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Defense stymies prolific Toledo run game to punch ticket to MAC title game


Central Michigan linebacker Chuck Jones and defensive back Da'Quan Jamison combine for a tackles Nov. 29 at McGuirk Arena.

It’d be an understatement to say it was a frustrating day to be a Toledo Rockets running back.

Toledo’s backfield has been its strength all season: through 11 games, sophomore Bryant Koback had rushed for 1188 yards and scored 11 touchdowns while junior Shakif Seymour tallied 745 yards and five touchdowns on the ground.

In the Rockets’ 49-7 road loss at the hands of Central Michigan, the duo combined for a total of 35 yards against Central Michigan.

Koback rushed 13 times for 22 yards for an average of 1.7 yards per pop, a far cry from his average of 6.4 yards per carry. Seymour did slightly better -- 2.6 yards per carry on five rushes for 13 yards.

And that’s precisely what first-year coach Jim McElwain intended.

“I thought our coaching staff did an outstanding job of game-planning,“ McElwain said. “We did exactly what we wanted to do.”

To deter the Rockets from running, CMU made a point of stacking more defenders in the tackle box than could be blocked and often ran without any safety coverage over the deep middle.

Instead, the Chippewas operated with more of a Cover Zero look where each defensive back locked in on a specific receiver and tracked him from the snap of the ball, usually playing a half-step underneath the receiver to stay attached to the hip and lunge in front of short passes.

It was a blatant dare to the Toledo wideouts to beat man coverage off the line of scrimmage, and an even more blatant dare to Rockets quarterback Carter Bradley to drop the deep ball accurately over the heads of trailing defensive backs and into the hands of his receivers.

Though the redshirt freshman quarterback did convert on several intermediate post routes to pick up first downs, Bradley and his wideouts never capitalized on the Chippewas’ challenge in the form of points. The Rockets’ lone score of the game came in the waning minutes of the first half on a Koback run.

Bradley completed 15 of 23 pass attempts for 121 yards before being replaced by true freshman DeQuan Finn, a more nimble runner but less proficient passer. Finn threw seven times, completing four, and ran for 43 yards on eight carries. The Chippewas hadn’t game-planned for the agile Finn but by the time he had entered the contest, the game was far out of reach regardless.

Senior inside linebacker Michael Oliver was a major beneficiary of the strategy used against Toledo: when the Rockets tried to run the ball despite being outnumbered in the tackle box, Oliver was often left unblocked and swooped in to make the tackle near the line of scrimmage. He had eight total tackles on the afternoon.

The perfect example of CMU’s gameplan as a whole was seen on the first half’s final play when the Toledo offensive line cleared a wide hole for Koback that only one person could fill -- Oliver.

With the 1200-yard rusher barreling straight upfield, Oliver took three fluid steps forward and drove through Koback with a resounding crack of shoulder pads that put the Rockets star flat on his back for a 1-yard loss.

“I just gotta go out there and do my job which is to hit people hard, and that’s what I did,” Oliver said of the hit. 

Then he allowed a smile to creep onto his face before adding, “And it felt great to do it.”

With an attitude like that, it’s not hard to see why a solid gameplan by defensive coordinator Robb Akey coupled with the athletes to execute effectively would stymie one of the MAC’s top rushing attacks.

“You’re not going to run the ball on the Chippewa defense like that,” Oliver said. “That’s just that.”