Know Your Enemy: Toledo Rockets
Mizzou [1-0 / AP: NR / Coaches: RV] vs. Toledo [0-1 / AP: NR / Coaches: NR]
Sat., Sept. 7, 2:30 pm | TV: ESPNU | Faurot Field (Columbia, Mo.)
Series history: First Meeting
In 1991, Washington offensive coordinator Gary Pinkel was tabbed to replace Nick Saban, his former Kent State teammate, as head coach at Toledo. Over the next 10 seasons, the Rockets collected a school-record 73 wins, claimed a MAC title in 1995 and three more division championships (’97, ’98, ’00). Pinkel’s historic run in the Glass City caught the attention of Missouri athletics director Mike Alden, who hired him to revitalize Mizzou’s football program on Dec. 1, 2000.
“We knew that when we identified him as our guy that he was the right person,” Alden said. “With the type of reputation he’s built in this country, in football in particular, there’s no question why he appeared on the short lists.”
This Saturday, Pinkel will face his former employer for the first time since he arrived in Columbia, Mo. nearly 13 years ago.
“Toledo obviously, is a really good football program,” Missouri’s coach said during his weekly press conference. “They have a rich tradition of playing well outside of their league, beating a lot of good football teams. So we recognize that and have respect for that.”
No. 10 Florida ran all over Toledo’s defense, racking up 262 yards on the ground (112 from Mack Brown) en route to a 24-6 trouncing in Gainesville. The Gators averaged nearly six yards per play and registered two touchdown drives that spanned over 80 yards in length.
Things did not go much better on the other side of the ball. Toledo managed just 205 yards of total offense, while converting on just one of 13 third down conversion attempts.
“We didn’t execute some of the detail things that we of course want to execute, but I never saw our kids give up,” coach Matt Campbell said. “That attitude, that effort, the commitment level we preach, I saw it carry on for four quarters.”
Toledo in a Nutshell
Obviously, Toledo will pose a much stiffer test for the Tigers than Murray State did in week one.
On offense, the Rockets return nine starters from a unit that averaged nearly 32 points and over 445 yards per game last season, including its starting quarterback (Terrance Owens) and all-conference wide receiver Bernard Reedy. Toledo’s offensive line, which features two all-conference selections, should not be overlooked either.
While its offense is rated as one of the best in the MAC, Toledo’s defense is more of an unknown. The front four is very good and very experienced (3 seniors plus a crop of younger players who gained valuable playing time last season due to injuries), but its back seven is inexperienced—its two top linebackers are gone, as are three of its defensive backs. The Rockets will rely on middle linebacker Trent Voss and cornerback Cheatham Norrils to bridge the gap with the new starters.
Toledo’s special teams are spectacular. Its kicker, Jeremiah Detmer, garnered second-team All-MAC honors, while its punter Vince Penza averaged 40.5 yards per kick last season. Expect Mizzou to avoid kicking to Reedy, who matched Marcus Murphy with four scores on special teams (three times on kickoffs, once on punts).
Three ROCKETS to Watch
Quarterback Terrance Owens
Owens is a balanced quarterback who prides himself on accuracy and has the mobility to escape the pocket and pick up yards on the ground (747 career rushing yards) when necessary. As the primary starter last season, Owens threw for 2,707 yards and 13 touchdowns. For his career, the southpaw signal caller has completed over 64% of his passes and has a 45-15 touchdown to interception ratio.
Despite some of the gaudy numbers he has put up, he has struggled against BCS teams, completing just 54-110 of his passes (49.1%) for 584 yards, with two scores and two interceptions. Last week against Florida, he completed 17 of 38 passes with an interception.
Running back David Fluellen
A first-team All-MAC selection, Fluellen ran for nearly 1,500 yards with 12 scores last season and is considered one of the nation’s best tailbacks. He is a tough, physical runner who also has the ability to contribute as a receiver (third on team with 32 catches last season).
Wide receiver Bernard Reedy
Staying with the “all-around threat” theme—Bernard Reedy is dangerous both on offense and special teams. He hauled in 89 passes for 1,105 yards last season and gashed opponents for an additional 1,095 yards and four scores on special teams. While he is slightly undersized for a receiver, the shifty wide out is a natural at breaking off big plays and breaking tackles.
Perhaps his best highlight from last season came against Cincinnati when he scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 91-yard kickoff return late in the third quarter. He was one of the few bright spots for Toledo against Florida, catching seven passes for 50 yards.
This thing could turn into an old-fashioned Big 12 battle with the two squads finding the end zone on nearly every drive.
The Rockets’ prolific offense can beat teams in a variety of ways and should serve as a good litmus test for Mizzou’s defense, which allowed Murray State to rack up 195 yards in the first quarter alone. Like Missouri, Toledo looks to push the tempo, using its diversified stable of tailbacks (headlined by bruiser David Fluellen and the speedier Cassius McDowell) to set up the passing game.
Expect both teams to test the opposing secondary early on. The battle between EJ Gaines and Bernard Reedy will be fascinating, while Dorial Green-Beckham should be able to torch an inexperienced Toledo secondary (a few big plays early on from the home team would go a long way in shattering Toledo’s confidence).
This is one of those games where Mizzou has to set the tone early. The Rockets are a very talented team that could stun the Tigers if they are allowed to hang around late into the second half (see last year’s upset of No. 21 Cincinnati).
Obviously, it deserves some context, but Franklin looked great against Murray State, completing 26 of 38 passes for 318 yards and three touchdowns. He has an opportunity to match that performance this weekend against a porous Toledo defense. Of course, for that to happen, MU’s offensive line must hold up against the Rockets’ vicious front-four.
The two teams exchange touchdowns early on, but Mizzou seizes control late in the second quarter and coasts to an easy victory. Mizzou by 16Brian Haenchen founded Hank’s Sports Blog in 2009. You can follow him on Twitter (@Brian_Haenchen) or email him (firstname.lastname@example.org).