Posted: 9:49 a.m. Friday, Sept. 20, 2013
By Bryan M. Vance
Conference play is almost in full swing. With team's winding down their slate of non-conference matchups, next week marks the first full-fledged week of #MACtion, but that doesn't mean there isn't some appetizers to the main course this week.
The Toledo Rockets (1-2) limp into Mt. Pleasant, Mich., to take on a stumbling Central Michigan (1-2) squad in the first MAC matchup of the day. The game kicks off at noon and can be seen on ESPN GamePlan and ESPN3.
Before the season started this matchup looked like one of the better early season conference games...but then the season began. The Chippewas have been hit hard by the injury bug and have stumbled to regain their footing. They've looked clumsy in their lone win, an ugly come from behind victory over FCS foe New Hampshire, and book ended it with a pair of ugly losses. They were blown out by Michigan in Week 1, and suffered a meltdown of epic proportions last week against UNLV, blowing a 21-point lead to lose 31-21.
Meanwhile the Rockets have played well in what was easily the toughest first three weeks any MAC football school faced. But senior quarterback Terrance Owens suffered a sprained knee last week in Toledo's 33-21 victory over a dangerous Eastern Washington squad, and is still listed as questionable. There's a possibility he could play, but head coach Matt Campbell will make the decision on gameday, but he told The Blade's Ryan Autullo that he doesn't want to put Owens in a position to re injure himself. If Owens can't go true freshman Logan Woodside will get the start.
On Traditions Day at Kelly/Shorts Stadium the Chippewas could be in for a long one even if Owens can't play. David Fluellen has been steady as a rock in the backfield for the Rockets and currently leads the MAC in rushing with an even 300 yards in three games (including two against stout SEC defenses). Fluellen has already taken on a bigger role in Toledo's offense and against a CMU defense that has allowed an average of 174 yards per game on the ground, should be in for another big game.
Then of course there's still Bernard Reedy at slot for the Rockets. No matter who is at quarterback the senior will get his touches and is always a deep threat. Against UNLV Central Michigan's defense was torched in the second half, but has shone signs of promise.
The key to this game for the Chips not only relies upon whether or not Owens can play and trying to limit Fluellen's effectiveness but also in which Cooper Rush shows up. If it's the Rush that lead CMU to a come-from behind victory against New Hampshire two weeks ago, CMU should be able to put up points on a Toledo defense that's allowing just shy of 400 total offensive yards-per-game. But if it's the Rush that threw two picks against UNLV, it could be a long afternoon for CMU fans.
Though Rush has one of the best weapons in receiver Titus Davis who has established immediate chemistry with Rush. In two games Davis has caught three touchdowns and has 300 receiving yards. Getting him open and creating separation in the secondary will be huge for CMU's offensive game plan. The Chips also need Saylor Lavallii to continue to perform as Zurlon Tipton's replacement.
While Fluellen is the big name to watch from a running back perspective, Lavallii has quietly put up good numbers. He has 210 yards on the ground and 2 touchdowns, but will need to get going early to keep the CMU offense from being one sided and force Toledo to focus on the run game and not just locking down Rush.
Even with the injury woes both teams are dealing with, expect a high scoring affair. Neither team's defense is strong, and both feature multiple weapons on offense. But even with a high scoring affair, Toledo has more depth and experience and should be able to outlast the Chippewas in this one...despite CMU's cool new uniforms.