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MAC play now focus for UT football team

Rockets are 3-1 after a challenging non-conference schedule

As the calendar turns to October, the University of Toledo football team will shift its focus to Mid-American Conference play.

Since the beginning of this season, Toledo has had its sights set on the league championship. After navigating a difficult nonconference schedule, the Rockets sit at 3-1 and begin the quest for their first MAC title since 2004 with a home game Saturday against Eastern Michigan.

“Our non-conference got progressively harder as it went,” UT coach Jason Candle said. “We started out with an FCS opponent [Elon] that had some talent and has done well. Then we moved on and went out to Nevada which provided its own set of challenges in handling a trip and a new coaching staff. We came home to play Tulsa and their explosive offense and then we went to Miami, Florida. So it got progressively harder and coming out of the bye week and into this week of practice, each week is going to present its own set of challenges.”

With a week off last week, the Rockets had a chance for self-evaluation and to heal nagging injuries. However, Candle said while the focus now shifts to MAC play, it is important not to lose the value of the day-to-day.

“In a lot of ways with the bye week falling when it did, there is a little bit of a clean break,” Candle said. “But we’re about routine here. We’re about staying the same day-to-day and making sure our work is really good and winning each day. We must handle what we are supposed to do here each and every day. We have to continue to do that.”

Eastern Michigan is the first of eight consecutive MAC games and the UT players are ready for the rigors of the conference.

“I’m excited to start conference play,” UT senior defensive tackle Marquise Moore said. “It’s like a whole other season to come in and start playing conference play. The guys are excited and we’re fighting for what we want to accomplish.”

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Candle knows the Rockets will need to be at their best each and every week the rest of the regular season.

“Everybody we play from here on out, there is going to be a lot of parity in our league,” Candle said. “Every school that we go up against in recruiting, we are going to play the next eight straight weeks. It’s about who can handle that process the best and who can get the most production out of their days leading up to those eight opportunities.”

INJURY UPDATE: Toledo will be without starting defensive end Tuzar Skipper and starting offensive lineman Yazeed Atariwa as both suffered season-ending injuries.

“It’s hard from the emotional and personal level of it and for selfish reasons because you feel for the young person,” Candle said of dealing with injuries during the season. “You feel for the young man and their family, because they put a lot into this. As far as the team goes, it’s to be expected a little bit. It’s part of it. You can’t make excuses for it and you can’t feel sorry for yourself, because no one else is going to when it comes to your team. The next man has to step up and you hope that that person has done the work to put himself in the position to be successful.”

Contact Brian Buckey at: bbuckey@theblade.com419-724-6110, or on Twitter @BrianBuckey.

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