E. Michigan-Toledo Preview
Toledo is unbeaten, ranked in the Top 25 and staring at possibly its best start to a season in 18 years.
Coach Matt Campbell doesn’t care about any of it.
The No. 22 Rockets look to improve to 6-0 by continuing their dominance over visiting Eastern Michigan in this Mid-American Conference matchup Saturday.
Toledo (5-0, 2-0) is outscoring opponents by an average of 17.2 points – 25.0 over the last three games – as it tries to open with six consecutive wins for the first time since going 8-0 in 1997.
The Rockets haven’t been ranked this high since finishing 2001 in the same spot, but their position in the poll doesn’t matter to Campbell.
"I could care less if we’re ranked, I’ll be honest with you," Campbell said. "Those are things that are about after the season. That doesn’t get you better, that doesn’t win you football games."
Having the best ground game in the MAC certainly helps. The Rockets average 197.8 rushing yards behind the trio of Terry Swanson, Damion Jones-Moore and Kareem Hunt, who have combined for 833 yards with 5.6 per carry and nine touchdowns.
That’s eased the burden on quarterback Phillip Ely, who has completed 53.5 percent of his passes for 1,052 yards with six touchdowns and four interceptions.
While Jones-Moore was out with an injury last weekend, the running game carried Toledo to a 38-7 romp of Kent State. The Rockets had a season-high 288 rushing yards with Swanson accounting for 161 on 14 carries, while Hunt’s 16 attempts went for 85 as they combined for three touchdowns.
Although Ely tossed two TD passes for a second straight week and the offense recorded season highs in points and yards (518), Campbell feels things can still improve.
"Our kids know that we’re just scratching the surface of what we can be and become," Campbell said. "I think our kids want to get better. That’s meant more to me than anything going through this process so far."
The defense has shown tremendous improvement over the last three weeks, yielding an average of 242.7 yards after surrendering 498.0 over the first two games. The Rockets have been particularly better against the run, holding opponents to 45.0 yards per contest over the past three, a drop of 110.0.
"We play one play at a time," senior defensive end Trent Voss said. "Really, we’re just trying to stop any gains of yards on any plays. If we can go out and pitch a shutout; zero yards rushing and zero yards passing we would, but football doesn’t work that easily."
Toledo has won 14 of the past 15 matchups with Eastern Michigan (1-5, 0-2), including eight in a row by an average of 28.4 points.
The Rockets cruised to a 52-16 road win last season with Hunt gaining 110 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries.
Campbell, though, isn’t taking the Eagles lightly, although they’ve given up an average of 44.3 points during a four-game losing streak.
"I think (coach) Chris Creighton has done a great job improving the roster of what this Eastern Michigan football team looked like from a year ago to what it looks like today."
Creighton, however, wasn’t happy with a 47-21 home loss to Akron last week after showing some potential in a 44-22 loss at then-No. 9 LSU on Oct. 3.
"When we play like we’re capable or close to it, we’re pretty good. If we don’t then things can get out of hand," Creighton said. "I think that’s what we saw. In a seven-day span, we saw close to two extremes.
"The lesson learned is that we’re capable of both. We’re not good enough to just show up and not be completely ready to go."
It’s unclear if Brogan Roback or Reginald Bell will start at quarterback as the latter returns from a broken jaw suffered in a season-opening 38-34 loss to Old Dominion. Bell completed 12 of 18 passes for 117 yards with two touchdowns and one interception before getting hurt.
Roback has connected on 63.8 percent of his passes for 1,242 yards with nine TDs and eight picks since replacing Bell.
"(Bell) has not taken a snap in a game since the third quarter of the first game. Both of those guys are going to be practicing and preparing this week," Creighton said.
Darius Jackson is second in the conference with 585 rushing yards with 5.7 per carry while scoring eight touchdowns. The senior running back didn’t reach the end zone last week for the first time this season, but had 112 yards on 24 rushes.