Listless showings in the Florida and Missouri games threatened to define the 2013 University of Toledo offense.
Instead, two other games did.
Line up the best defenses the Mid-American Conference has to offer and the Rockets are liable to mow them down, which they’ve done twice now in must-have late-season games.
A star-studded cast with designs in the preseason of taking an eraser to the program record book has been on an incremental uptick, coalescing in a merciless stomping of the MAC’s second-ranked defense in Tuesday’s 51-41 win over Buffalo.
The evening played out much like the Bowling Green contest from last month when the Rockets ambushed their rival for three quick touchdowns to go up 21-0. BG entered that day with the conference’s top-ranked defense, a perch it has not relinquished and likely won’t considering the damage Toledo inflicted Tuesday on the Falcons’ closest competition.
“I think our offense took a lot of hits early in the season, but last time I checked Missouri’s really good, and Florida’s really good on defense,” Toledo coach Matt Campbell said after his offense posted 300-plus rushing yards for the fourth time in five contests. “Sometimes people don’t understand what those guys are going against. It’s hard offensively to be in rhythm early in the season. You always naturally get better offensively as the season grows. Hopefully people are appreciative of the offense and what those guys have done here because it’s pretty impressive.”
Toledo, winners of five in a row, needed Northern Illinois to beat Ball State on Wednesday in DeKalb, Ill., to continue its trek toward the MAC title game. A Ball State win will have eliminated the Rockets.
Take away losses in the first two weeks to Southeastern Conference members Florida (24-6) and Missouri (38-23) and Toledo is averaging 40 points per game. Point totals in those seven games include 55, 51, 47, 45, and 38.
Escaping slumps in that time are two seniors captains. Quarterback Terrance Owens had five touchdown passes and six interceptions in the first seven games. He has eight TDs and zero picks in three games since. His favorite target, Bernard Reedy, caught five of his six TD receptions in the past five games. Two of them came Tuesday on deep post routes for gains of 59 and 56 yards.
“We feel if we can catch the safety sitting flat-footed we can get it,” said Reedy, who needs 264 more yards to reach 1,000 for the second straight year.
Tuesday’s 551-yard, six-TD performance stands perhaps as Toledo’s top offensive performance in the 23 games under coordinator Jason Candle. The Rockets scored TDs on four of their first five series and never ran into trouble against linebacker Khalil Mack, the likely MAC defensive player of the year.
Buffalo, which bid farewell to a win streak that grew to seven, had been surrendering 20.7 points and 363.9 yards.
“We have a great offensive coaching staff,” Campbell said before heaping praise on Candle, running backs coach Louis Ayeni, line coach Tom Manning, and quarterbacks coach Scott Isphording. “I think we’re really blessed to have the guys that are coaching on the offensive side of the ball.”
All of those coaches minus Manning were around in 2011 when Eric Page, Adonis Thomas, and Campbell as coordinator helped author the greatest offensive season in Toledo history, averaging 42.2 points.