It is mid October and the Cincinnati Bearcats have still not had a true road game this season. As much as the Virginia Tech game was in their back yard, playing in a half filled FedEx Field and Lane Stadium are two different things. Saturday will be the first proper road trip of the season for these young Bearcats, and it will be a big test.
Toledo has been slowly building back to what they once were, the standard bearers of the MAC. They are certainly one of the most entertaining football programs in the MAC. When I think of #MACtion I tend to think of Toledo, and this game in particular.
While the main protagonists from that game for the Rockets are now gone, like Tim Beckman and Eric Page, this is still a team that is capible of producing MACtion of the highest level. In fact they did just that last week in a shootout with Eastern Michigan, of all possible teams.
By any conceivable measure the Toledo offense is one of the best and most explosive teams the Bearcats will face this season. Terrence Owens has firm control of the starting job, this after splitting time, reps and yards with Austin Dantin for the two previous seasons, and the Rockets offense does seem better off with Owens as the guy. The passing game does seem to be better off for the trouble. Owens is also having a bit of a breakout year, currently ranking 25th in passing efficiency.
There are no shortage of weapons in his arsenal either. Page monopolized the passing game last season, but this year the receivers are more democratic. Five different receivers have double digit receptions and 200+ yards. The play maker in chief is Bernard Reedy, who played second fiddle to Page last year, and he is coming off a monster game against EMU.
Even the running game is playing at level approaching last years group, despite losing Morgan Williams and the spectacularly named Adonis Thomas to graduation. David Fluellen is the reason why. The New York (state) native is approaching 800 yards rushing on the year, and has turned in three straight 100 yard games. This offense is balanced, explosive and very capible of giving UC fits.
Not as poised or capible of giving the Bearcats problems, the UT defense. The Rockets are 70th nationally, or worse, in scoring defense, total defense, passing defense, pass efficiency defense, and yard per play allowed. They are not very good. A couple of quotes from the coverage of their latest shootout with set the scene nicely.
Campbell, on behalf of his assistants, shouldered blame for not "putting our kids in the best position to be successful." He estimates 175 plays were run in the game, and that the Rockets executed well on all but maybe 25. A unit that has been sufficient stopping the run gave up 283 yards and four touchdowns to fourth-string back Bronson Hill, and allowed Tyler Benz to throw for 301 yards. Hill had touchdown runs of 47, 58, and 70 yards as part of a 27-point third quarter when the offenses engaged in a game of ping-pong. The Eagles mustered nine gains of 20 yards or more and five of 40 or more. Their 624 total yards matched Arizona’s output in the opener against Toledo.
●The teams combined for 55 points and scored four touchdowns a piece. Go figure, winless EMU had been shut out in third quarter in its five other games.
●They combined for 769 all-purpose yards, with EMU running 17 offensive plays and gaining 338 yards, and Toledo running 16 and gaining 243. The Rockets’ total does not take into account Bernard Reedy’s 89-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
Its not just that the Rockets give up yards, its the way they give them up, in big chunks. No team in the country has given up more plays of 10 or more yards than Toledo. If there is one thing the Rockets can hang their hat on defensively, its forcing turnovers. Thats enough to cause visions of Delaware State to dance in my head.
Toledo is a good team, maybe not in the conventional sense, but they do enough to win, particularly on third downs. They have a tremendous QB who will be able to control the game if UC can't get pressure. There are things to worry about with the Rockets, including Matt Campbell who is a rising star, and easily the best first year head coach this season.