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Published: 10/14/2013 - Updated: 6 months ago

UT ROCKET FOOTBALL

Navy’s run game top priority

Rockets use bye week to focus on triple-option

BY RYAN AUTULLO
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

The ole triple-option will make an appearance this week at the Glass Bowl.

From more than one team, perhaps, says University of Toledo coach Matt Campbell.

"I thought I was a guru of the spread. I thought I was a guru of the [I-formation]. Now I think I’m becoming a guru of the triple-option," Campbell said Monday as he readied his team for Navy. "So maybe you’ll see the Rockets open up in the triple-option some day."

Campbell flashed a grin as he made that comment, so presumably he wasn’t serious about putting Toledo into a football time machine and traveling to the days when the forward pass was all but criminalized.

Last week, with the Rockets decompressing on their bye week, Campbell oversaw the scout team offense charged with mimicking a Navy unit averaging a grand total of 12 pass attempts per game. The Midshipmen, who open as 7.5-point underdogs in this midseason nonconference tilt, rank 10th in the country in rushing and 120th in passing.

"It makes you be extremely sound and extremely disciplined," Campbell said. "It’s certainly a unique week."

Coordinator Tom Matukewicz, whose defense through six games has faced various spread and pro-style offenses, spent virtually none of the offseason preparing for Toledo’s first two opponents, Florida and Missouri. He spent considerable time however analyzing Navy, which went 8-5 in 2012 and won a bowl game.

"It’s a lot different deal," said Matukewicz, who coached the triple-option as Pittsburgh State’s tight ends coach in the late 1990s.

Toledo last encountered a triple-option attack two seasons ago when Air Force ran the ball 55 times out of 77 plays in the Military Bowl. The Rockets won 42-41 in Campbell’s first game as head coach. Only one defensive assistant, line coach Eli Rasheed, was on Toledo’s staff then. Eight players on this week’s defensive two deep were freshmen or sophomores on that team.

"I think Navy runs it a little better than Air Force does," senior end Christian Smith said. "They’re a good team, good defense, and they’re good at what they do."

Only two backs, Florida’s Mack Brown and Central Michigan’s Saylor Lavallii, went over 100 yards against the Rockets in the first half of the season. Toledo ranks second against the run in the Mid-American Conference at 142.7 yards per game.

These teams last played in 2001 when Toledo prevailed 21-20 in front of 36,852 spectators — the largest crowd to ever watch a game at the Glass Bowl. The Rockets, who are 2-1 all-time against the Midshipmen originally were scheduled to play a return game at Navy in 2015. Navy had to cancel because of scheduling issues that arose with its transition to the American Athletic Conference that same year.

Navy has six ball carriers with at least 100 rushing yards, none more than quarterback Keenan Reynolds’ 416. When their ground game is healthy, the Midshipmen (3-2) are hard to handle. They opened the season with 444 rushing yards in a 41-35 win over Indiana, a game in which Navy posted an absurd 71 to 5 run to pass ratio. Two weeks later the Midshipmen managed only 107 running yards and 3.2 yards per carry in a 19-7 loss to Western Kentucky. An injury to Reynolds may have influenced the poor performance as much as anything Western Kentucky did.

"They kind of got limited and it went south on them," Matukewicz said.

Turnovers — three of them — doomed Navy in its other loss, a 35-7 setback Saturday at Duke.

Sitting in the back of the room Monday when Campbell joked about bringing the triple-option to Toledo was star running back David Fluellen. Fluellen, who needs 154 yards to crack 1,000 for the second year in a row, gave no objection.

"I think it would be good," said Fluellen, who ranks in the top 10 of the country in several major rushing categories. "It forces the defense to play more disciplined and not take a play off. Any mistake the defense makes you can break for a long run."

BG TIME: The Oct. 26 game at BG will kick off at 2:30 p.m. and will air online at ESPN3.

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



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