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Published: Sunday, 10/6/2013 - Updated: 9 months ago

ROCKETS NOTEBOOK

Veteran leadership paces offensive line

BY RYAN AUTULLO
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
UT’s wide receiver Bernard Reedy catches a pass as Western Michigan’s safety Demetrius Pettway gives chase. UT’s wide receiver Bernard Reedy catches a pass as Western Michigan’s safety Demetrius Pettway gives chase.
BLADE/JEFFREY SMITH Enlarge

University of Toledo football players have tomorrow off from practice, but their coach knows he will walk into the film room and see his offensive linemen huddled around the film projector.

Every last one of them.

“That’s impressive,” Matt Campbell said. “That’s veteran leadership.”

Their footage has been a joy to watch, and the tape from Saturday’s 47-20 beatdown of Western Michigan will be no different. Bolstered by perhaps the Mid-American Conference’s premier offensive front, Toledo ran wild on homecoming at the Glass Bowl, averaging a whopping 9.2 yards per carry, most of which were the product of a sensational day by David Fluellen.

There are only a handful of ways to quantify the impact had by a line. One is sacks allowed, and Toledo’s front has surrendered just three in six games. Another is rushing totals, and Fluellen’s numbers speak well to the success of the 300-pounders charged with creating his lanes.

Fluellen, after notching 200 or more yards for the fourth time in his career, did as he often does and praised center Zac Kerin, guard Greg Mancz, and the other guys up front whose collaborative efforts have made his job easier.

“I just think it’s because of all the experience we have up front,” said Fluellen, who totaled 220 yards and tied a career high with four touchdowns. “Zac Kerin’s been really, really strict on these guys in the summer, making sure they do everything they can to put themselves in the best situation to start the season.”

Fluellen, who went over 100 yards for the fifth straight game, didn’t play in the fourth quarter, clearing the way for younger backs to get some work. Freshmen Kareem Hunt and Damion Jones-Moore had 48 and 43 yards, respectively. Cassius McDowell added 24.

The collaborative result — 360 rushing yards on 39 attempts — was largely a function of a line with four multiyear starters. Fluellen said guards Jeff Myers and Rob Lisowski, and tackles Josh Hendershot and Chase Nelson, have raised their production to a level comparable to All-MAC honorees Kerin and Mancz.

“That’s what you see out there,” Fluellen said.

Campbell said he sees “a lot of similarities” between this year’s line and the one from 2011 that guided the Rockets to a top-10 ranking in total offense. That unit, which featured three seniors along with Kerin and Mancz, surrendered only 10 sacks.

“The offensive line in any football program — it doesn’t matter if it’s Toledo or wherever — sets the tone for the entire program,” Campbell said. “Their work ethic. Their attitude. Their effort. It’s the foundation of who you are.”

INJURIES: Several notable players did not suit up because of injuries. Safety Jordan Haden, who made his season debut last week at Ball State, re-injured the collarbone he broke in fall camp. Campbell called him “week to week.” Out with ankle injuries were receivers Justin Olack and Rodney Adams. Linebacker Ethan Kagy, who appears in third-down packages, suffered an undisclosed injury a week ago.

Reserve safety Danny Larkins appeared at receiver, presumably because of the injuries to Olack and Adams. Larkins, who played the position last year while redshirting, caught two passes for eight yards.

NAVY GAME: Toledo at last catches a break on its schedule. The upcoming bye week provides additional time to strategize for Navy’s vaunted triple-option. Navy ran for 273 yards Saturday to improve to 3-1 in a 28-10 win over Air Force. The Midshipmen entered the day averaging 301 yards on the ground.

“It’s nice to have a little bit more time, there’s no question,” Campbell said. “We have the utmost respect for the football team coming in here in two weeks.”

Campbell said his team’s experience with the triple-option from playing Air Force two years ago should help.

“It’s fast and furious,” he said.

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



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