TOLEDO, OHIO – The Toledo Rockets on Saturday sent a message throughout the Mid-American Conference that they would be the team to beat in 2015 as they routed the Kent State Golden Flashes, 38-7, at the Glass Bowl.
Toledo (5-0, 2-0 MAC) is off to its best start since 2001. The Rockets are nationally ranked (24th in the Associated Press poll) and defeated KSU for the fourth time in the last five games of the series.
“I was proud of our kids as they responded to adversity.” Rockets head coach Matt Campbell said. “The adversity through four quarters of football. I am happy with the win, but we have a lot of work to do.”
Kent State (2-4, 1-1 MAC) suffered its third loss in the last four games and has not defeated UT at the Glass Bowl since 1977 a span of 11 games.
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On a perfect football Saturday, it was the Flashes who got the early breaks. The first came on the opening kickoff when Rockets kick returner Diontae Johnson picked up the ball at this own 11, broke though the first line of tacklers and went down the left sideline 89 yards for an apparent touchdown. There was, however, a penalty on the play as UT was called for an illegal block below the waist, negating the touchdown.
The KSU defense forced a three-and-out before getting its second big break. In punt formation, the snap from Brad Spelman to P Nick Ellis went over his head and bounced into the end zone. Ellis attempted to grab the ball, but it bounced away again and into the hands of sophomore Ryan Siebert for a KSU touchdown and a 7-0 lead.
From that point on, the home team took control.
Toledo tied the score late in the first period when senior QB Philip Ely engineered a six-play 71-yard drive that ended with a three-yard screen pass to junior WR Corey Jones, who went into the end zone untouched.
UT took the lead for good early in the second quarter on a six-play 75-yard drive which was aided by a key 15-yard personal foul penalty. It was one of nine major fouls that would frustrate the Flashes all afternoon. The drive reached the KSU 23 before sophomore RB Terry Swanson went off left guard and into the end zone for a 14-0 lead.
On the drive after the touchdown, junior QB Colin Reardon started to move the Flashes offense. Thanks to a 46-yard pass play to redshirt freshman Raekown James, the drive moved from their own 28 to the UT 25. However, freshman PK Shane Hynes missed a 41-yard field goal.
The Rockets would add to their lead after the missed field goal. Taking possession at their own 25, Ely used a 35-yard pass completion to Cory Thompson and a short runs reached the KSU 24 before the Flashes defese stiffened. PK Jameson Vest came on and converted a 41-yard field goal to make the score 17-7.
UT broke the game open on its next possession. Swanson broke off an 88 yard run as the went off left guard and broke into the open. When the KSU defenders closed in, Swanson went laterally and then to the right sideline, where he was knocked out at the two. He would end the afternoon with 161 yards on 14 carries and a touchdown
The drive ended when junior Kareem Hunt went in untouched for the score to make the margin 24-7 in favor of the Rockets at halftime.
Toledo added a second touchdown from Hunt in the third quarter on a one yard run. Hunt, who had missed the last two games with a hamstring injury, rushed for 85 yards and the two scores.
Almost all of the pregame talk centered about the two defenses, who were not only two of the best in the MAC, but in the entire Football Bowl Subdivision. When the day ended, it was the Rockets defense that deserved the spotlight.
The UT defensive 11 held KSU to 257 total yards. The Rockets forced 11 punts, an interception, and three three-and-outs. The deepest penetration the Flashes made into Toledo territory was the 25 yard line. That was one of just two trips to the past midfield all afternoon.
“We beat ourselves today.” Junior FS Nick Holley said. “We left a lot of plays out there…We had a lot of missed assignments.” Holley led the KSU defense with 15 total tackles (11 solo).
The inability of the KSU offense to move the ball in the first half forced a quarterback change as Reardon was replaced by redshirt freshman George Bollas. He moved the ball a bit better but could not put any points on the scoreboard. It marked the third time this season, the Flashes offense could not score a touchdown (at Illinois and at Minnesota were the others).
Another part of the Flashes downfall was penalties. They drew nine flags. Several were personal fouls that helped UT score points on two of their possessions.
Next week, Toledo hosts Eastern Michigan while Kent State heads to Massachusetts to battle the Minutemen.