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Thursday, November 27, 2014
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Published: Wednesday, 11/13/2013

SPORTS COMMENTARY

UT football in it for long, winning haul

Press Box had more scouts than press on Tuesday night.

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST

The Glass Bowl press box had more NFL scouts than press Tuesday night, which is fine. They came to see Buffalo outside linebacker Khalil Mack, a 6-foot-3, 250-pound senior who should give the Mid-American Conference a second first-round draft pick in as many years.

Yes, that’s who they came to watch.

What they saw instead was just a ridiculous display by both offenses, especially Toledo’s early on as it scored on all three possessions in the first quarter for a 21-0 lead en route to a 51-41 win.

The scouts came to watch No. 46 in the visiting white shirts and immediately sorted through their roster sheets to identify No. 3 in the dark blue.

Imagine their chagrin to learn UT’s Kareem Hunt is a true freshman. He’s a few drafts away yet.

Hunt had his fourth straight 100-yard-plus game with 6:00 left in the second quarter. He had 153 by halftime. Buffalo had just 131 yards and trailed 31-0.

David Fluellen, UT’s starting running back, could not play because of injury. Damion Jones-Moore carried one time, broke two tackles, scored from 53 yards out, then retired to the locker room, apparently dinged up.

So Hunt and quarterback Terrance Owens and receiver Bernard Reedy were the show — an eye-popping one at that — and Buffalo’s defense had no answers. The Bulls came in with a seven-game winning streak, its longest in one season since 1897, and undefeated in the MAC East.

No more and no more.

It was a big win for the Rockets for more reasons than just that, however. This score will be remembered when postseason bowl committees start jockeying MAC teams. UT is 7-3 now, same as Buffalo and Bowling Green, but with wins over both of them. It matters.

But what matters most of all is that next Wednesday night’s game remains very, very meaningful. Northern Illinois, the class of the MAC entering its home game today against Ball State, will visit the Glass Bowl next and the West Division title should be on the line.

If there are as many empty seats for that one as there were for this one, regardless of TV and chill of night, something will be wrong.

The Rockets are now 17-7 in all games, 11-3 in league play and 10-1 at home under head coach Matt Campbell.

Sounds like its time for a contract extension.

Wait, it’s taken care of. Campbell, just past the midway mark of his second full season, signed an extension in late October that has him under contract through the 2017 campaign.

“We wanted to show a sign to Matt and to his program of our commitment,” athletic director Mike O’Brien said. “Plus, recruiting season never really ends. So this was the right time for our recruits to see the same commitment.”

If the raw numbers aren’t enough, here’s the rest of the story on why Toledo fans should be as sold as O’Brien is on Campbell.

Owens, Reedy, center Zac Kerin, and defensive end Jayrone Elliott were among just six senior starters Tuesday night against Buffalo. Of the 44 players on the two-deep offensive and defensive rosters, 35 were underclassmen, including 21 freshmen and sophomores.

The NFL scouts will likely be back in a couple years for Hunt and some others.

The Rockets are not rebuilding. They are winning. And they appear built for the long run. O’Brien hopes Campbell will be, too.

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



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