Composure, penalties end Toledo Rockets’ 8-week win streak

University of Toledo RB David Fluellen scores a touchdown against Ball State during the fourth quarter Tuesday at the Glass Bowl in Toledo..
University of Toledo RB David Fluellen scores a touchdown against Ball State during the fourth quarter Tuesday at the Glass Bowl in Toledo..

The law of av­er­ages sug­gested the Univer­sity of Toledo foot­ball team at some point would walk away from the short end of a close game.

Few teams can crawl over a mine­field week af­ter week and avoid suf­fer­ing wounds, though the Rock­ets had jeop­ar­dized the va­lid­ity of that logic be­fore they were stung Tues­day at the Glass Bowl.

For the past sev­eral weeks, and re­ally all sea­son, Toledo was cool in the face of ris­ing fourth-quar­ter tem­per­a­tures, rou­tinely turn­ing in mo­men­tous plays that be­came the guts of an eight-game win streak that cat­a­pulted them into the na­tional pic­ture.

Com­po­sure, a buzz word coach Matt Camp­bell uses to at­trib­ute his team’s crunch time the­at­rics, was ab­sent on a chilly mid­week loss to Ball State, 34-27.

The No. 23-ranked Rock­ets were pe­nal­ized 10 times, in­clud­ing two that erased first-half touch­downs. The de­fense, which usu­ally stamps its im­print with a stop or a turn­over at an op­por­tune mo­ment, failed to get off the field three times on third down in the fi­nal quar­ter.

And a coach­ing de­ci­sion proved re­gret­ta­ble. Camp­bell passed up a chip-shot field goal with six min­utes to go that would have given his team the lead, and the of­fense failed to con­vert.

"Some­thing al­ways is go­ing to hap­pen in the game where you have to over­come ad­ver­sity," said run­ning back David Fluel­len, who leads the na­tion with 1,381 rush­ing yards af­ter reg­is­ter­ing 200 more Tues­day. "That’s what we did in past games. We weren’t able to han­dle ad­ver­sity."

Some will make the case Toledo (8-2, 5-1 Mid-Amer­i­can Con­fer­ence) lacked fo­cus, its minds fix­ated on its first na­tional rank­ing in 11 years and on next Wed­nes­day’s show­down for the West ti­tle at North­ern Il­li­nois. That seems to be a lazy ex­pla­na­tion, given that Toledo’s play was not not a dras­tic drop­off, if at all, from wins the past month over Buf­falo, Cin­cin­nati, Eastern Mich­i­gan, and Cen­tral Mich­i­gan.

In each of those games, the out­come was traced to a crit­i­cal play or se­quence. Against Ball State (7-3, 4-2), which un­like Toledo has en­dured a daunt­ing con­fer­ence sched­ule, that mo­ment never came. The Car­di­nals con­verted twice on third down on the game-win­ning touch­down drive, the first af­ter Keith Wen­ning slipped loose for 19 yards into Toledo ter­ri­tory. Four plays later, Zane Fakes snagged a dif­fi­cult catch to move the chains on third-and-3.

Fol­low­ing Jah­wan Edwards’ 15-yard rush­ing TD, Toledo’s of­fense man­aged just three yards on four plays to end the game.

The Rock­ets out­rushed BSU by 145 yards and won the turn­over mar­gin three to one. What they didn’t do was re­pro­duce the magic they’ve shown so many times be­fore with the out­come sway­ing in the bal­ance.

"They’re a good foot­ball team and it re­ally came down to their guys mak­ing key plays in crit­i­cal sit­u­a­tions and we didn’t make them," said line­backer Dan Molls, who recorded 16 tack­les to up his to­tal to a na­tion-lead­ing 132.

Had it emerged vic­to­ri­ously, Toledo would’ve cap­tured the West ti­tle next week with a win at North­ern Il­li­nois. As it is, ad­di­tional work must be done. Wins over the Huskies, who de­nied the Rock­ets the di­vi­sion ti­tle the past two years, and a week later against lowly Akron re­mains the only path to Detroit.

NIU (9-1, 6-0), which has not lost since an 18-17 set­back to Iowa in the opener at Chi­cago’s Soldier Field, has out­scored its op­po­nents 406 to 197. Quar­ter­back Jor­dan Lynch, whom the uni­ver­sity is tout­ing as a Heis­man Tro­phy con­tender, might be the best of­fen­sive player the Rock­ets have seen.

"We’re not go­ing to make ex­cuses why we can’t go out there and win a foot­ball game," Molls said. "Un­for­tu­nately we have to make a long trip. We have to play them in their sta­dium. But that’s how it goes. We’re go­ing to have to pre­pare bet­ter than we have be­fore and we’re just go­ing to have to come out ready to play with an ex­treme amount of fo­cus. We have the guys that can do it and we have the se­nior lead­er­ship that can get us in the right spot to win that foot­ball game."

Con­tact Ryan Au­tullo at: rau­tullo@the­, 419-724-6160 or on Twit­ter @Au­tul­loBlade