The national ranking suggested they were the third-worst defense in the country. Not anymore.
PHOTO GALLERY: Battle of I-75: BGSU at Toledo
Complementing another scintillating performance by quarterback Terrance Owens, the defense was at times suffocating and at other times stingy on Saturday in a 27-15 win over Bowling Green State University.
A sold-out crowd of 28,115 at the Glass Bowl saw Toledo extend its dominance in the I-75 Rivalry, with all but a handful of them — bedecked in orange and brown — pleased to see the Rockets prevail for the third year in a row.
A beleaguered defense, one that was gashed for 1,150 yards against Arizona and Wyoming, didn't allow Bowling Green to cross the 50-yard line until the 6:45 mark of the second quarter. At that point, the Falcons had one first down and the score was 17-0.
"They've given us a chance in every game," Toledo coach Matt Campbell said.
For the second straight week, Owens played exclusively. For the second straight week, Campbell declined to anoint him the permanent starter. It seems like a formality, though, especially after Owens notched 300 yards for the second week in a row. His strike down the sideline on third-and-13 to Alonzo Russell opened the scoring. Russell, a redshirt freshman who already has displayed star quality, ran past defender DeVon McKoy to get open on the 66-yard score. They connected again for 34 yards on the first drive of the second half, setting up a 22-yard David Fluellen TD run that made the score 24-3.
Owens, who has tossed 15 touchdowns and zero interceptions in the last five games, wouldn't say if he deserves to be the full-time starter.
"It all boils down to being consistent," he said. "We'll see next week."
To say quarterback Austin Dantin didn't play would be inaccurate. He saw time on special teams, contributing all night on the punt coverage unit. Campbell praised his senior, offering that Dantin's willingness to take on a new role "says everything about Austin Dantin and his unselfishness."
Bowling Green coach Dave Clawson, who falls to 1-3 in this series, pointed to three critical plays that went against his team. The first was Russell's TD. The second came on Cheatham Norrils intercepting a Matt Schilz slant pass for Chris Gallon. The third, moments later, came on third-and-3 with Owens connecting with Fluellen for 14 yards to the 1 on a blown coverage. Fluellen (81 rushing yards) scored on the next play.
"Right there was 14 points," Clawson said.
Norrils, a sophomore from St. John's Jesuit, was superb. Highlighting his seven tackles was a stuff on third down and a stop in space on the perimeter. Norrils also smashed Je'Ron Stokes to dislodge the ball and force an incompletion.
"I think Cheatham's got the ability to be exceptional," Campbell said.
BG's Anthon Samuel totaled 112 yards and scored one of his team's two touchdowns on a 23-yard scamper early in the second half.
Schilz, who started to get hot at the end of the first half, was 24 of 36 for 216 yards. He did not throw a TD and was sacked twice.
Clawson made a curious decision after John Pettigrew's two-yard TD plunge, electing to go for two down by nine early in the fourth. Jordan Hopgood was stopped short. Kicker Tyler Tate missed an earlier extra point, and Clawson felt he had no choice. Tate, one of four scholarship kickers at BG, also missed a field goal of 36 yards.
"We've certainly invested in the position," Clawson said.
BG (1-2) travels to Virginia Tech this week, while UT (2-1) faces off at home against Football Championship Subdivision member Coastal Carolina.
Contact Ryan Autullo at: email@example.com, 419-724-6160 or on Twitter @AutulloBlade.