Marshal Looks to Exorcise Old Demons
Five sacks, four turnovers, zero points scored, six touchdowns surrendered. Based on the way the 2001 Mid-American Conference season has unfolded, it would be easy to assume that these statistics belong to an opponent of the five-time defending East Division Champion Marshall Thundering Herd.
They were the extent of Marshall's production the last time they faced the Toledo Rockets (back on Oct. 14 of last year), who they will face up against once more in the MAC Championship game tonight at 7:30. The game will be televised on ESPN.
The Rockets laid a 42-0 drubbing on a visiting Marshall squad that struggled at the beginning of the season. And while the Herd certainly hasn't forgotten the loss, Toledo's players have done all they can to downplay the significance of last year's triumph.
"That was a whole year ago," said Rockets 1,000-yard rusher and team MVP Chester Taylor. "That was last year. ... We have to focus on Friday."
While the Rockets will be focused on buckling down for the game, Marshall and their head coach, Bob Pruett, will be searching for a way to stop Taylor, the conference's leading rusher.
"We'll certainly have to defend him because he is a great, great running back," Pruett told the Associated Press. "If we let him run wild in the secondary, they will have a much easier time putting up points."
Unfortunately for Pruett's squad, the Rockets have the advantage of playing in the Glass Bowl at Toledo University, where they have won 13 straight contests. Rockets head coach Tom Amstutz is hoping that the game's location will give his team a psychological advantage come Friday.
"I hope that they have some flashbacks when they step in that locker room and it shakes them up a little bit," he remarked in regard to the beating his defense administered last season. In addition to numerous sacks and turnovers, Toledo held Marshall quarterback Byron Leftwich, who threw for 400-plus yards in three consecutive games this season, to 157 net yards of total offense before forcing him from the game in the fourth quarter.
Amstutz went on to state that his defense had better not expect things to go as well this time around.
"Obviously, they're [a team] playing with great confidence. They're 10-1 and ranked [18th] in the country. They're on a roll right now."
Marshall appears to be taking a pretty conservative approach toward the contest, expecting Toledo to once again play a strong defensive game. However, with performances such as running back Brandon Carey's two touchdown passes in this season's East Division Championship, the Herd has shown that their offense can find ways to produce in crunch time.
"We are just preparing to play football," Pruett told the AP. "Our offense feeds off of what [their] defense does. If they give us the short pass, that's what we'll take."
Marshall defeated the Rockets in the MAC Championship game in both 1997 and 1998, however this year's game will be played under some very different circumstances. Each team has already been invited to a bowl game - the Herd has been invited to the GMAC Bowl in Mobile, Ala. while Toledo will play in the Motor City Bowl in Detroit, Mich. This season marks the first time the game will not be played at Marshall Stadium in Huntington, W.Va.
While no one is stepping out on a limb by picking a winner, the general consensus around the MAC is that this game will be one that is not soon forgotten. University at Buffalo head coach Jim Hofher voiced his excitement about this grudge match to the Associated Press recently.
"It will clearly be a dynamic game for any college football fan to watch," Hofher said. "There will be explosiveness on both sides of the field, and both sides of the ball."
If the regular season was any indication, Hofher was putting it lightly.
Bulls senior safety Craig Rohlfs was named to the second-team All-MAC defensive squad.
UB tight end Chad Bartosek was an honorable mention for the All-MAC offensive team.