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Matt Campbell’s instincts going into the bowl season proved to be on the mark.
Sensing his Rockets might be picked for an early postseason game the University of Toledo football coach decided to schedule practices last week to ensure he and his staff would have adequate time to develop their underclassmen. That decision was right-on Sunday when UT drew an invitation to the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl on Dec. 15.
"Last week and last weekend we really attacked practice," Campbell said Wednesday, the final day he will speak with the media before the team arrives in Boise on Monday. "Looking back on it, I’m glad we did what we did last week."
The days leading up to a bowl game are designed to not only prepare for an opponent but to serve as a condensed version of spring ball, enabling the coaching staff to feed scout team players more repetitions than to what they are accustomed. Had Campbell given his team last week off, it is unlikely his younger players would have received much additional work at practice, as preparation for No. 18 Utah State must begin soon. The Potato Bowl, which is one of two bowls to kick off the postseason, is nine days away.
"That’s something that being a part of even the Division III level at Mount Union [you learn] just how valuable those days are to your program and to the youth of your program," Campbell said.
Campbell used last year’s practices before the Military Bowl to move Cassius McDowell from receiver to running back. McDowell is now the team’s No. 2 option in the backfield. Asked which underclassmen caught his eye last week, Campbell offered the names of freshmen Chaz Whitaker and Damion Jones-Moore. Whitaker, a backup safety, is poised to start next season in the strong safety spot currently manned by senior Jermaine Robinson. Jones-Moore, who redshirted, has drawn high praise since the preseason.
"Those guys, if it wasn’t for who was in front of them, would have probably had a more significant role this season," Campbell said.
SHORT YARDS: Campbell said he does not know new Northern Illinois coach Rod Carey but that he respects what the former offensive coordinator accomplished with the program. Carey, who has never been a head coach, was promoted Sunday after his boss Dave Doeren left for North Carolina State. ... Campbell said quarterback Terrance Owens is "certainly not 100 percent" from an ankle injury that sidelined him for the regular season finale against Akron. ... Playing an early bowl game could hinder recruiting, Campbell said, but he believes Toledo’s early success in landing prospects offsets any disadvantage. The class stands at 16 commitments and is expected to grow by as many as four more.