Marshall and Toledo have traveled very different paths to their respective division titles. Marshall (10-1, 6-0 MAC E) has thundered through the eastern division, going undefeated with major victories over Miami-Ohio and Bowling Green. The Rockets (8-2, 5-2 MAC W) needed a little help from Northern Illinois, who knocked off the very Ball State Cardinals who upset Toledo on October 20 and took sole control of the west. The ensuing three-way-tie went to the Rockets, who had the best overall conference record.
One thing both teams were guilty of last week was overlooking their opponent in preparation for the MACC. Marshall came within a foot of a possible upset by I-AA Youngstown State, while Toledo was obliterated by Bowling Green by a score of 56-21.
So, what do two demoralized division champions do when they get together in a bustling town like Toledo? They go to war..
- Under new head coach Tom Amstutz the Rockets made an attempt to spread things out on offense, but ran troubles in spring practice in pulling the new scheme together. The more things change the more they stay the same, as Toledo still utilizes All-MAC first team selection Chester Taylor as their main weapon. The senior has totaled up 1,242 yards on just 236 carries, for an impressive 5.3 yards per carry on the ground behind a stellar offensive line.
For all of Taylor's success, however, Toledo QB Tavares Bolden isn't suffering, either. Bolden has thrown for 2,156 yards while completing 69 percent of his passes. Bolden didn't play last week against Bowling Green, but it's not hard to see that he will probably be in the lineup for Friday's game. He has proven himself to be one of the nation's more efficient passers with a 74.88% efficiency rating.
This, compared to Marshall QB Byron Leftwich's 78.32% efficiency rating.
Toledo is also a solid defensive team, allowing roughly 300 yards of total defense, while Marshall allows a little over 400 yards per game. The Rockets are led in the secondary by Corey Morris (3 INT, 177 yards and 80 tackles) and up front by the MAC's second-leading tackler in Jr LB Tom Ward (113 tackles, 68 solo) who is right behind leader Max Yates of Marshall.
The Herd, though, has the edge in offense totaling up 501 yards per game. 67 better than Toledo's 442 per game.
Key Stat: In Toledo's two losses and two games won within a touchdown, there is one striking similarity in one key statistical category. The apparently fatal foible of the Herd's formidable football foe is their fumbling fingers. It began in a 48-41 comeback victory against Ohio, where Toledo fumbled three times while the team was held to 3.2 yards per rush. In the Ball State loss, Toledo could only go for 2.4 per carry and dropped the rock three more times while being intercepted once. In the scare versus Navy, the Rockets fumbled three more times and were picked once, but were able to get 5.5 per touch by the running backs. In the Bowling Green blowout, Toledo fumbled five times and was held again to three yards per rush.
First Team All-MAC Selections in this game:
- Marshall First Team: TE Greg Kellett, OL Steve Scullio, OL Nate McPeek, WR Darius Watts, WR Josh Davis, QB Byron Leftwich.
- Toledo First Team: RB Chester Taylor
Thundering Herd Keys to Winning:
1. Turnovers: It should be obvious by now, win the turnover game against Toledo, increase your chances of winning big time. It's not the season for giving yet. Take the ball away and get points off turnovers.
2. Time of Possession: The team who has their offense on the field the most will probably win this game. Neither team is overwhelming on defense, so keeping the other's squad on the sideline will be crucial.
3. Go big early and often: Marshall has played very conservatively the past couple weeks on offense, obviously not wanting to show their full hand to the Rocket scouts. Pruett has the best poker face in the MAC and should have some surprises in store for Toledo. Going for the deep shot early should get the Rocket defense back on its heels and if nothing else, allow Marshall to get the ground game going, if not score some early points. That will help with key number two above.
4. Bugg 'em: Toledo is notorious for hitting the quarterback late and the last thing Marshall needs is Byron Leftwich hurt. Occasionally using Trod Buggs and Gregg Kellett to wear down the Rocket front 7 in the running game and max protect with the two on passing plays, they can buy Byron some valuable time.
- Its as simple as this: Marshall went to Toledo last year and got spanked...badly. Despite that, the Rockets were still home for the holidays. Both teams are heavily motivated, but Marshall is riding a 10-game win streak and as you can see, features more overall talent than Toledo. To worry about only Taylor is a mistake, but Marshall wins the big games, they are focused, they are ranked, and the Herd players and fans want revenge.
The Prediction: One for the thumb...
Herd 38 Rockets 35
*Stats, All-MAC selections courtesy of the Mid-American Conference