W. Michigan-Toledo Preview
Toledo has a chance to cap the regular season with its best record in 15 years and play for the Mid-American Conference championship.
The No. 24 Rockets' attempt to get back to the title game for the first time since 2004 hinges on a sixth straight victory over Western Michigan on Friday afternoon at the Glass Bowl.
Toledo (9-1, 6-1) is looking to conclude a season 10-1 for the first time since 2000. Unlike that season, the mark would be good enough to win the West and set up a meeting with Bowling Green in the conference championship next Friday in Detroit.
"It's been an unbelievable run. One of the best teams in Toledo history," coach Matt Campbell said. "Obviously that'll be defined by how they finish. I think that's why these kids and myself know that and really understand how critical finishing what you started is all about.
"You're trying to define your legacy."
Kareem Hunt is working on changing his. The junior has gained 406 yards on 5.5 per carry with six touchdowns over the last three games after he was suspended for the season's first two games for violating team rules before being hampered by a hamstring injury that sidelined him for two more.
He ran for 16 touchdowns last season and led the MAC with 1,631 rushing yards.
"I just think he's getting healthy," Campbell said. "Him getting healthy goes a long way. I think we all know what kind of football player Kareem is. Kareem would be the first one to hopefully tell you a lot of his results go to those tight ends and our offensive line and the way those guys play as well. But, obviously, Kareem is a special football player. Grateful to have him on our team."
Hunt faces a Western Michigan defense that has surrendered an average of 185.3 rushing yards and 21 TDs. That unit has allowed 525 total yards and five scores over the last two games.
Hunt ran for a career-high 153 yards and two scores in Toledo's 44-28 road win over the Falcons on Nov. 17. The Rockets scored on their first six possessions and held Bowling Green's high-octane offense to a season-low 368 yards.
"Closest to a complete game as we've played, obviously in terms of execution," Campbell said. "We've talked so much to get our nine position groups to play at an elite level. We're a lot closer today than we were at the start of the season. We gotta continue to work to get there and it wasn't perfect. But, I thought from an attitude and effort investment stand point, our kids have certainly gotten better each week."
Toledo's Phillip Ely is looking for a bounce-back effort after he completed 16 of 24 passes for 208 yards with one touchdown and one interception last week. The senior has tossed six of his 10 picks over the last four games.
"I'm going into this game as my last game and that's gotta be my focus," Ely said, alluding to the possibility of getting another year of eligibility due to a reported injury while he was red-shirted with Alabama in 2011.
Toledo has won five straight meetings with the Broncos (6-5, 5-2), including a 20-19 overtime victory last year after Western Michigan missed an extra point.
The Broncos are on the verge of their first three-game slide since concluding a 1-11 season in 2013. They gave up 13 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to fall 27-19 to Northern Illinois on Nov. 18.
"I think last year we got mad and angry about things," coach P.J Fleck said. "That comes from your mind and can go in one ear and out the other. Then there is disappointment and sadness. At the end of the day, those kids were devastated. It was a way different locker room that I've been a part of since I've been here. They truly expected to go in there and win the football game."
Zach Terrell came close to doing that to Toledo last season, connecting with Darius Phillips on a 20-yard touchdown before the failed conversion. He finished 30 for 37 with a career-high 370 yards. The junior is coming off last week's 331-yard effort, throwing two scoring passes and one interception while completing 21 of 37 attempts.
Terrell linked up with Daniel Braverman and Corey Davis 16 times for 249 combined yards and two touchdowns last week. Both receivers have topped 1,000 yards and have combined for 21 of the Broncos' 26 TDs through the air.