The 23rd-ranked Toledo Rockets continue their quest for a Mid-American Conference Championship as they host the Ball State Cardinals at the Glass Bowl in a Tuesday night affair.
The Rockets are trailing Northern Illinois by half a game in the West Division standings. Toledo and NIU are scheduled to meet next week, which makes this week's game pivotal for the Rockets.
Ball State will not be a simple stepping stone for Toledo. The Cardinals extended their winning streak to three games on Oct. 27 by taking down Army, 30-22, in West Point. The Cardinals have won their past two road games and came up just short in a 45-43 loss to the Golden Flashes, who are perfect in MAC action, at Kent State. Coach Pete Lembo's squad defeated a pair of programs from BCS Conferences (South Florida, Indiana) on the way to becoming bowl eligible for the second straight year.
In his first year at the helm of the program, Matt Campbell is one of a handful of viable candidates for coach of the year in the conference. Toledo arrived at its first top-25 ranking in over a decade by reeling off eight wins in a row, including a 29-23 upset of the previously unbeaten Cincinnati Bearcats on Oct. 20. The Rockets defeated Buffalo, 25-20, on the road their last time out to improve to 19-2 in their last 21 MAC games.
Campbell commented on the team's national ranking over the weekend.
"It's nice to be ranked and to be recognized on a national basis," said Campbell. "But rankings are not really relevant to the task at hand. We are facing a very good Ball State team on Tuesday and that is all we are focused on right now."
Toledo holds a narrow 19-17-1 advantage over Ball State in the all-time series. The Rockets have won three straight in the rivalry, including a 45-28 decision in last year's regular-season finale.
Ball State's success this season is largely due to its dynamic offense which is second in the MAC with 473.2 yards per game. The only team to hold the Cardinals under 400 total yards of offense this season was Clemson.
BSU has a potent weapon out of the backfield in tailback Jahwan Edwards, who ranks sixth in the MAC with an average of 105.4 yards per game. The sophomore tailback has eclipsed the century mark in each of his last three games. Edwards frequently visits the end zone, with 20 touchdowns in 21 career games.
Horactio Banks complements Edwards very well as an alternative out of the backfield, but a knee injury has kept him sidelined the past two weeks. With Banks injured, Barrington Scott has tallied 180 yards on 40 attempts and two touchdowns in the same number of games.
Ball State also has a potent passing attack with Keith Wenning under center. The junior quarterback went 18-of-27 for 189 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception in last week's triumph over Buffalo. On the season, Wenning has completed 64.3 percent of his passes for 2,425 yards with 17 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
Wenning has a pair of reliable targets in Willie Snead and Jamill Smith. Snead is 12th in the FBS and first in the MAC in receiving with 901 yards and six touchdowns on 68 receptions. Smith has made 60 catches for 641 yards and four scores.
Ball State's defensive unit is not on par with its offense. Last week, the Cardinals gave up 341 rushing yards to Army's wishbone offense. BSU managed to hold the Black Knights to 379 total yards in the contest. The Cardinals' defense still has plenty of work to do as it is ranked 106th out of 120 FBS teams with an allowed average of 465.2 ypg.
Travis Freeman (96 tackles) and Tony Martin (63 tackles) are both key players on the defensive side of the ball. Freeman is tied for ninth in the FBS and tied for third in the MAC in tackles. Jonathan Newsome leads the team with 7.5 tackles for loss and 6.0 sacks.
Toledo has a very balanced and effective offensive attack. The Rockets have shown the ability to light up the scoreboard, but they have been held under 30 points in each of their past two outings. The Rockets are still third in the conference in scoring (34.3 ppg) and fourth in total offense (454.7 ypg).
David Fluellen is unstoppable as of late. The junior running back tallied 228 yards on 35 carries against Buffalo to eclipse the century mark for the fifth straight game. Fluellen has piled up 1,181 yards and 11 touchdowns on 196 carries, which makes him the sixth most productive rusher in the FBS.
The Rockets' aerial attack features two of the MAC's most productive wideouts in Bernard Reedy and Alonzo Russell. Reedy leads the team with 803 yards, 61 receptions, and five touchdown catches. The junior wideout has also collected multiple West Division Special Teams Player of the Week awards for his efforts in the return game. Russell is averaging 80.7 receiving yards per game, which is the highest average among freshmen in the conference.
Terrance Owens had a rough outing his last time out, finishing 12-of-25 for 171 yards with one touchdown at Buffalo. It was the second straight game Owens was held under 200 passing yards. The junior quarterback was a steady game manager for the majority of the season before his recent slump. Owens has completed 64.7 percent (173-of-274) of his passes for 2,461 yards, 13 touchdowns, and five interceptions.
Although Toledo's defense has not been consistent this season, it stepped up big time last week by forcing two fumbles and holding the Bulls to 372 total yards of offense. The Rockets are only 10th in the MAC in total defense (466.1 ypg), but are fifth in points allowed (26.7 ppg).
The Rockets are led by the nation's leading tackler, Dan Molls, who has already recorded 116 total stops. Jermaine Robinson has made some spectacular plays and leads the MAC with four interceptions, two of which he returned for touchdowns.