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Toledo Rockets vs Arkansas State Red Wolves final: Rockets force 5 turnovers in 37-7 victory

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The Toledo Rockets again dominated Arkansas State in a rematch of last year's GoDaddy Bowl in a 37-7 victory on Saturday. Toledo forced 5 turnovers including Rolan Milligan's pick-six

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

No Kareem Hunt?  No problem!

On a night when their star running-back was questionable, the Toledo Rockets dominated the Arkansas State Red Wolves in a rout, never needing his productivity in a 37-7 victory.  Phillip Ely slung the ball around and the Toledo defense forced 5 turnovers en route to their 3rd win on the year, completing a perfect non-conference slate.

The Rockets got started early on, scoring quickly on a Damion Jones-Moore two-yard rush just 97 seconds into the game.  After a fumble on the ensuing kickoff, Jameson Vest hit a 31-yard field goal to make it 10-0 not even three minutes in.

The Rockets would slow a bit, being forced to punt on their next drive, then throwing an interception inside their own 10-yard line on the next drive, but the defense never folded, forcing a punt then a missed field goal on consecutive drives.  After another trio of punts, first by the Rockets, Rolan Milligan intercepted James Tabary, and took the pass 36 yards for a touchdown right before the end of the quarter to make it 17-0.

That would be the first of three Red Wolves drives that would end in turnovers, as Chaz Whittaker would intercept the second play of the 2nd quarter for another mark.  After another Rocket punt, Tabary would fumble on his own 4-yard line and Trent Voss would recover the ball.  Terry Swanson would score on the next play to make it 24-0 midway through the 2nd quarter.

ASU would wake up, though, as JD McKissic took the ensuing kickoff 92 yards for a score to close the gap some, but a six-and-a-half minute Rocket drive ending with a field goal took a good portion of the wind out of the Red Wolves' sails.  Arkansas State would go three-and-out on their next drive, and Toledo would burn out the clock attempting to score before heading to halftime up 27-7.

At the half, Toledo quarterback Phillip Ely had already set a new career record of 41 passes attempted.  Despite his attempt numbers, his receivers produced an exorbitant amount of drops to keep the game from being out of hand.

After forcing a punt to open the half, Toledo used sustained drives to keep the ball out of Arkansas State's hands.  They opened with a field goal to make it 30-7, then intercepted Tabary again on the first play of the ensuing drive.  A four minute drive resulted in a punt, but with the Rocket defense on the bench getting rest, all was still good.  The Rockets would force a turnover on downs on the next drive to further cement their power.

The teams would go back and forth the rest of the way, with Swanson getting another score midway through the 4th to make it 37-7.  The Rockets would get the ball back with 4 minutes to go and would run out the clock with their back-ups.

With Hunt out, Matt Cambell elected to sling the ball with Ely early and often.  The quarterback finished 25-for-52 (with a ton of drops by his wide-outs) for 308 yards.  He only threw the one interception, but was otherwise solid.  The Rockets relied on Swanson and Jones-Moore to carry the ball in place of Hunt.  Swanson finished with 71 yards on 17 carries and two scores while Jones-Moore had 64 yards on 18 carries and one score.  Cody Thompson led the receivers with 5 catches for 112 yards.

The Rocket defense was solid.  They held Tabary to just 223 yards throwing on 18-for-35 passing and the three interceptions.  They also forced a fumble off the quarterback, while sacking him 6 times.  The sacks, along with a stuffed run game - Michael Gordon led all Red Wolves with 22 yards rushing on 7 attempts - led to a net of -14 yards rushing on the night for Arkansas State.  Blake Mack had 54 yards receiving, but McKissic led all Red Wolves with 6 catches (for 41 yards).

The Rockets now begin their MAC slate with a trip to Ball State.  They have a relatively easy schedule and should be 7-0 by the time the toughest part of the schedule rolls around, when they have to face NIU, CMU, BGSU, and WMU to end their year.  However, at 3-0, and with the defense looking stronger than ever, the Rockets are eyeing the Group of Five's bid to the New Year's Six Bowls.