Ely blossoms as No. 19 Toledo’s leader with UMass looming
TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) Phillip Ely waited a long time to lead a college football program. Count Toledo coach Matt Campbell among those who are glad that time has come.
The senior quarterback has directed the No. 19 Rockets to an unblemished record and is fresh off his best performance of the season as Toledo (6-0, 3-0 MAC West) heads to Gillette Stadium in Foxboro to play UMass (1-5, 0-2 MAC East) on Saturday.
Ely’s statistics aren’t gaudy. He completes 55.3 percent of his attempts and averages 229.8 passing yards in a balanced Toledo offense. In fact, he won’t be the most productive quarterback going into Saturday’s matchup. UMass fifth-year senior Blake Frohnapfel is the reigning all-MAC quarterback, throws 10 more passes per game and accounts for nearly 50 more yards.
Still, Campbell is quite content with his signal caller.
”He’s one of the great leaders that I’ve ever been around,” Campbell said. ”He’s been through so much on and off the field, and how he handled it – how he dealt with it – I think has really gained the trust of not only myself, but his teammates.”
Ely was a high school all-American and state champion at Plant High School in Tampa, Florida. After two years on the bench at Alabama, he transferred to Toledo and sat out the 2013 season. He won the Rockets’ starting job in 2014, but was lost for the season to a knee injury suffered in the second game.
Despite being limited this spring while recovering from knee and shoulder surgeries, he won the starting job from returner Logan Woodside again in preseason camp.
”He’s a guy that’s just been a remarkable, unselfish leader whether he’s been playing or not,” Campbell said. ”I think those things really lend to themselves to when you have the opportunity to play, you have complete and full confidence in that young person leading your football program.”
Ely doesn’t need to carry the offense for Toledo. The Rockets have three of the MAC’s top 10 rushers in Terry Swanson (94.4 yards per game), Kareem Hunt (86.3) and Damion Jones-Moore (65.2). He did have his best performance of the season in last weekend’s 63-20 win over Eastern Michigan, throwing for 327 yards and four touchdowns in less than three quarters of action.
”This Toledo team is probably as balanced as anybody in our league,” UMass coach Mark Whipple said. ”They make plays when it really counts. That’s what they did against us last year (a 42-35 Rockets win in Toledo). We missed a couple, they tend to make them. That’s what you see this year. It’s why they’re 6-0 and ranked No. 19.”
WARM-UP TIME: In their last three games, the Rockets have been outscored 13-7 in the first quarter before pulling away from their MAC opponents by outscoring them 69-3 in the second quarter. Rather than a slow start, Campbell prefers to call it an adjustment period. ”We have an ability to settle in, find out what teams are doing offensively and defensively and have the ability to adjust,” he said. ”A lot of credit there goes to our coaching staff, but also our kids’ ability to understand and execute any adjustments that we have to make in the game.”
LOST LEADER: Toledo leading tackler Jaylen Coleman will miss the remainder of the season after breaking a leg early in last week’s win over Eastern Michigan. ”I think he’ll make a 100-percent comeback and, knowing him, be ready to Rock n’ Roll and do a great job of leading his teammates through the (next) season,” Campbell said.
NFL SETTING: Saturday’s game will be held at the New England Patriots’ Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, where the Minutemen will play half of their six home games this season, with the remainder at 17,000-seat, on-campus McGuirk Stadium. Asked if playing in an NFL stadium excites him, Toledo wide receiver Cody Thompson said: ”It’s nice, it’s pretty cool, but we could play on a playground at a middle school and have just as much fun.” The Rockets played Cincinnati at Paul Brown Stadium last season.