Toledo coach Matt Campbell knew that his program was closer to getting a signature SEC win than the final scores reflected in recent years. Two years ago, the Rockets were within two touchdowns at Florida in the third quarter before falling 24–6. That same season Toledo was down by one point in the third quarter at eventual SEC East champion Missouri, only to lose 38–23.
Then there was last year, when the Rockets again trailed the SEC East champion-to-be Tigers by two touchdowns in the third quarter, but never got any closer in a 49–24 defeat. “We've been so close in some of these games the last couple of years," Campbell says. “You have to go through that, especially in our type of situation to understand how to win those type of games."
Campbell took great pride recalling his program's character-building SEC experiences on Sunday, a day after they all paid off with a stunning 16–12 upset of then-No. 18 Arkansas in Little Rock.
“We finally made that step," Campbell says. “The kids stuck to the plan for 60 minutes and really held each other accountable with the leadership and effort. It's something we're going to really rely heavily on."
Saturday's triumph was just latest example of why the 35-year-old Campbell is regarded as one of college football's best young coaches and brightest offensive minds. A former defensive lineman at NCAA Division III power Mount Union, the fourth-year coach has a 27–13 record at Toledo.
He's well on his way to being the Rockets' next highly coveted coaching commodity, following in the footsteps of Nick Saban and Gary Pinkel. “We've had a vision of what we can build this football program into," Campbell says. “I think we're really just scratching the surface right now where we are and where we can go."
But perhaps the most impressive aspect of Toledo's upset of the Razorbacks on Saturday was how it happened. With a veteran defense that returns eight starters, the Rockets held Arkansas' physical, run-first attack to just 103 rushing yards on 31 carries, and allowed the Razorbacks to score on only one of five trips into the red zone.
The key was the movement of the 4-2-5 defensive front that Toledo used on most downs. The scheme allowed three Rockets linebackers to play faster and more aggressive than usual, according to position coach Tyson Veidt. It also kept the Razorbacks' mammoth offensive line guessing most of the game.
“We were trying to get our guys in gaps," Veidt says.
And since being promoted to take over for Tim Beckman (the recently fired coach at Illinois) after the 2011 season, Campbell has been focused on making sure that his program doesn't have any holes in it. He emphasizes the importance of having what he calls a “complete program."
“It's not about me, it's not about you," Campbell says. “It's all about us."
Campbell credits last year's senior class for helping to establish that mindset. It was a group that won 34 games in four seasons, twice shared the MAC West crown and was bowl-eligible each season, winning twice in the postseason.
“We really made phenomenal strides," Campbell says. “Our culture is really where we want it to be."
Following Saturday's victory, Campbell received a flood of text messages, but the ones that meant the most came from those who helped shape his coaching beliefs. They included Colorado School of Mines coach Gregg Brandon, under whom Campbell had been an assistant at Bowling Green, and Maryland offensive line coach Greg Studrawa, who had been on that Falcons' staff with Campbell.
Campbell even got a text message from Mount Union athletic director Larry Kehres, who won 11 NCAA Division III championships as the Raiders' coach, including five with Campbell (three as a player and two as an assistant). Kehres does not dish out praise lightly, but his text to Campbell read, “Proud, proud, proud."
“When you get a compliment from Coach Kehres, it goes a long way," says Campbell with a laugh.
It was Kehres who taught Campbell how to build a program, and how hold those within the program accountable and get the most out of them. “I still draw on his lessons and leadership more than anybody," Campbell says. “I'm extremely grateful for it."
And while Campbell's name is sure to be linked to coaching vacancies in the coming months, he's got higher aspirations for Toledo than just beating a ranked SEC team. He envisions the Rockets being the Midwest equivalent of Boise State, or the complement of pre-Pac-12 Utah under Urban Meyer.
“They elevated their programs to a national stage," Campbell said. “We feel like we've got the resources to [do the same thing] here."
And now Campbell and Toledo finally have a signature SEC win.
