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2014 Toledo Rockets football season recap: 9-win season shows improvement for Campbell's Rockets

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times in 2014 for the midnight blue and gold

John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

The University of Toledo Rockets wrapped up the 2014 football season with a dominating 63-44 victory over Arkansas State in the GoDaddy Bowl on January 4th.  Following a 2013 season in which the 7-5 Rockets were excluded from bowl season, a 9-4 2014 campaign and a bowl victory will be viewed by many Rocket fans as a tremendous success.   However, when you take a closer look at the Rockets latest campaign, it was a mixed bag of highs and lows for the midnight blue and gold that is detailed below.

The Good!

  • For the fifth consecutive season the Rockets came out of the Battle of I-75 with a victory over arch rival Bowling Green. The 27-20 victory in the Glass Bowl on a cold November evening was led by Kareem Hunt who scampered for a then career high 265 yards and 2 touchdowns. Logan Woodside needed just 8 completions for 53 yards as the Rockets stifled BG starter James Knapke who struggled all night and would be replaced in the second half by Cody Callaway.
  • While the UT offense battled injury at the quarterback position, the one constant for much of the season was sophomore running back Kareem Hunt. Hunt participated in just 10 of the 13 Rocket games in 2014, but amassed an impressive 1631 yards on the ground and 16 touchdowns. Hunt's powerful running style was also at its best when it mattered the most; 265 yards against Bowling Green and 271 yards in the GoDaddy Bowl which included 5 touchdowns. Hunt will be back in 2015 and if he can remain healthy and play a full slate of games, the sky really is the limit for the sophomore from Willoughby, Ohio.
  • The offensive line was regarded as one of the best and most experienced headed into the 2014 season and the veteran group did little to disappoint. Featuring five senior starters for much of the season, the Rockets offensive line paved the way for over 3300 total yards rushing. Greg Mancz has been an all-everything player for UT throughout his career and despite an injury late in the season, Mancz will be tremendously missed in 2015 not only as a player but also as a team leader. One of the keys moving forward for the Rockets next season will be their ability to plug the massive holes created by graduation on the offensive line.
  • Junior Sylvestre was once again named a first team all-conference performer and he once again proved to be tackling machine that was all over the field. A season which featured 100 total tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks only begins to tell the story of what Sylvestre meant to the Rockets defense. A defense which at times struggled to stop opponents in 2014 will struggle mightily to replace outside linebacker in 2015.

The OK!

  • Jeremiah Detmer was once again a very reliable place kicker in 2014, but he was not quite able to live up to the incredibly high standard he set in 2013. Detmer connected on 17/22 field goal attempts in 2014, a 77% conversion rate, but a slip from his previous three year conversion rate of 87%.
  • The quarterback competition that head coach Matt Campbell touted as a three way battle between Phillip Ely, Logan Woodside and Michael Julian ended with Ely being named the opening game starter. Ely would complete less than two games before being lost to a season ending injury and would be replaced by sophomore Logan Woodside. Woodside was sometimes inconsistent, but in what amounted to a ten game season, he threw for over 2200 yards and 19 touchdowns to just 8 interceptions. Woodside won the games the team was predicted to win, a theme throughout 2014, and in the end led the Rockets to a bowl win and managed the game well enough to defeat Bowling Green for the fifth straight season. If Ely comes back healthy in 2015, look for Woodside to once again position himself to be the starter.
  • Despite sometimes inconsistent quarterback play, Corey Jones and Alonzo Russell stepped up admirably to lead the wide receiving corp. The small and shifty Jones was a second team all-conference selection, while the long and lengthy Russell a third team selection. They combined for over 1600 yards on 120 receptions and 13 touchdowns. Both will return in 2015 and big things should be expected for the dynamic duo.
  • A 9-4 record, which included a 7-1 record in conference play, is nothing to feel disappointed about, but upon closer analysis a few issues arise. The Rockets were underdogs in just four games this season and they came up short in all four of those contests. The Rockets were 3-3 in road games in 2014, but two of those wins were over MAC bottom feeders Eastern Michigan and Kent State. An early season road victory at Western Michigan in overtime was the one high mark in true road contests this season.

The not so hot!

  • The defense still has a ways to go, especially in non-conference contests. The Rockets were 90th in FBS football in scoring defense allowing over 30 points per game and 76th in total yards per game allowing over 400 yards. In non-conference games against FBS opponents the Rockets allowed a dismal 47 points per contest. If Toledo is going to reach their goals in 2015, the defense will have to continue to improve.
  • The Rockets finished their non-conference schedule with a disappointing 1-3 record, which included a home opening win over highly rated FCS opponent New Hampshire. However, blowout losses to Cincinnati and at home to Missouri and a mid-season road defeat to an awful Iowa State team out of the Big 12 were all unsettling results. The Rockets gave up an average of 48 points to Missouri, Cincinnati and Iowa State and trailed by 28 to Missouri and 34 to Cincinnati at various points in the each game.
  • For the fifth consecutive season, the Northern Illinois Huskies have denied the Rockets a MAC West Division Championship and represented the West in the MAC Championship game. UT went into DeKalb with 3rd string quarterback Michael Julian as the starter and would finish the game with wide receiver Dwight Macon calling the signals. Despite Macon's best efforts the Rockets fell short 27-24 and when NIU defeated Western Michigan the last week of the regular season, the Rockets were denied an appearance in the Championship game. With NIU coming to the Glass Bowl in 2015, the midnight blue and gold will look to flip the script on the Huskies.
  • It has been since 2004 that the Rockets appeared or won the MAC Championship at Ford Field. For Matt Campbell the goal every season is to win a conference championship and while there has been a lot more winning than losing of late for the Rockets, it will be over a decade since there last appearance at Ford Field when the 2015 season commences.

In conclusion the 2014 season saw the Rockets return to a bowl game and improve to 9 wins over 7 in 2013. Toledo was again victorious against rival BGSU and posted a strong 7-1 conference record in the much more challenging MAC West division. Nevertheless a MAC Championship again eluded Toledo and the non-conference performance left much to be desired against Power 5 opponents.