Although coach Tim Beckman has since left the Rockets, they seem unlikely to experience any drop off in production for the Military Bowl with offensive coordinator Matt Campbell now in charge.
In a matchup of high-powered offenses, the Falcons and Rockets meet for the first time Wednesday at RFK Stadium.
Just days after Toledo (8-4) accepted an invitation to play in the fourth edition of the bowl game in the nation’s capital, Beckman left the program after three seasons and become coach at Illinois.
Although Beckman came to the Rockets after spending more than a decade of coaching on the defensive side of the ball, it was Toledo’s offense that came to flourish under Campbell. Athletic director Mike O’Brien originally named the 32-year-old Campbell an interim coach for the bowl game, but has since dropped the interim title.
“We are very pleased that Matt Campbell has agreed to become the head football coach at the University of Toledo,” O’Brien said. “There is no doubt that Matt has done a terrific job in his three years as our offensive coordinator. The performance of our offense speaks for itself.”
The Rockets averaged 42.3 points this season - best in the Mid-American Conference and eighth nationally - and since the start of November, they’ve averaged an FBS-best 53.8. Running a spread offense, Toledo averaged 221.2 yards rushing and 272.0 passing, one of 14 FBS schools above 200 in both categories.
“The first thing that pops out to me is they can put up a lot of points,” Air Force quarterback Tim Jefferson said. “If it turns into a shootout, then, hey, this is going to be a fun ball game to play in.”
Jefferson likely feels that way because his team is also capable of piling up points, ranking 22nd in the nation with 34.4 per game. He probably also likes his team’s chances against a Toledo defense that’s prone to giving up a lot of points, as the Rockets allowed an average of 30.9.
In back-to-back weeks to open November, Northern Illinois and Western Michigan each put up 63 points against the Rockets, though Toledo managed to win one of those contests.
While the Rockets run a balanced offense, most of the Falcons’ yardage comes on the ground. Running the triple option, Air Force (7-5) is second in the FBS in rushing at 320.3 yards a contest.
Asher Clark leads the way with 1,096 rushing yards, while Mike DeWitt has run for 543 and Jefferson 492. DeWitt and Jefferson are tied with a team-high 10 rushing TDs, and Air Force has run for 38 scores - fourth in the FBS.
Although the Falcons prefer to pound the ball on the ground, Jefferson has proved he can move the team through the air. The senior threw for 221 yards and matched a career high with three touchdown passes in a 45-21 win over Colorado State in the regular-season finale Nov. 26.
Air Force may have to rely on the pass a bit more because Toledo has been solid against the run, allowing an average of 123.2 yards, while ranking 109th out of 120 FBS schools in pass defense at 277.9.
While Jefferson has made 43 straight starts, accounted for 64 career touchdowns and is the only quarterback in the history of service academy football to lead his team to four straight bowl games, Terrance Owens has made just two starts this season at QB for Toledo.
Those came in place of Austin Dantin, who started the first 10 games before a concussion sidelined him. He is expected to be available for the bowl game, but it is unclear who will start.
Owens had shared time with Dantin before his injury and both quarterbacks have played well, throwing 15 touchdowns and three interceptions apiece. Owens, however, has come on strong since Dantin’s injury, completing 80.2 percent of his passes for 860 yards with nine touchdowns and one INT in the last three games.
Page is third in the nation with 112 receptions for 1,123 yards and 10 TDs.
While Owens, Page and the passing game have been effective lately, Toledo’s ground game has also excelled with Adonis Thomas amassing 648 rushing yards and eight touchdowns in his last four games. Thomas leads the Rockets in rushing with 963 yards and is tied with Morgan Williams for the team lead with 11 touchdown runs.
Thomas and Williams could be poised for big games against Air Force, which ranks 113th against the run at 227.8 yards a game.
The teams had a common opponent this season, each losing to Boise State. The Rockets suffered a 40-15 home defeat to the Broncos on Sept. 16, and the Falcons lost 37-26 on the road Oct. 22.