The University of Toledo football team will step foot in its own stadium Saturday as underdogs to the University of Miami.
The No. 21 Hurricanes come to the Glass Bowl as double-digit favorites in front of what should be a hostile UT crowd.
So what has to break right for Toledo to pull off the upset?
While no upset win is the same, a look back at some of Toledo’s significant nonconference wins at the Glass Bowl reveals some insight into what past UT players and coaches were feeling leading up to and during those victories.
In 1997 as Toledo hosted Purdue at the Glass Bowl, UT offensive lineman Colin Westrich was making his first career start. Looking face-to-face at Westrich across the line of scrimmage that day was Boilermakers All-America defensive end Rosevelt Colvin.
Instead of feeling overwhelmed and trying to do too much, Westrich said he calmed himself down, trusted his technique and preparation, and relied on the teammates that lined up beside him.
Westrich and the Rockets did more than hold their own against Colvin and the Boilermakers; they were in control for most of the 36-22 upset win in the first game coached at Purdue by Toledo-born Joe Tiller.
“It takes a mind-set with everybody on the same page,” Westrich said. “With football being the ultimate team sport, you can’t have a few guys that are into it and some that aren’t.”
Rockets quarterback Chris Wallace also was making his first career start and threw for 254 yards and two touchdowns.
“We weren’t in awe of playing a Big Ten opponent,” Wallace said. “We were really ready for what they would bring to us. When we came out, they lined up exactly how we thought they would. We kind of came out and hit them. You can’t get caught up looking at the scoreboard. You just have to be comfortable with the game plan and believe in what you are doing and that’s how you pull off games like that.”
With Tom Amstutz at the helm, Toledo pulled off perhaps its biggest upset by topping Larry Fitzgerald and the No. 9 Pittsburgh Panthers 35-31 in 2003.
In that game, UT quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, who grew up in Pittsburgh but wasn’t offered a scholarship by the Panthers, threw for 461 yards and three scores.
“Bruce was excited to play Pittsburgh,” Amstutz said. “He was ignored or shunned or not offered by Pittsburgh. He had that extra motivation to prove what he could do. I think he got that feeling across to the whole offense that they had something to prove. He stepped up huge in that game.”
That game came down to the wire, with Gradkowski finding Lance Moore on a 9-yard touchdown pass with 43 seconds left.
Amstutz said he was confident going into the game Toledo could challenge Pittsburgh, and he knew it would take a four-quarter effort to do so.
“I felt before the game started that we would have a chance to play with Pittsburgh,” Amstutz said. “Your players have to play with enthusiasm and you have to have a few things go your way. You have to get really good play from your quarterback. Your offensive and defensive lines have to meet the challenge of playing against really talented players.”
In 2015, Toledo was coming off a road upset of a ranked Arkansas team and was riding a wave of confidence when Big 12 foe Iowa State came to the Glass Bowl for the second game of the season.
Led by Kareem Hunt’s 129-yard rushing performance, the Rockets held off the Cyclones 30-23 in double overtime. The win against Iowa State gave Toledo two wins versus power-conference teams for the first time in school history.
“We continued to play hard, and that wasn’t just play hard to get the lead and realize we are in it,” then-UT linebacker Trent Voss said. “We had to play hard for four quarters and in that case, five. At the end of the day, we were more bought in than them and we were more confident and we finished the game off the way we started.”
UT quarterback Phillip Ely led Toledo in that game, and he said the Rockets were not intimidated.
“What has to happen is there has to be an understanding that they have 11 guys and we have 11 guys,” Ely said. “There is nothing special that they are doing. They play the same game that we do. You have to put yourself on the same level as them. You can’t hold a team like that on a pedestal.
“I always had an underdog mentality and it has always kind of been Toledo vs. the world.”
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