BYU's Hail Mary heroics: a little practice, a lot of luck
Until two weeks ago, Guy Holliday had never been involved in a successful Hail Mary in his four-plus decades in football. But the BYU wide receivers coach has now been on the winning end of miracle finishes in consecutive weeks thanks to the heroics of Cougars quarterback Tanner Mangum, first in the season-opener at Nebraska and last Saturday at home against Boise State.
“I'd like to tell you that it's a lot of coaching," Holliday says with a laugh, “but it's a lot of luck."
BYU practices Hail Mary plays every Thursday, usually attempting around a half-dozen attempts. “It's all about getting positioning and knowing where we're going with it," Holliday says. “You've got to place it just right."
It also helps that—as the 19th-ranked Cougars prepare to play No. 10 UCLA on Saturday—Mangum has been just the right quarterback. The last two weeks have been a whirlwind for the 22-year-old freshman, who just three months ago completed a two-year LDS mission in Chile.
Mangum, who took over at QB late in the 33–28 victory over the Cornhuskers after starter Taysom Hill suffered a season-ending foot injury, tossed a 42-yard touchdown to Mitch Mathews on the last play of the game. Mangum's latest Hail Mary was a 35-yard touchdown heave to Mitchell Juergens with 45 seconds remaining in the Cougars' 35–24 win over the Broncos.
“He doesn't panic," Holliday says of Mangum. “That's as much a part of it as anything. He's just different."
Though BYU's back-to-back Hail Mary wins have stunned the 49-year-old Holliday, maybe he shouldn't be so surprised. “We always catch every one in practice," he says with a laugh.
There's just one major difference: The Cougars' offense doesn't attempt Hail Mary passes against a defense in practice because no contact is allowed on Thursdays. “As lucky as it is," Holliday says, “it's as much having an opportunity and taking advantage it."
Michigan State's O-line emerges as one of best in nation
After Michigan State's 37–24 victory over No. 7 Oregon on Saturday night, Spartans offensive line coach Mark Staten was greeted by the parents of star quarterback Connor Cook. “We love your O-line!" the couple screamed.
And for good reason, because Staten's unit hasn't allowed the Cooks' son to be sacked through two games this season. Even more impressively, Cook has only been hit eight times (and two of those hits weren't the responsibility of the Spartans' offensive line).
“They're very appreciative," Staten says of Cook's parents.
So is ninth-year Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio, whose offensive line just might be the best in the country. Last year, the unit surrendered just 11 sacks in 13 games, a remarkable feat that's even more impressive considering that Staten used six different offensive line combinations.
The scary part for the rest of the Big Ten is that the Spartans' offensive line is playing even more physically this season. “In the past when we'd play a team that wasn't your Michigan, Notre Dame or Nebraska, we wouldn't have as many finishers, dominators or knockdowns," Staten says of his players. “This is personal to them."
That's why after talking about it all off-season, Michigan State's offensive line has a goal of giving up even fewer sacks than last year. “You've got to set your standards high," Staten says.
Reigning first-team All-Big Ten center Jack Allen spearheads the unit and just might be the team's most valuable player. Not only does the 6' 2", 296-pound redshirt senior help protect Cook, he's also instrumental in calling out the pass protection assignments.
“Last year, he led our offense," Staten says. “This year, he's leading the team."
But to continue to keep Cook clean, Staten is having to rejigger his offensive line after starting right tackle Kodi Kieler suffered a right leg injury against Oregon that will force the redshirt junior to miss some time. In Kieler's absence, Benny McGowan and Miguel Machado will split reps. T he 6' 6", 298-pound Machado, a junior college transfer who redshirted last season, is nicknamed “Inmate 1492" because he didn't smile during his first six months in East Lansing, and also because he plays with reckless abandon. The redshirt junior played well in his 37 snaps against Oregon.
“He's got this scowl that looks like he could be in the [prison] yard," Staten says with a laugh. “He's just crazy. He's learning and it's fun to coach him because he may not get there with the exact technique you want him to, but when he gets there he's bringing everything he's got. He's going to try to run through a brick wall for you, his O-linemates and his offense."
That's what Staten's come to expect from his offensive line, which he calls a “big man fraternity."
“They don't want to let each other down," Staten says.
And they don't want to disappoint Cook's parents, either.
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