The Blade/Dave Zapotosky
Bowling Green State University’s rival referred to the school by name.
That doesn’t often happen, but it’s not often a Mid-American Conference team invades a Southeastern Conference football stadium and nearly makes headlines. The Falcons did that one year ago, an accomplishment of sorts the University of Toledo can’t help but respect as it prepares for the same challenge 12 months later.
The Rockets, who find themselves in an unfamiliar position as 23.5-point underdogs for their season opener, figure if Bowling Green could hang tough against vaunted Florida so can they. The Falcons led after the first quarter, trailed by three entering the fourth quarter, and ultimately fell 27-14 in the 2012 opener.
Toledo, playing its first game ever against a team from the SEC, is willing to find inspiration in the strangest of places. Such as 30 minutes to the south.
"It gives us motivation," quarterback Terrance Owens said. "Bowling Green’s out of the MAC. We’re in the MAC. Anybody can beat anybody. It’s college football."
Chalk it up to a moment of weakness that Owens called Toledo’s nemesis by name instead of the preferred reference: "The Team Down South." Bernard Reedy erred as well.
"I looked at it like that," Reedy said of drawing encouragement from the Falcons’ close defeat. "But Bowling Green’s a different team than Toledo. I just feel like if we go out and execute what we’ve been doing in practice we’ll come out with the win."
Reedy enjoyed himself at Monday’s news conference. The St. Petersburg, Fla. native spoke of wanting to prove himself against the Gators for not offering him a scholarship. He said he and his teammate at Lakewood High, Gators starting defensive end Dante Fowler, have been exchanging barbs. Reedy wouldn’t reveal specifics.
"I can’t really say that in front of everybody," Reedy said.
Asked if he thinks he can return a punt or kickoff for a touchdown, Reedy, who a year ago was named All-MAC at three positions, replied simply, "Yep." He had four scores off returns in 2012.
Reedy also revealed what he believes is the key to upsetting the No. 10 Gators.
"Late in the game they don’t go as hard as they do in the first and second quarters," he said. "I feel like if we can just keep the pressure on them we can eventually wear them down. They have depth, but they don’t have a lot of experience on their team."
Last year it was Bowling Green that withered away in the fourth quarter. Facing third-and-7 at midfield, quarterback Jeff Driskel found Hammond for a 50-yard score to go ahead 24-14 with 13 minutes, 18 seconds to go. BG responded with a three-and-out.
Driskel, who is back for his second year as starter, operated the controls of a ball-control offense that, combined with strong defense and special teams, enabled Florida to start 7-0 with SEC wins over Texas A&M, Louisiana State, and South Carolina. The Gators, in the second season under coach Will Muschamp and the first with offensive coordinator Brent Pease, finished the regular season 11-1 and ranked No. 4. A 33-23 loss to Louisville in the Sugar Bowl, a game in which the Gators fell behind early by 21 and were never competitive, is perhaps the biggest reason Florida is not getting more buzz as a national title contender. Ten Florida starters are back but only three on defense.
"You watched them early last season — and this shows you how good of a coach Coach Muschamp is — he played his cards tight to his vest," Toledo coach Matt Campbell said. "Through the first part of the season he got everyone comfortable with their roles, got them set, and by the time they got to the middle of their SEC schedule they started to play extremely well."
Campbell would prefer to see the team Bowling Green faced.
INJURIES: Out for the Rockets are three defensive players who would have gotten playing time: tackle Elijah Jones (blood clot), safety Jordan Haden (collarbone), and linebacker Jaylen Coleman (knee). All of them missed all or much of camp. Reserve running back Damion Jones-Moore (knee) is also out. He will return by the latest in two weeks against Eastern Washington, Campbell said.
Florida will be without two offensive starters — running back Matt Jones and right guard Jon Halapio. Jones ran for 275 yards a year ago in a reserve role. Halapio, a fifth-year senior, has started 33 games.