SPECIAL TO BLADE/CHUCK MILLER Enlarge
SPECIAL TO BLADE/CHUCK MILLER Enlarge
MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. — Sharing was the theme to University of Toledo’s latest win.
Two quarterbacks split snaps. Two running backs stampeded the defense. Two linebackers knocked the stuffing out of the quarterback. One receiver dominated the stat sheet, letting another bask in the spotlight of the Internet.
Call this 38-17 victory Saturday at Central Michigan a collaboration of collaborative efforts.
"For four quarters, that’s the most consistent I’ve seen us play in a year and a half," coach Matt Campbell said.
The 21-point differential was the widest of any Toledo win since the 2011 season. UT forced four turnovers, converted 75 percent of third down chances, and ran for 252 yards in the prelude to this week’s key Mid-American Conference West showdown at Ball State.
Quarterback Terrance Owens, who did not start the game one week after spraining his knee, replaced true freshman Logan Woodside on Toledo’s fifth series and orchestrated a 96-yard touchdown drive to put the Rockets in front 21-7. Toledo, which has beaten CMU the past four years after losing five in a row, never trailed in the game.
Owens, who wore a thin protective brace on his left knee, will start this week, according to Campbell. The coach added Woodside got the start because he took the majority of reps early in the week at practice. Woodside threw six passes, completing three for 27 yards.
"We knew he was going to play," Campbell said of Owens, who entered with nine-plus minutes left in the first half. "We kind of said all week we were going to bring him in."
Owens was 5-for-5 on his initial series and found Bernard Reedy (eight catches, 96 yards) for 44 yards. Owens hooked up with Alonzo Russell for a spectacular one-handed touchdown catch in the back corner of the end zone. With his left shoulder being tugged by a defender, Russell reached with his right hand to snare the ball and pull it into his chest. Video of the 3-yard reception soon sprouted on the Internet.
"That was a tremendous catch," said Owens, who was 13 of 17 for 139 yards and zero turnovers. "Throughout the week he caught two passes like that in practice. Same exact pass."
Owens, for obvious reasons, did not run the ball. He was not sacked but he did absorb a hardy hit or two.
Toledo converted 9 of 12 third downs for its highest percentage since converting 78.6 percent in 2007 against Northern Illinois.
A couple of fourth quarter runs ensured Toledo’s sixth straight win in a MAC opener. Freshman Damion Jones-Moore took a direct snap on third-and-1 and carried a defender into the end zone for a 15-yard score to go up 31-17 with 13:51 to go. Owens found Dwight Macon on third down earlier in the drive.
David Fluellen ran from four yards with 5:02 left to put the score out of reach at 38-17. Fluellen was a handful for the Chips, racking up 197 yards and two touchdowns on 32 attempts.
"I feel like I get stronger with each carry," said Fluellen, who topped 100 yards for the third straight week.
The defense continued its ascent, feasting on a CMU offense with injuries to its best player at quarterback, running back, and left tackle. Linebackers Chase Murdock (two sacks) and Junior Sylvestre each blitzed freshman Cooper Rush to force a fumble. Sylvestre recovered both including one he turned into a 22-yard touchdown in the first quarter.
"Someone’s going to be freed up and I was the one to be freed up," said Sylvestre whose 12 tackles tied Murdock for most on the team.
Murdock and Ray Bush each picked off Rush after Rush apparently didn’t see the linebackers patrolling the middle of the field.
"They’re [defensive backs] in linebacker bodies," Fluellen said. "That’s how athletic they are."
Toledo turned three of the four turnovers it caused into a touchdown, the first coming on a 2-yard Fluellen run after Murdock intercepted Rush on the opening drive.
Rush, who began the year as CMU’s third quarterback, was 14 of 24 for 214 yards. Chippewas running back Saylor Lavalli ran for 144 yards.