and got bailed out by their defense forcing a turnover on downs. After an NIU punt, the Rockets opened the scoring with a touchdown pass from Phillip Ely to Alonzo Russell who skied to make a great catch in the end zone.
The Huskies answered immediately as Tommylee Lewis flew by the Toledo secondary, caught an easy pass from Drew Hare and waltzed into the end zone untouched. The game was tied at seven, midway through the first quarter.
Terry Swanson and Kareem Hunt took charge on the Rockets’ next drive. The running back tandem accounted for all 83 yards on the drive, including a 58-yard dash from Swanson whose crisp spin move will end up on his career highlight reel. (Speaking of crispy, how bout those all golds Toledo busted out for this one?) Anyway, Hunt took over in the red zone and punched it in, recapturing the lead for the Rockets.
Then things got a bit sloppy. Hidden in that sloppiness was an unlikely conversion on third and 39, after an errant snap had pushed the Huskies way behind the sticks. Three field goals, three turnovers, and four punts later it was halftime, the score 17-16 in favor of Toledo.
Before halftime Northern Illinois suffered two strange and seemingly debilitating injuries to their offensive playmakers. Quarterback Drew Hare and receiver Tommylee Lewis both went down with non-contact injuries that prevented them from returning. The odds were stacked against the Huskies as the second half began.
Four consecutive punts opened the third quarter as both teams played conservatively coming out of the locker room. Then Kareem Hunt took matters into his own hands again, leading the Rockets down the field with a long run and then adding another touchdown.
Each team kicked a field goal on their next possession, making it 27-19.
It’s unfortunate to have to say, but the officiating crew left their mark on this game. A questionable personal foul call on Toledo extended Northern Illinois’ next drive. The Huskies did what good teams do by taking advantage.
Kenny Golladay made an unbelievable one-handed grab in the corner of the end zone that should get some votes for play of the year in college football. Down by two with less than 10 minutes to play Northern Illinois head coach Rod Carey decided to go for the tie. Toledo snuffed out the option attempt to preserve their narrow lead, 27-25.
Toledo’s first loss of the season unseated them from the top of the West division. That spot now belongs to Western Michigan who is 5-0 in conference play.
Ohio at Bowling Green
The MAC’s Wednesday night follow-up wasn’t nearly as tight as Tuesday’s premier. Even so, it was nice to have a football game to watch on an otherwise boring Wednesday night. Plus, it was good for people to see how potent this Bowling Green offense is. The Falcons took full advantage of a banged up Ohio Bobcat defense that was simply overmatched.
The Falcons got off to a slow start and had to punt on their first drive of the game. They punted just twice more the rest of the contest. After the first one, they scored on their next four drives.
The first two scores came on runs from Travis Greene. Ohio, however, had an answer for both touchdown drives and it was 14-all with ten minutes to play in the half. Sebastian Smith provided the Bobcats’ highlights, pulling off an amazing leaping catch on the first scoring drive and a tremendous diving grab on the second.
Determined not to be outdone, Bowling Green’s Ronnie Moore caught a pass and turned it into a touchdown by looking like the only guy who knew what was going on. The Falcons had taken the lead for good.
The Falcons’ special teams got in on the action too, blocking a punt on Ohio’s next drive. That setup Bowling Green with a short field that they were able to take advantage of. Quarterback Matt Johnson floated a ball into the corner of the end zone perfectly for Gehrig Dieter to run under it and reel it in. It was 27-14 Falcons at the break.
The second half was all Bowling Green as they pulled away by outscoring Ohio 21-3 in the third frame.
It was one of those nights where everything the Falcons did seemed to be working well, as evidenced by Gehrig Dieter’s circus catch and second touchdown of the night.
Ohio backup quarterback JD Sprague, who had come into the game for the injured Derrius Vick, was not welcomed kindly by the Bowling Green defense. Dernard Turner intercepted a pass that shouldn’t have been thrown and took it 85 yards the other way for a pick six. The rout was officially on.
The Falcons’ next drive ended on an easy pitch-and-catch from Johnson to Roger Lewis, something you’ve seen frequently if you’ve watched any of their games this season. Then, unsatisfied with just two rushing scores, Travis Greene added a third by blazing down the sideline to make it 55-17 midway through the fourth quarter.
