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Published: Saturday, 10/2/2010

Sucker punch shatters UT's high hopes

This was a sucker game from the start.

Toledo took a sucker punch right to its glass jaw Saturday night at the Glass Bowl.

Wyoming even spiced it up with a few sucker plays.

Toledo had won three straight. Wyoming had lost three straight. The odds-makers even played along by making the Rockets the favorites in a game for the first time since … well, our memory isn't that good. It had been awhile.

Yes, the Rockets were suckered in this one.

UT saw its winning streak end, 20-15, at the hands of Wyoming's Cowboys. It was a bit of a strange game in that Toledo barely competed for the longest while, then found some momentum and could have won on a couple of occasions near the end.

But if the Rockets felt recent success meant they had arrived, Wyoming returned them to sender. The good vibrations that drew 20,843 to the stadium on a gloomy, damp evening seemed to disappear by halftime, at which time a 17-0 deficit and a steady drizzle drove maybe half of the partisans to the exits.

Toledo's offense showed signs of life after a quarterbacking change late in the third quarter, but Wyoming held the home team at bay. And it's not going to get any easier for UT; if this was a sucker punch, next week's game at Boise State could be a knockout for the Rockets. They could have asked the Cowboys for some advice, since Wyoming lost at home to Boise 51-6 a couple weeks ago.

The 'Pokes also lost to Texas and Air Force as part of a three-game stretch known as big-time college football. UT had beaten Ohio, Western Michigan, and Purdue, and the best that can be said about that at this juncture is that two of them were Mid-American Conference wins.

The Rockets will be no worse than tied for the top spot in the MAC West when they return from Boise for back-to-back home games against Kent and Ball State.

What they'll learn at Boise remains to be seen, but what the Rockets should have learned Saturday night is that they're not nearly good enough to merely go through the motions for a couple or three quarters and then hope to dig their way out of the hole.

The offense, such a big part of the win at Purdue a week earlier, was totally out of whack, starting with a mistimed shotgun snap that zipped past quarterback Austin Dantin's ear on UT's first possession and resulted in a fumble that set Wyoming up for a 24-yard touchdown drive.

The rest of the half was pretty much a series of three-and-outs for Toledo. The Cowboys, meanwhile, ran a double-handoff reverse pass for a 33-yard touchdown and then used a trick formation to convert a short fourth-down run that led to a field goal just before halftime. Early in the third quarter, Wyoming coach Dave Christensen, a one-time UT assistant, caught the Rockets napping again with a fake punt that resulted in a 34-yard pass play en route to a field goal that bumped the lead to 20-0.

The Rockets did find a pulse when, late in the third quarter, coach Tim Beckman sent Terrance Owens into the game in place of Dantin, who was 8-of-20 for 76 yards. Owens nearly matched that with his first completion, a 53-yard bomb to Eric Page. Shortly thereafter, on the first play of the fourth quarter, freshman David Fluellen ran it in from six yards out and UT's offense had its first touchdown of the season at home after seven scoreless quarters.

Toledo would get another on an Adonis Thomas-fueled drive to cut the deficit to 20-15 and got the ball back almost immediately on an interception by free safety Mark Singer. There were seven minutes left, but the Rockets could do no more than turn it over on downs twice.

In the final analysis, it was too little focus at the start, too many penalties (nine for 71 yards) at key moments from start to finish, and too little too late for UT at the end. It was a sucker punch.

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at:dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.

Hack talks sports with Mark Benson on WXKR (94.5 FM) Thursday mornings at 8.


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