The Larimer Athletic Complex received its first true test of durability Saturday night. More than 100 voices rattled the foundation of the building while singing the University of Toledo fight song following the Rockets’ 54-20 victory over New Hampshire, which was loud enough to be heard outside of the building.
The newly minted building, much like the Rockets, remained standing after a short spell of uncertainty.
Toledo was outplayed by New Hampshire in the first quarter-and-a-half, and some worry began creeping into the Glass Bowl crowd after Toledo fell behind, 14-3. For the team's part, there only was calm. UT responded with its first touchdown and, from there, the points kept coming.
Quarterback Phillip Ely hit receiver Corey Jones on a perfectly executed mid-range route for a 64-yard touchdown, and a certain heaviness was lifted from Toledo. It was the beginning of seven straight touchdown drives, a 51-6 Toledo run, and the genesis of the Rockets' 1-0 start.
“I just think, maybe, it allowed everybody to breathe for a second,” Toledo coach Matt Campbell said. “What I appreciated, though, is really up until that point we did some things where we — coaches, players, all involved — we just had to get ourselves into a rhythm.”
Rhythm might be an understatement. For the rest of the night, nearly everything Toledo tried worked.
New Hampshire struggled to bring down Kareem Hunt, Damion Jones-Moore, and Terry Swanson, all of whom rushed for more than six yards per carry. The Rockets' offensive line dominated the line of scrimmage, and Ely completed a number of throws against tight coverage.
Once the Rockets had their first score, Ely said the offense began playing the way it had hoped.
“I think everyone just locked in at that point,” he said.
“I think everyone knew we could do this, knew we could drive the ball, do whatever we needed to do. It was just good to see, like I said, us executing the right assignments on each play.”
The defense turned around its day, too. The Wildcats converted 8 of 10 third-down attempts in the first half, but they were only 2-of-7 in the second half.
New Hampshire had 14 points in its first three drives. The Wildcats got six points the rest of the game.
“We know we have to get off the field on third down,” UT linebacker Ray Bush said. “We just focused on what we can do right to get off the field. It was just mainly mental mistakes we were making, and they were capitalizing on them.”
In the bigger picture, Toledo was enthused by how little the 11-point deficit changed its outlook.
At no point was there panic on the Toledo sidelines and, to the Toledo players and coaches, that was indicative of the turnaround that would allow the Rockets to turn the game into a blowout.
“Our guys were still on the sidelines, they were still ready to go. No one was hanging their heads,” outside linebacker Trent Voss said. “That's what you have to do, is play through adversity. Every game has adversity. We really handled that well, and that was impressive to me.”
Remaining mentally involved in the game was the point of emphasis for the Rockets in the off-season.
“I thought for four quarters, we kept our composure. We had consistent emotion through the game, which is something we've talked about a lot here over the offseason,” Campbell said.