Monday, May 21, 2018
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Rockets defense No. 1 in MAC

It doesn't often happen that a college football team allows an opponent to score 44 points and the defense gets a free pass.

That was pretty much the case after the University of Toledo's 44-14 loss at Fresno State last week.

Fresno posted less than 250 total yards of offense, but scored once on a fumble return, once on a blocked punt, and twice on drives of less than 35 yards after Rocket turnovers.

Add in some poor play by special teams that allowed Fresno a couple of long kickoff returns and UT's defense was backed against its own goal line most of the night, thus being pretty much absolved of guilt.

"We didn't play badly," said Toledo outside linebacker Mike Chamberlain, "but we didn't deserve a free pass either. We had a lot of sudden-change situations and the field position wasn't good, but it's our job to be tough in the red zone and keep teams out of the end zone. We didn't do that.




"The way we look at it, our offense scored first and if we'd done our job from there we'd have won 7-0."

That would have made for a happier homecoming for Chamberlain, one of the two Californians on the UT roster.

That the game was against Fresno State made it even more special for the Sacramento product. His father, Brett, was the Bulldogs' kicker in the late 1970s.

"The outcome wasn't what I was hoping for, but it was still good to play in front of so many family members and friends," Chamberlain said. "There were a bunch of people, maybe 40 or 45, who came to see me. It was cool."

But now it's back to business with Eastern Michigan, the first of seven straight Mid-American Conference foes, visiting the Glass Bowl Saturday night.

UT ranks No. 1 in total defense among MAC teams, allowing just 307.8 yards per game. Buffalo is surrendering 383 yards per game and the other 10 league members are all allowing 400-plus yards.

"In our new defense, we're playing a lot better than we were a year ago at this point," Chamberlain said in something of an understatement. "We love the system and we've bought into it."

With new defensive coordinator Tim Rose changing the Rockets' scheme to a 3-4, Chamberlain is more of a tight-to-the-line outside linebacker than a safety, where he saw spot duty last season.

"I like being up on the line and I like all the blitzing we do," he said. "When you blitz, you have an opportunity to make a big play. It's been working for us so far."

Chamberlain, who came to UT before the 2004 season after one year at American River (Calif.) Community College, ranks fourth on the team in tackles and has three tackles-for-loss, including a quarterback sack, despite checking in at 6-2, 196 pounds.

"Undersized? As long as I get the job done, I don't worry about it," he said. "I think my speed makes up for any lack of size."

A year ago, UT's defense was reeling from one-sided, season-opening losses to Minnesota and Kansas when it opened the MAC schedule at Eastern Michigan. The Rockets won 42-32, but the defense was touched for a whopping 538 yards.

"I think our defense is much improved," said UT coach Tom Amstutz, "but we'll continue to find out a lot more in these October games. After the game Saturday we can compare the numbers against Eastern Michigan from one year to the next and, hopefully, see a big difference."

Chamberlain knows the Toledo defense will be under the gun.

"We know Eastern is capable of scoring points," he said. "I mean, look at the yards they put up against us last year. They're not going to be easy. It's going to be a tough challenge."

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