Rockets Close Out Regular Season at Akron With Much at Stake
TOLEDO - In the aftermath of last week’s defeat to No. 16 Northern Illinois, two facts remain clear for the Rockets: 1) they still have a challenging game ahead of them at Akron, 2) the outcome of that game could be very meaningful.
Toledo (7-4, 5-2 MAC) plays at Akron (4-7, 3-4 MAC) on Friday, Nov. 29 at 12 noon. The Zips, who have won three of their last four games, are probably better than their record. They came within one play of beating Michigan and only lost by seven, 27-20, at NIU.
The Rockets lost to the Huskies, 35-17, on Nov. 20, knocking them out of the MAC West title race. However, Toledo is still trying to position itself for a bowl bid; an 8-4 record would greatly improve its chances for post-season play.
The NIU game saw the return of senior running back David Fluellen. Fluellen, who spent a month on the sidelines with a lower leg injury, ran for 54 yards on 15 carries vs. the Huskies. Despite missing most of three games, he still ranks fourth in the MAC with 1,121 yards rushing and leads all ball-carriers with a 6.7 yards per carry average. The Rockets’ defense also features two of the top three tacklers in the MAC, junior linebacker Junior Sylvestre (10.0 tackles/game) and sophomore Chase Murdock (9.9).
Akron has the league’s No. 3 defense (397.8 yards allowed per game). Seniors Nico Caponi (seven sacks) and Albert Presley (six sacks) lead a very good Zip defensive front line.
Back Story on the Akron Game
• This will be just the 18th meeting between these two schools, with Toledo holding a narrow 9-8 advantage. The Rockets won a tight game in last year’s regular-season finale, 35-23, at the Glass Bowl.
• The Rockets are 25-6 in MAC play over the past four years, with a perfect 11-0 mark vs. schools from the East Division. Toledo has lost to just two league opponents in that span, Northern Illinois (4) and Ball State (2).
• Strength vs. strength: Toledo ranks second in the MAC in rushing (241.5 yards/game) while Akron ranks fourth in rushing defense (158.1 yards allowed/game).
• Senior running back David Fluellen, who is third in the MAC with 124.6 rushing yards per game, returned to action vs. NIU on Nov. 20 after missing two games and most of another due to a lower leg injury. Fluellen, who hurt his leg in the first quarter of the BGSU game on Oct. 26, is still in pain and is not likely to play vs. Akron, Head Coach Matt Campbell said on Monday.
• Toledo is 7-4, 5-2 MAC following a 35-17 defeat to Northern Illinois on Nov. 20. The loss snapped a five-game Rocket win streak.
• The NIU loss knocked Toledo out of the race for the MAC West crown and gave the Huskies their fourth consecutive division title.
• Toledo is in third place in the MAC West Division, behind Northern Illinois (7-0) and Ball State (6-1), but the Rockets are the only team to beat the top two teams in the MAC East, Buffalo and Bowling Green, which both sport 6-1 league marks.
• With seven wins, the Rockets are bowl eligible for the fourth consecutive season. UT went bowling in each of the past three seasons: Little Caesars Pizza Bowl (2010), Military Bowl (2011) and Famous Idaho Potato Bowl (2012).
• Toledo led at the half vs. NIU, 10-7, but three first-half turnovers stopped the Rockets from having an even bigger lead. NIU quarterback Jordan Lynch rushed for three touchdowns in the second half to lead the Huskies.
• The Rockets rank fourth in the MAC in scoring offense (33.4) and total offense (452.7 yards/game). UT also ranks second in rushing offense (241.5). Akron ranks No. 3 in total defense (397.8) and No. 4 in rushing defense (158.1).
• Toledo’s offensive line has allowed just five sacks this season, the lowest total in the nation.
• Senior running back David Fluellen returned to the starting lineup after sitting out the last two contests due to injury. He finished the NIU game with 15 carries for 54 yards.Fluellen is third in the MAC and ranks ninth in the nation in rushing yards per game (124.6). Head Coach Matt Campbell said that Fluellen is "doubtful" to play vs. Akron this Friday.
• Senior WR Reedy has now caught at least one pass in 37 consecutive games. He leads the Rockets with 59 receptions and is in fifth place in school history with 192 career catches.
• Junior LB Junior Sylvestre is tied for first in the MAC and tied for 17th in the nation with 10.0 tackles per game.
• Senior DE Jayrone Elliott is second in the MAC with nine sacks and 13.5 TFL. His five forced fumbles is tied for the most in the country.
• Toledo is 10-2 at home and 7-6 in road/neutral-site games under head coach Matt Campbell.
• In Campbell’s 25 games as head coach, 11 have been decided by seven points or fewer. UT is 7-4 in those games.
• Junior kicker Jeremiah Detmer has connected on 18-of-19 field-goal attempts, including his last 12 in a row. Over the past two seasons, he has been successful in 35 of 36 attempts.
ABOUT THE ZIPS
• Akron is 4-7, 3-4 in the MAC. The Zips have won three of their last four games, most recently a 14-13 decision at UMass on Nov. 16.
• Akron has come close against some notable opponents this season, losing at Michigan, 28-24, and at Northern Illinois, 27-20.
• The Zips rank 10th in the MAC in scoring (19.2) and eighth in total offense (341.8). On the flipside, Akron ranks third in total defense (397.8) and fourth in rushing defense (158.1).
• The Zips are led by sophomore quarterback Kyle Pohl, who has completed 207-of-373 passes for 2,179 yards and 11 TDs. On the defensive side, senior lineman Nico Caponi (seven sacks) and Albert Presley (six sacks) form a 1-2 punch on Zip defensive front.
• This will be Toledo’s first visit to Akron Infocision Stadium, a 30,000-seat stadium built in 2009.
• Akron is coached by Terry Bowden, who won a national championship at Auburn in 1993. Bowden left coaching in 1998, had a 10-year career in broadcasting, then returned to coaching in 2009 at North Alabama. He joined the Zips in 2012, and has a 5-18 record in two seasons.
Toledo holds a 9-8 edge, including a 35-23 triumph in Toledo last season. Because Toledo and Akron are in opposite divisions in the MAC, they rarely play, having met just three times in the previous 14 seasons. The last meeting in Akron in 2008 was played in the Zips’ final season in the old rubber Bowl. Akron won that contest, 47-30, just days after UT head coach Tom Amstutz had announced his retirement.
LAST YEAR: Toledo 35, Akron 23
Like a Senior Night script from "Friday Night Lights," seniors Austin Dantin and David Pasquale came off the bench and led the Rockets to a 35-23 victory over Akron in their final game at the Glass Bowl.
Dantin started at quarterback for injured junior Terrance Owens, completing 29-of-35 passes for a career-high 327 yards and five touchdowns. Pasquale, a reserve for his entire career at quarterback and running back, came off the bench to rush for 93 yards on 15 carries. He also caught seven passes for 110 yards and scored on a 55-yard Dantin pass in the second quarter.
Like most good Hollywood scripts, the victory did not come easy. The Rockets trailed 10-0 in the first quarter and needed to rally to win the game.