Freshman Kareem Hunt runs the ball through a pack of Eastern Michigan defenders on Saturday at the Glass Bowl. The Willoughby, Ohio, native gained 168 yards in his first career start. Hunt now has rushed for at least 100 yards in three consecutive games.
They are bruised and bloodied again to begin November.
This time the University of Toledo football team believes it is better equipped to handle late-season attrition.
Emphasis on building depth has coach Matt Campbell confident his team won’t experience a redux of last year’s late-season tumble when the Rockets followed a Top 25 appearance by losing three of four.
Five starters missed Saturday’s 55-16 trouncing of Eastern Michigan with an injury, the largest number of top-line Rockets to watch a game this season.
Returning to health is a priority — but not necessarily a necessity — between now and next Tuesday when Buffalo comes to the Glass Bowl for a matchup that will bring clarity to both divisions in the Mid-American Conference.
Buffalo (6-2, 4-0 MAC) hosts Ohio (6-2, 3-1) today in a battle for the East lead.
Stand-ins in Toledo’s starting lineup have acquitted themselves well, a reflection of several seasons of quality recruiting and Campbell’s quest to one day identify 44 players — 22 on each side of the ball — capable of playing at a championship level. They’re closer to reaching that threshold than at any point in the past five seasons.
“Our first three years one of the things we were lacking was when a couple of guys went down we couldn’t recover,” Campbell said of his three seasons as offensive coordinator. “I think you saw a little bit of that last year.”
Injuries to quarterback Terrance Owens and running back David Fluellen blunted the offense’s execution in setbacks to Ball State, Northern Illinois, and Utah State. Losing linebacker Dan Molls in the bowl game was another blow to a defense that sputtered to the finish line with a threadbare line that went through much of the season without three starters.
Fluellen is again hurting, but his replacements — freshmen Kareem Hunt and Damion Jones-Moore — are an upgrade from a year ago when Campbell summoned receiver Bernard Reedy to the backfield for the bowl game. Hunt posted his third consecutive 100-yard game Saturday, rumbling for 168 yards and two scores in his first career start. Jones-Moore went for a career-high 67 yards and a TD.
Campbell said Fluellen, who missed the EMU game with a leg injury, should be available for Buffalo, “but to give you an exact on that would certainly not be fair.”
Backups forced into starting roles the last two weeks included freshman Marquise Moore, who took over for defensive tackle Orion Jones (concussion), and freshman DeJuan Rogers, who replaced safety Ross Madison (knee). Moore had a sack in both games.
Madison and Jones could return next week.
Only one player, linebacker Trent Voss, has been declared out for the season.
“We lost a couple of key players this year, too, but I feel we’re a little healthier than last year,” defensive end Christian Smith said.
TV NOTE: UT’s hope of playing Buffalo on national TV hinges on the outcome of the game between the Bulls and Ohio. A Bulls win will move the UT-Buffalo game to ESPNU. If Ohio wins, UT-Buffalo will air online on ESPN3 and the Ohio-Bowling Green game that same night will get ESPNU coverage.
DETMER HONORED: Kicker Jeremiah Detmer was named MAC West special teams player of the week after making a couple of 20-yarders Saturday to up his season success rate to 93 percent (14 of 15). He also recorded six touchbacks. Detmer, who is perfect from 40 yards and farther, also was announced Monday among 20 semifinalists for the Lou Groza Award as the nation’s top placekicker.