Culbreath: Rockets head for bowl game mash-upWritten by Matt 'Shaggy' Culbreath | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Potatoes? I love potatoes. Boil ’em, mash ’em, stick ’em in a stew.
The Toledo Rockets football team will play for a whole bowl of them on Dec. 15 at the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, a well-earned end to a season that started with a two-headed quarterback system, and an untested head coach, and ended with a clear leader under center, big names and one of the sharpest minds in the game on the sidelines.
(By the way, I’m not kidding about the bowl full of potatoes… while the bowl trophy is presented to the winners empty, it is normally displayed full of spuds. I wonder if the team who currently holds the trophy is responsible for paying for fresh ones.)
When the season started in September, there were three main storylines in the Glass Bowl. First was the ascension of Matt Campbell from offensive coordinator to head coach. He already had one win on his record. He led the team to victory in the 2011 Military Bowl after Tim Beckman jumped to Illinois (a move now considered by most analysts to be “a giant bleeping mistake”). The players were pumped when Campbell got the job, and rightfully so. The playbook would remain familiar, the players were already fans of Campbell’s coaching style and it’s pretty cool to have a coach on the same side of 40 years old as you are.
Once in the saddle, Campbell showed no fear in his game planning and play calling. Some rookie mistakes were made, but the same offensive intensity carried over from last year, propelling the Rockets to their nine regular season wins. That’s quite a feat when you consider the other questions on the offensive side of the ball.
The second big question going into the season was replacing the three big names in the offensive skill positions: Adonis Thomas, Morgan Williams and Eric Page. With Thomas and Williams graduating and Page jumping into the draft early (a move now considered … well, you know), that’s a total of 39 touchdowns from last year no longer on the team. We had a preview of who would step in to fill Page’s shoes during the Military Bowl, where Bernard Reedy caught three touchdowns in the win. This year, #1 has nine TDs to his name, but with the bowl game to come, he could add to that total. At the running back position, David Fluellan bided his time behind Thomas and Williams before having a breakout year with 13 TDs of his own. Also stepping up was Alonzo Russell, a redshirt freshman who became Toledo’s secret weapon. His 6-foot 4-inch frame could easily get to passes his defenders couldn’t get to, helping him to find the end zone eight times this season.
The final question was who was going to get these skill players the ball. Throughout the 2011 season, the Rockets employed the services of both Austin Dantin and Terrance Owens as quarterback. In most systems, 2 QBs are a nonstarter. In Toledo, it was business as usual. Once the season started, however, Campbell decided he didn’t like what he saw. After utilizing both passers in the Wyoming game, he decided Terrance Owens would be the starter for the rest of the year. Dantin would get some reps on special teams, but wouldn’t see any significant playing time until Senior Night against Akron, where he stepped in for an injured TO and threw for more than 300 yards and five touchdowns.
Did the season play out how the Rockets wanted to? Not really — after winning eight in a row to become nationally ranked, they then dropped games to Ball State and Northern Illinois to fall out of contention for the Mid-American Conference title. Those losses really burn deep after seeing the champion Huskies selected for the Orange Bowl, the first ever MAC team to play in a BCS game. A bowl game is a bowl game, though, even if it’s on the Smurf Turf in Boise, Idaho. While the WAC Champion Utah State Aggies will certainly test the mettle of the Rockets, they’re the only thing standing in the way of Toledo finishing with 10 wins this year, a feat not accomplished since Tom Amstutz’s first season as coach in 2001. If they can get that win at the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, well that would just be Yukon Gold.