On the ensuing possession Maleek Irons delivered punishing blows to multiple Bowling Green defenders on his to the end zone for six pride points. You have to admire a guy who’s still out there playing like that in a game like this.
Even the Falcons’ backups had some fun. James Knapke connected with Teo Redding on a screen pass with three and a half minutes to go, closing the scoring at 62-24.
So, what did we learn? Well, you now know, if you didn’t already, that the MAC offers highly entertaining games in the middle of your dreary work week.
Be advised: the biggest games are yet to come.
Next week’s MACtion includes two games with serious conference championship implications. Toledo hits the road to face Central Michigan on Tuesday as both try to keep pace in the West. Then on Wednesday we get to see a possible MAC championship preview when Bowling Green heads to Western Michigan for a clash of undefeated teams.
Stay tuned down the stretch as we follow mid-week MACtion.
“I was going to tell you it was low-scoring, but they did just combine for 27 first quarter points.”
I didn’t like the Huskies coming into this one, and the first 15 minutes of play did nothing to alleviate my concerns. Now, I’m not going to make the mistake of comparing the 2015 NIU team with the BCS party-crashers of years’ past. Three losses coming into their Tuesday evening clash with the 7-0 Toledo Rockets is all the explanation I need to offer there, but the Mid-American Conference team that took down Arkansas and Iowa State in consecutive weeks deserves that discussion and comparison.
Despite Boise State and BYU doing the MAC some favors by putting numbers in the “L” column, the battle promised to be of an uphill nature for the Midwest’s1With apologies to Buffalo and UMass other FBS conference. You took down teams from the SEC and Big 12? Well, which ones? Oh…here, have a token spot in our rankings.
Speaking of token spots, the conferences that we haven’t branded “Power 5” get to be the “Group of 5”, and they get a token spot, not in the playoff to determine our National Champion, but to one of the access bowls, or sites that get to be part of the semi-final and National Championship rotation. As if dealing with the Mountain West’s powerhouses weren’t enough, the bastards of the 2012 Big East have been demoted out of Automatic Qualifier status, so the MAC’s best must be better than the top team from what’s now called the American Athletic Conference.
In the inaugural 2015 College Football Playoff Rankings, Matt Campbell’s Toledo program was rewarded with a #24 ranking, 11 spots behind undefeated Memphis, 2 spots behind 1-loss Temple, and a slot above unbeaten Houston2All from the AAC. Toledo was the only other team from the Group of 5 in the rankings, blessed enough to share space with cartel juggernauts, such as UCLA and Northwestern.
On the field, NIU kept catching breaks, like the time when Tommylee Lewis got behind the Toledo secondary for the Huskies first touchdown of the night, or yielding just five yards to Phillip Ely and the Rockets offense after Kenny Golladay fumbled in his own territory after a first down catch-and-run from Drew Hare. After our first quarter of Tuesday Night #MACtion in 2015, the underdog trailed 17-10, not quite the 21-14 count we got in NIU’s 2011 63-60 victory on the same field. Of course, for all of the breaks Rod Carey’s squad caught, they got broken quite a bit.
Lewis, NIU’s big playmaker early, and starting quarterback Drew Hare both went down in the first half, but backup Ryan Graham proved to be quite capable, despite ESPN’s announcing crew selling it like he’d never played football before. However, it wasn’t just the injury bug hurting the visiting team on Tuesday night.
Toledo won the game in the trenches early, with both Terry Swanson and Kareem Hunt easily eclipsing the century mark with rushing yardage. Every time it appeared the undefeated Rockets would pull away, NIU would come up with a big stop or a turnover. Despite the fact NIU had problems finding the endzone without the services of 5th-year player Lewis, kicker Christian Hagan kept the wounded Huskies alive with four field goals, which allowed them to chip away at a lead the Rockets held until Graham hit Golladay for the game-winner with two minutes left.
Now, Toledo can kiss their access bowl dreams goodbye, and the MAC’s western division is now a four-team race between them, the Huskies, and two directional Michigan schools3Eastern Michigan need not make travel arrangements for Detroit.