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Ohio State slapped them around. The following week Baylor did the same thing.
Two of the nation’s top teams, both currently unbeaten, humbled Buffalo in September before the Bulls embarked on a rollicking seven-game win streak to seize control in the Mid-American Conference’s East division. On Tuesday, before a national TV audience, Buffalo encountered the MAC’s version of Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes and Art Briles’ Bears.
PHOTO GALLERY: Rockets defeat Buffalo 51-41
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The University of Toledo, despite missing its best offensive player, filleted Buffalo’s powerful defense, scoring 38 points before the Bulls scored any in a 51-41 whitewashing at the Glass Bowl.
Ignore the relative tightness of the final score. This was a 31-0 game at half, at which time much of the announced crowd of 15,036 headed home, watching perhaps on TV and in warmer conditions a harmless final 30 minutes that produced six Buffalo TDs.
Toledo coach Matt Campbell’s biggest concern heading into this crucial series of championship-style mid-week contests was his team descending into a swoon like last year when the Rockets decelerated to the finish line, dropping three of four. Campbell’s squad this time around is as fresh as a minty smile, outscoring its last three opponents in the first quarter by a cool 49-0 — and doing virtually all of it without workhorse back David Fluellen.
"What a huge win for us, and our kids, and our football program," Campbell said. "To come in with such a big football game on a national stage and play like we did, I was really proud of it."
For the second straight game Fluellen’s injured leg kept him from participating. For the second straight game it didn’t matter. Precocious freshman Kareem Hunt went over 100 yards for the fourth game in a row, working in conjunction with Toledo’s line of 300-pound maulers for 186 yards on 31 touches.
"It was one of those games where we all knew it was a really good game plan," offensive lineman Greg Mancz said.
Toledo’s path to Detroit and the MAC title game jut got clearer. A Northern Illinois win tonight over Ball State, coupled with a Toledo home win over Northern Illinois in eight days will give the Rockets the chance to secure the West’s title game berth in the season-finale Nov. 29 at Akron. Toledo, whose win streak grew to five, continue to navigate a precarious high wire since losing at Ball State on Sept. 28.
"Real excited about that," linebacker Chase Murdock said of another huge late-season meeting with NIU. "We were just talking downstairs. We haven't beaten them in a while. We're real excited to get a chance to win one for the seniors."
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The Rockets (7-3, 5-1) wasted no time squeezing the drama out of a game they absolutely could not lose, scoring on their opening three possessions to go up 21-0. This first score came after Terrance Owens fired a bullet to Bernard Reedy, who torched Tomarris Bell, for a 59-yard TD. It marked the first of two 50-plus-yard hook ups by the senior captains.
Owens, who has been exceptional for a month, kept the ball on third-and-goal from the 4 to go ahead 14-0. Hunt’s block cleared an obstructed path to the end zone.
The scoreboard read 21-0 after freshman back Damion Jones-Moore spelled Hunt and rumbled 53 yards. Jones-Moore, who did not return after apparently suffering a concussion on the carry, broke two tackles, stumbled, maintained his balance, and finished the longest run of his career.
The avalanche of points, and the ease by which they came, defied everything we thought we knew about Buffalo’s defense. Led by ferocious linebacker Khalil Mack, the Bulls entered the evening ranked second in the MAC in scoring defense and total defense, and were the league’s stiffest unit against the run.
Buffalo (7-3, 5-1) led for all but 1:23 in its five other MAC games, all of which were wins by no less than 20 points. The Bulls surrendered 41 points combined in those games but avoided all of the MAC’s premier teams until meeting a Toledo squad playing meaningful games in November for the fourth year in a row.
The struggles of Buffalo’s offense were almost as confounding. The Bulls trailed 21-0 by the time they finally crossed midfield, undone by third-down dropped passes and the line’s inability to block nose tackle Treyvon Hester one-on-one. Murdock (16 tackles) used a clear path created by Hester to sack quarterback Joe Licata.
Branden Oliver, the program’s leader in rushing yards, ran into a wall in Toledo territory on fourth-and-1 at the end of the first quarter. Murdock and Allen Covington were credited with the stops.
Toledo went up 31-0 before halftime on a Hunt 15-yard run and a 32-yard Jeremiah Detmer field goal, which came after Marquise Moore recovered Buffalo’s failed hook-and-lateral with three seconds to go. That marked the first time Toledo blanked an opponent in a half in more than two years (second half at Temple on Oct. 1, 2011).
Toledo outgained Buffalo 350 to 131 yards in the half and outrushed the Bulls 205-16.
Buffalo finished with 601 yards, with Licata throwing for a school-record 497 yards.
"You never want to give up that many points and that yardage in the second half," Campbell said. "There's certainly things we can do better and we have to correct."
The Rockets scored two TDs after the break, on a 56-yard Reedy catch, and on a 44-yard run by sixth-string running back Ricky Pringle.