KALAMAZOO, Mich. — Laziness. Poor practicing. A failure by the coaches to prepare their team.
Various opinions were offered two weeks ago when the University of Toledo came out lifeless and proceeded to play a clunker in a win over a Football Championship Subdivision team.
If Saturday was a challenge to fix those shortcomings, consider the challenge fulfilled. Determined to not allow that meager performance to spill into the rest of the season, the Rockets played a brilliant first quarter to jump start a 37-17 win at Western Michigan.
In racing out to a 17-0 lead after one quarter, Toledo outgained the Broncos 259-14, picked up 12 first downs to zero, and harassed stand-in quarterback Tyler Van Tubbergen into three three-and-outs to start the game.
The Rockets, 4-1 for the first time since 2005, got 213 rushing yards from David Fluellen, three field goals from Jeremiah Detmer, and a defensive touchdown from reserve cornerback Jordan Haden.
They didn't come away unscathed, though, as All Mid-American Conference defensive end T.J. Fatinikun left early with an ankle injury. He did not return to action and was on crutches in the second half. His was wearing a protective boot on his left foot.
WMU (2-3), which had won nine straight at Waldo Stadium, turned the ball over four times. It didn't make a first down until 12:10 left in the second quarter, a small feat that elicited a mocking cheer from a crowd of 15,628. Van Tubbergen, playing in place of the injured Alex Carder, was out of sync with his receivers early, throwing four incomplete passes to start the game.
Fluellen was brilliant from the beginning, closing the first drive with a six-yard run and adding a 53-yard score later in the quarter. Sandwiched between them was a 20-yard field goal by Detmer. He also converted from 28 yards, which came after an illegal shift nullified a touchdown reception by Alonzo Russell, and from 23. An attempt from 52 yards was blocked.
Toledo, which finished with 521 yards on offense, led 20-7 at halftime.
WMU caught a break early in the second half when Toledo punt returner Dwight Macon inexplicably fielded a bouncing ball at the 1. He was thrown into the end zone for a safety. The Broncos couldn't take advantage of the extra possession, as Haden stepped in front of a pass and raced 63 yards to extend the lead to 27-9. It was one of three interceptions for the Rockets, with Mark Singer snagging one when the intended receiver fell, and Vladimir Emilien hauling in a deflected pass with one hand.
Van Tubbergen's lone TD pass came with three minutes left in the first half when he beat a blitz by Trent Voss and delivered a 22-yard strike to freshman Jaime Wilson.
Fluellen, who squashed his previous career high of 109 rushing yards, added his third rushing touchdown on a 22-yard scamper midway through the third quarter. At that point, the Rockets led 34-9, a level of comfort they never felt two weeks ago against Coastal Carolina.
Quarterback Terrance Owens was 22 of 33 for 243 yards, giving way to a rushing attack that produced 278 yards. Alonzo Russell, celebrating his 20th birthday, caught five passes for 87 yards.
Contact Ryan Autullo at: email@example.com, 419-724-6160 or on Twitter @AutulloBlade.