No. 22 Toledo looking at running game by committee
TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) It’s safe to assume that figuring out a running back rotation wasn’t high on Matt Campbell’s preseason to-do list. After five games, the Toledo coach is dealing with exactly that as his No. 22 Rockets prepare for Saturday’s noon game against Eastern Michigan.
With All-America contender Kareem Hunt returning from his 1,631-yard performance as a sophomore, he was expected to be the Rockets’ feature back. After serving a season-opening suspension for a violation of team rules, he did carry the load in a win over Iowa State. But he injured a hamstring late in that game, forcing him to the sidelines for two more weeks.
In Hunt’s absence, Campbell said sophomore Terry Swanson (56 carries, 375 yards), junior Damion Jones-Moore (52-244) and junior Marc Remy (24-147) have earned continued playing time. Swanson has back-to-back 100-yard games after splitting carries with Hunt in his return to the lineup last week against Kent State.
”Kareem getting healthy excites all of us because we know what kind of player he is,” Campbell said. Of the others, he added ”it’s our job to find their roles for them and continue to make sure we get those guys on the football field and allow them to be productive for us.”
Whoever carries the ball Saturday will face Eastern Michigan’s historically poor rushing defense. The Eagles are allowing a nation-worst 360.3 rushing yards per game. In the past 10 seasons, only two teams (New Mexico State and Georgia State, both last season) have allowed more than 300 yards per game.
”It’s been a weekly issue for us that we’re obviously trying to get better at,” said Eastern Michigan coach Chris Creighton, whose team had 18 missed tackles last Saturday in a 47-21 loss to Akron. ”(Stopping Toledo) is a tall task … it’s something we need to get better at and we’re going to be working on it full force.”
Here are some other things to watch when the Eagles (1-5, 0-2 MAC West) travel to the Glass Bowl to play the Rockets (5-0, 2-0):
GET OUT OF THE SACK: Toledo is one of two teams in the country that has not allowed a sack this season, the other run-happy Air Force, which has attempted only 49 passes. Not bad for an offensive line with five new starters.
”That’s a group that’s still a work in progress,” Campbell said. ”Obviously, we’re a lot closer to where we want to be.”
Toledo quarterback Phillip Ely, who has completed 92 of his 172 passes, said part of the success is due to the Rockets’ scheme.
”Not being sacked is a credit to the O-line really working hard, but also a credit to this offense moving fast and getting guys in the right spots so we can get the ball out quick,” he said.
Eastern Michigan defensive coordinator Brad McCaslin noted that getting the first sack against the Rockets is ”a fantastic challenge to have” and that ”I know our guys will be very hungry to capitalize on that.”
EVERYBODY KEEP CALM: Toledo opened last week’s game against Kent State with a pair of special teams mistakes when a touchdown return of the opening kickoff was called back because of a penalty and, three plays later, a bad snap on a punt was recovered by Kent State in the end zone. Those were the only points the Rockets allowed in a 38-7 win. ”I think that showed the maturity of our football team. Nobody panicked, we kind of just stayed the course and kept playing,” Campbell said. ”Football is a game of highs and lows. . You’re identified by how you’re able to handle those highs and lows, and I thought our kids really did a good job of that.”
BIG GAME MOTIVATION: Creighton hopes playing at nationally ranked Toledo has the same effect on his team as its trip to Baton Rouge to face then-No. 9 LSU on Oct. 3. The Eagles played well for chunks of that 44-22 loss, trailing 30-22 at the end of three quarters, before falling apart in a 47-21 loss the following week against Akron. Creighton said his team lacked intensity in preparation for that game and in ”Saturday juice” on game day.
”Honestly, our best football is pretty good. It really is. But we have to get to that state every week,” Creighton said. ”That’s hard to do, but that’s nevertheless what we have to do because if we’re not at our best, we’re not a great football team.”
HOMETOWN FOE: Eastern Michigan quarterback Reginald Bell, who led the Eagles in passing and rushing yards last season, practiced this week for the first time since breaking his jaw in a season-opening loss to Old Dominion. He will be active on Saturday in Toledo. Brogan Roback, who graduated from nearby Toledo St. John’s Jesuit High School, is still expected to make his fifth straight start.
RED ZONE BATTLE: The Rockets rank second nationally in red zone defense, allowing one touchdown and three field goals to opponents in their 13 trips inside Toledo’s 20-yard-line. Eastern Michigan has scored on 17 of 19 trips into the red zone, including 15 touchdowns.
AP College Football website: www.collegefootball.ap.org