Saturday, Nov 18, 2017
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Toledo faces upstart Akron to begin second half of season

Rockets are in good position at midpoint of season

At the halfway point of the season, the University of Toledo football team is in a very familiar place. At 5-1 overall and 2-0 in the Mid-American Conference, the Rockets have the exact same record as they did a year ago.

Last season, however, the Rockets went just 4-3 down the stretch, and UT coach Jason Candle said this team needs to pay attention to the details and continue to improve.

“No one is handing out any awards for how good you are at the midpoint of the year,” Candle said. “We’ve been in this position before, and we sat here last year with the same type of record. And honestly, from here on out last year, we were a .500 club, so we have to identify what we are not doing well and fix it and keep learning from our experiences, whether they are positive or negative.

“Up to this point in time, I have learned that I think our team has done a good job with that. The challenge becomes, ‘Can you continue that?’ ”

With all the hype that came in the preseason with UT as the overwhelming favorite to win its first MAC title since 2004, Candle said that can be tough to handle for some teams.

“If things don’t go exactly how they are scripted or you are not as good as maybe people tell you you are, how are you going to handle those situations?” Candle said. “Our guys have handled some adverse situations, and we’re off to a good start in conference play.”

To start the second half of the season, Toledo welcomes Akron (4-3, 3-0 MAC) to the Glass Bowl on Saturday. The Zips sit atop the MAC East standings and are coming off a big win against defending conference champion Western Michigan on Sunday.

“It’s a hot football team right now,” Candle said. “They are playing really well and got a big win [Sunday], probably the biggest win in a conference game in the last two years. It’s a stiff challenge for our football team, and we have to be ready to go. They are playing good team football. They are playing hard, and they are seeing the benefits of that.”

The Zips have already matched their conference win total from last season, and after winning 14-13 at Western Michigan, they should be a confident group heading into the Glass Bowl.

“That was a good win for them, and I feel like they have a good team and are going to be confident coming in here,” UT senior defensive tackle Marquise Moore said. “It’s going to be a good game. They just beat the MAC champs from last year. Of course, they are going to come in here with a chip on their shoulder at 3-0 in the conference.”

Akron coach Terry Bowden knows the importance of this game for his Zips. He recalled how big it was in 2013 when Akron upset Toledo.

“My second year in 2013, we beat Toledo in our place, and that was as big of an upset as I’ve been around at Akron,” Bowden said. “We weren’t very far along in the development of our program at that point.”

Bowden said winning conference games this season has given his team more energy as they prepare for a big game at the Glass Bowl.

“We drew the two toughest teams in the conference from the other division,” Bowden said. “That was just our draw, and they are on the road. We just have to line up and play. Our kids are excited. Nothing is more fun than winning, and all of a sudden practice becomes more fun.

“You still have to work and stay focused, but when you win it is a little more enjoyable. There is a little more bounce to your step. If we can go and beat Toledo and Western Michigan on the road, then I guess that would make a statement.”

For Toledo, the stretch run begins with an Akron team that has their full attention.

“You get to this point of the time in the season, it’s who can maintain their routine the best from here on out and give themselves a really good chance to play well down the stretch,” Candle said. “This week will be no different. It’s not really about the opponent anymore, because all the opponents are good. It’s about handling the details of what things look like in your own locker room and keeping things moving in the right direction.”

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

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