HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Talk all you want about new-fangled offenses and spread receivers and hocus pocus where coaches go for the rarified air and try to pull rabbits out of hats.
Talk all you want about the University of Toledo's defense showing its warts in big games.
When push came to shove last night, UT's football team did the pushing and shoving the same way Rocket teams have done it for most of the last four decades.
They lined up against Marshall's Thundering Herd, looked 'em in the eye across the trenches and pounded 'em into submission.
Frank Lauterbur and Jack Murphy and Danny Simrell sat in front of their TV sets and lapped it up, no doubt.
This was UT football. No Rocket science. Just Rocket domination.
Toledo 24, Marshall 17. At Marshall University Stadium. No small feat, friends.
The Herd was 95-5 in this ballpark. They were 50-1 under coach Bob Pruett. They were 38-1 since joining the Mid-American Conference.
Let's change those numbers to 95-6, 50-2, 38-2.
“That's tough to do, man,'' coach Tom Amstutz said. “They expect to win here. You know what? We expected to win here, too.''
And here is how UT did it.
The defense bent and bent and bent, then caused three fumbles, picked off two passes, and slammed the door in Marshall's face not once, not twice, but three times on fourth-down plays.
With 6:44 left, UT free safety Patrick Body put some serious body on Marshall running back Franklin Wallace and knocked the ball loose for teammate Paul Dye to recover.
The Rockets followed with an 11-play drive. Ten of them were runs.
Toledo football, past and present. Coach Stutz might have a playbook thicker than the Manhattan phone book, but, hey, he is Tom Toledo.
“In the fourth quarter they put it in our hands,'' said 6-5, 305-pound offensive tackle Nick Kaczur. “I can't explain the feeling that gives the offensive line. That's what we all want. Give us the ball. Let us run it. Let's see who wants it most.''
Quarterback Bruce Gradkowski ran for five yards. Then Trinity Dawson. On third down, a short pass to Lance Moore for a first down into Marshall territory. Three carries by Astin Martin and it was fourth-and-inches at the Herd 34. Gradkowski runs a quarterback option play for the first down and you could hear a pin drop.
Amstutz wipes his brow, but he is probably playing to the national TV cameras because this is how Toledo has won football games for years and years and years.
Marshall puts 10, even 11 men in the box, so close to the line of scrimmage that those Herd defenders could smell the breath and see the streams of sweat pouring down the faces of Kaczur and 352-pound Erik Faasen and the guards, Darric Randolph and Tim Dirksen, and the center, David Odenthal.
Maybe they saw the Rockets' eyes, too, and knew there was nothing they could do to prevent what was happening. Not even in their own house, where nobody gets the better of the Herd.
Dawson carries three straight and the ball is at the 15. Neither team has a time out and Gradkowski is milking the clock before each snap and Marshall finally jumps offside. Then Martin goes 10 yards untouched up the middle, every blocker in sync, and UT has the lead.
“We had to play to burn up the clock,'' said Amstutz, whose team rushed the ball 47 times for 269 yards. “We believed we could run the football and we did it well enough to win. Yeah, a few of those snaps looked like the old days.''
Toledo has been winning MAC championships since the 1960s. But Marshall, justifiably, has been the program all league teams are measured against since it returned to the fold in 1997.
It must be noted, however, that the Rockets have now won three of the last four meetings. UT took a stunning 42-0 decision in 2000 and put the razzle in the dazzle en route to a dramatic 41-36 victory in the '01 MAC championship game.
Last night was different. Last night, the Rockets won the good, old-fashioned way. They spit on their hands, rolled up their sleeves, did a little blood-and-guts number on 'em.
Toledo football. In Marshall's house.
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