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Camellia Bowl Deep Dive: Toledo Rockets vs Appalachian State Mountaineers

It was always going to be a tough match-up for the Rockets.

NCAA Football: Camellia Bowl-Appalachian State vs Toledo Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

The Rockets have struggled against good running teams for most of the season. Appalachian State is a great running team. Not having second team All-MAC defensive lineman Treyvon Hester certainly didn’t help the Rocket’s cause. The three hundred pound Hester’s ability to clog the middle was a huge part of the their run defense.

One of the most telling stats of the entire game was yards per play. For the Mountaineers, rushing was an impressive 6.1. Passing, it was an abysmal 3.6. For the Rockets, it was 9.5 yards passing and 4.5 rushing.

The 6.1 yards per rush allowed the Mountaineers to have much shorter third downs. This gave them a 25-14 first down advantage over the Rockets. That led to the 35:44 to 24:16 time of possession advantage. Sometimes TOP is a meaningless stat, but not this game.

The Appalachian State offense battered the Rockets defense, and wore them out. Tired defenses miss assignments, and take bad angles. That leads to big plays, which were a big part of the Appalachian State offense. A few runs by quarter back Taylor Lamb were especially back breaking. There was an 11 yard touchdown on a 4th and 1, a 31 yard run on third and 9, and a 28 yard run. All were in the second half on key drives.

When Toledo had the football, they struggled to find a rhythm. When they clicked, they scored, and scored quickly. Most drives, however, were a short run on first down, something bad on second down, and a long third down, which usually wasn’t converted.

It’s hard to fault Jason Candle for that kind of play calling, because it’s designed to weaken a defense, and eventually it worked. On the last drive of the game, the Rockets marched 49 yards on 5 consecutive runs, setting up what should have been the game tying field goal.

Battering a defense into submission generally takes time, and it’s never certain when, or even if, it’s going to happen.

7 long plays accounted for 57.4% of the Rocket’s total yards. Had coach Candle known that’s how the game would turn out, I am sure he would have adjusted his play calling accordingly.

Appalachian State did a very good job of stopping the Rockets when it counted, too. Three drives were stopped a yard short of the first down marker, when going for it on 4th down wasn’t really an option. Those three key stops were very effective in ending any Rockets momentum before it started.

Overall, it was a great game, between two great teams. Where strength hit strength, the Rockets offense vs. the Mountaineer defense, it was like watching two heavy weight fighters slug it out. Each made great plays when it looked like the other was going to take over the game. Since there was no knockout, we’ll have to go to the judges scoring card. The Rockets did manage 28 points with a TOP deficit, and zero gifts, AKA turnovers, from the Mountaineer offense. The Rockets also didn’t have a turnover, so I would give them a slight victory in that regard.

The edge was always going to be the Mountaineer ground attack vs. the Rockets. The Rockets actually did a fantastic job on Sun Belt offensive player of the year Jalin Moore, holding him to just 35 yards on 16 carries. They did a decent job on Marcus Cox, one of only 9 FBS players to rush for over 1000 yards 4 consecutive years. In the end, the legs of quarterback Taylor Lamb was the deciding factor, rushing for 126 yards on just 9 carries. In the middleweight division, we also have to go to the judges scorecard, and I would give that one to the Mountaineers.

The tie-breaker would be the missed field goal, and equally important the penalties, or lack thereof. 2-21 for the Mountaineers, and 7-62 for the Rockets. I believe when they were covering what was a hold, the entire squad of refs was out sick that day. I recall 1 hold being called, and that was on a Toledo punt return. The old saying is, there is a hold on every play. There certainly were a few on long runs and QB escapes by the Mountaineers. I can’t say the refs were biased, because I am sure the Rockets had a few on offense, too, and don’t remember any being called against them, either. They were just bad.

To clarify, I am complaining about the refs, not blaming them. That’s just what happens in great games between close teams. A spot in the OSU/Michigan Game, for instance. Was it a good spot or bad spot? Doesn’t matter. If Michigan got that call, OSU would have found plenty to complain about. It even happens in close games between mediocre teams, like the extra play in the Oklahoma State, Central Michigan game.

At the end of the day, someone has to win, and last night it was the Mountaineers. They played a great game, and their win is justified.