Tuesday, Nov 21, 2017
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David Briggs

Rockets use their mulligan in embarrassing loss

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    Toledo’s Marcus Whitfield and Zach Quinn bring down Ohio’s A.J. Ouellette. The Bobcats' rushing attack was key in a 38-10 win over the Rockets, UT's first MAC loss.

    ATHENS MESSENGER/LOUISE FISH

  • BRIGGS-MirrorsOnSport-12

ATHENS, Ohio — Alabama coach Nick Saban calls the nice things reporters write about his football team “rat poison.”

Toledo’s Jason Candle knows the feeling.

“It gets harder every week,” he told the poisonous press before the Rockets’ showdown at Ohio University on Wednesday, “because [the players] have to sit in front of you guys, and you guys get to tell them how great that win was against Northern Illinois, how great that comeback victory was against Tulsa, how ... “ 

Sorry, coach.

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Toledo’s Marcus Whitfield and Zach Quinn bring down Ohio’s A.J. Ouellette. The Bobcats' rushing attack was key in a 38-10 win over the Rockets, UT's first MAC loss.

ATHENS MESSENGER/LOUISE FISH Enlarge

We’ll make it up to you.

In the interest of balancing out our praiseful prose, here’s the truth about the Rockets’ exasperating 38-10 loss at Peden Stadium.

It was horrible, no good, very bad, embarrassing, awful, pick an adjective.

A day that began with golfers squeezing in their final rounds of autumn on the next-door university golf course along the Hocking River ended in the frozen night with Toledo asking for a mulligan.

The only good news for the Rockets is they will get one.

The outcome mattered little in the bigger scope. Face it, Toledo had no chance of playing in a marquee bowl game. The school’s first Mid-American Conference title since 2004 has always been — and remains — the thing.

Despite the stunning lopsidedness of this matchup between the league’s top teams in the East and West, the Rockets (8-2, 5-1 MAC) should still be headed north for the conference title game. They need only to beat Bowling Green and four-loss Western Michigan to clinch the West title and a likely rematch against Ohio in the Motor City.

But, and this is a big but ...

Does anyone still feel confident about that rematch?

The Rockets made too many mistakes early — including two turnovers in the first half — and no plays late, a 10-7 deficit at halftime devolving into their most one-sided beatdown since a 35-point loss at Northern Illinois in 2010.

Like Ohio State on Saturday, Toledo folded when things didn’t go just their way in an unfamiliar environment. But make no mistake: The result was no fluke decided by a momentum swing or two.

The Rockets team that had chainsawed through the league never got off the bus. Ohio abused UT on both lines, sacking Logan Woodside four times and holding the visitors’ league-leading offense to 316 yards while doing as it pleased against the Rockets’ reputedly improved defense. By the end, Bobcats were not so much running through holes as rivulets. 

A complete walkover.

“This responsibility falls on my shoulders,” Candle said. “This isn’t on anybody else. It’s my job to get the team ready to play and play hard and play physical. I thought at times we did that and at other times we were flat.”

Our instinct is to cast this off as one bad night. There is good reason the Rockets have not completed a perfect league season since 1971 — the last of their three straight undefeated years.

It’s hard for pro teams — let alone ones made up of 18- to 22-year-olds — to be dialed in every week. Nights like this befall every team not coached by Saban.

If there was one league game we guessed Toledo would lose, it was this one.

All the elements were there. A natural comedown after a big home win. (Ask the school in Columbus about them apples.) A short week of preparation. A road venue where weeknight crowds require both hands to count. (The stadium — if not our glass — was half full!)

Not to mention a pretty good Ohio team.

The Bobcats won at the Glass Bowl last year for the first time since 1967, and with lithe sophomore quarterback Nathan Rourke a better driver of their option offense, better this season.

But this was not just another defeat. (And that’s not even to mention the uncertain status of star running back Terry Swanson, who left the stadium on crutches after a second-quarter injury.)

This was the kind of rattling night that will require a gifted Rockets team to take a hard look inward.

Color us curious to see how they respond, including in that potential rematch against Ohio. The guess here is they will. 

For the Rockets’ sake, you just hope the sequel is better than the original. 

Contact David Briggs at dbriggs@theblade.com419-724-6084, or on Twitter @DBriggsBlade.

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