The Toledo Rockets rallied in the second half to defeat Northern Illinois 31-24, keeping their hopes of a MAC West title alive.
That’s not to say that UT was perfect in this game. It wasn’t. The Rocket defense had absolutely no answers for NIU’s Kenny Golladay, who caught 14 passes for 149 yards and a touchdown. It also had trouble stopping the run, as Ryan Graham and Joel Bouagnon ran 36 times for 181 yards. As a result of these struggles, the Toledo D – which came into the contest ranked third nationally in third down conversion defense – allowed the Huskies to convert on 10 of 21 third down opportunities.
Although the Rockets need to address these issues before facing Ball State next Wednesday, we also saw plenty of positives from the team against Northern Illinois. Sure, the defense gave up its share of yardage. But, it came up with a few crucial stops in the second half, including an interception on the final drive that ended any hope of a Husky comeback.
Even if – and it’s a big if – Toledo’s defense should struggle down the stretch, Wednesday night’s game reminded us that the Rocket offense is good enough to carry the team to victory. Logan Woodside turned in another brilliant performance, completing 23 of 33 passes for 286 yards and three touchdowns. Running back Kareem Hunt was equally impressive, running 19 times for 122 yards and the game-winning touchdown. He also caught six passes for 37 yards, including a critical reception on third down and six late in the game in which he broke a tackle to pick up a first down and keep the go-ahead drive alive.
This victory – which was Toledo’s first over Northern Illinois since 2009 – keeps the Rockets in contention for the MAC West championship. Even though Toledo is a game behind Western Michigan in the loss column, it would still capture the division crown if it were to win out. While the Rockets will certainly have their hands full in that contest, there’s no reason to think that they can’t win. After all, Toledo finally beat perennial nemesis NIU, which had more wins against the Rockets in the last seven years (6) than the rest of the MAC combined (5).
In other words: it’s tough to doubt Toledo now that it has defeated the six-time defending division champion.