Cincinnati faces their second MAC team of the season this weekend. You’ll hear it a thousand times between now and 7 pm Saturday but this is a quintessential trap game for the Bearcats. Why? Well while the Rockets are in the MAC conference they are an upper-echelon program with enough offensive firepower to score on every possession and enough experience to not fear a BCS program. Plus the much anticipated matchup with the Louisville Cardinals in the annual Keg of Nails game is right around the corner and Cincinnati is in danger of looking past the Rockets.
It’s never a good idea to look past any team and Toledo can easily take advantage of that. But outside of the Rockets’ ability to score a boatload of points and pile up hundreds of yards with ease, I honestly don’t know much about them. So to better my education about Cincinnati’s next opponent and hopefully give you some insight into what the Bearcats will be facing on Saturday night, I commandeered the help of Let’s Go Rockets, a storied Toledo blog that has been following the program for years.
So without further delay, here is the initial Q&A to get you ready for Toledo:
Bearcats Nation: The Toledo football program is top-notch, from facilities to coaches to talent. How have the Rockets been able to build a MAC powerhouse despite being constrained by a MAC-like budget? What’s your secret?
Let’s Go Rockets: The secret is a balance between finding and hiring the right coaches and securing solid recruiting classes including local talent. Once you have the right coach, it all falls into place. Case in point: a change was needed after a few rough years with Amstutz, and with the hiring of an enthusiastic coach in Beckman (then later Campbell), the recruiting has stepped up. Add the facilities improvement which was long overdue, and you have a recipe for success. Without any of those, the Rockets would still be struggling. Two other factors play strongly in Toledo’s favor: 10 MAC championships and a bevy of players making it to the NFL.
BN: The Rockets lost a solid coach in Tim Beckman last season. How has his departure affected the team? It doesn’t look like Toledo is missing him one bit.
LGR: You have to give respect where it’s due and Beckman completely revamped the Rocket program and got us pointed in the right direction again. However, Beckman was touted as a defensive minded coach, but his teams left a lot to be desired on that side of the ball. While the program shifted to an offensive juggernaut, the defense did not improve at the same pace during Beckman’s tenure. While we appreciate all that Beckman did at Toledo, his recent behavior is not something we needed in the Rocket program. We thank him for hiring a staff with solid coaches like Campbell who was promoted to head coach after Beckman took his talents to Illinois. The multi-QB system that Beckman installed has vanished, thankfully, and the best Toledo QB is taking the field and leading the team.
BN: Toledo continues to put up video game-like numbers on offense. Who are the main cogs in the scoring machine this season?
LGR: The main components to know by name are WR Reedy, WR Russell, QB Owens and RB Fluellen. Reedy is third in the conference for receiving yards and is a threat on the special teams as well, returning a few punts and now one kickoff for a touchdown. Russell is big at 6’4, and is fourth in the conference in receiving yards and is capable of making big plays on the field if he gets a chance Owens leads the conference in QB rating and completion percentage. Fluellen has been on a streak lately turning in three straight games rushing over 100 yards and is averaging 168.3 rushing yards in those games. He is also second in the conference in rushing touchdowns and third in rushing yards.
BN: All the talk about Toledo revolves around the offense, and for good reason, but what is UT’s strength on the defense?
LGR: The Rockets defense leads the MAC in interceptions with 10, and 3 of those were pick sixes. Injuries have yet again weakened the front 4, but players have been able to step up when needed. LB Molls is the anchor of the defense and currently leads the nation in tackles. He seems to find a way to be in the middle of nearly every play on the field and has a knack for getting in and breaking up plays.
BN: If you were a Cincinnati coach, what position group on the Rockets’ offense and defense would you try to exploit?
LGR: The Rocket secondary has been shaky at times this season, and if I were a Cincinnati coach, I would attack there. Toledo leads the MAC with 10 interceptions, but is last in passing defense, giving up 300+ yards per game on average. Because opponents go to the air so often, Toledo is second in the MAC with 41 broken up passes also. If the secondary can force the offense into running the ball, this will be in Toledo’s favor, otherwise, Legaux will pick them apart.
BN: How do you think this game plays out?
LGR: The Bearcats will be the toughest opponent the Rockets face this season but in order to understand how this game could play out, we need to look back to the Arizona game. In that game, Arizona was bigger and faster at nearly every position, but the Rockets took them to overtime. Offensive production has come easily to the Rockets this season, but the defense has been lacking at times. If the defense can keep it a close game, the Rockets have a chance to pull off the upset otherwise, the game could get out of hand.
Based on those answers it sounds like this is a made-for-Sportscenter shootout. The Rockets’ bread-and-butter is offense but Cincinnati is right there with them leading the Big East in scoring and total offense. I feel like the loser of this game will be the first team that stops scoring touchdowns and starts settling for field goals or punts. I could easily see this game eclipsing the 100-point threshold when the dust settles.
For a more detailed look at matchup be on the lookout for my weekly piece on the five keys to the game and don’t forget to head over to Let’s Go Rockets for all-things Toledo Rocket. Also be sure to follow them on Twitter for continuous updates on UT football.