Rockets stand in Owls’ path for history

Temple has the chance to win 11 games for the first time in program history if it defeats Toledo at the Boca Raton Bowl Tuesday.

Coach Matt Rhule stands with Toledo coach Jason Candle at the joint team press conference hosted by the Palm Beach County Convention Center Dec. 21. | Donald Otto
Coach Matt Rhule stands with Toledo coach Jason Candle at the joint team press conference hosted by the Palm Beach County Convention Center Dec. 21. | Donald Otto

BOCA RATON, Fla.—After finding out Dec. 6 that his team had a matchup with Temple in the Marmot Boca Raton Bowl, the University of Toledo’s Alex Zmolik began to formulate a plan.

The senior tight end said he watched film of Temple’s 13 games 10 times over in preparation for Tuesday’s game.

Both squads have something to play for at FAU Stadium in Boca Raton, Florida. Toledo (9-2, 6-2 Mid-American Conference) has not won 10 games since 2001. Temple (10-3, 7-1 American Athletic Conference) is looking to win 11 games for the first time in program history.

“For our program, it’s huge,” Toledo senior quarterback Phillip Ely said of the Boca Raton Bowl. “Not too many teams get the opportunity to play in a bowl game. We are honored and privileged.”

“We can go down as the best team in Temple history,” junior running back Jahad Thomas said. “And that’s what we want to do.”

Coach Jason Candle, Toledo’s associate head coach/offensive coordinator since 2014-15, is coaching the Rockets for the first time since taking over for coach Matt Campbell, who left for the same position Nov. 29 at Iowa State University.

“They’re a whistle-to-whistle team,” Candle said of Temple. “When you get on the field to them you’re signing up for 60 minutes.”

Ely leads a Toledo passing attack that averages 250.1 yards per game, ranked No. 41 in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

He has 2,680 yards passing and 21 passing touchdowns compared to 10 interceptions in 11 games.

“Their quarterback really runs the show,” senior linebacker Tyler Matakevich said. “Everything revolves around him. We definitely have our hands full.”

Toledo is ranked No. 26 in the FBS in rushing offense. The Rockets average 213.2 yards on the ground per contest and 5.1 yards per rushing attempt.

The Rockets have two running backs with more than 800 yards rushing this season. Junior

Kareem Hunt leads the team with 894 yards rushing and 10 rushing touchdowns. He is paired in the backfield with sophomore Terry Swanson, who has 870 yards rushing and seven rushing touchdowns.

“They have good backs,” coach Matt Rhule said. “When you have great running backs and a passing game, you can’t load the box up because they can throw it. They have versatile receivers.”

Candle’s offense is ranked No. 26 in scoring offense in the FBS at 35.3 points per game and No. 29 in total offense at 463.3 yards per game.

The Rockets’ offense ranks in the Top 50 in both passing offense and rushing offense. The team has also totaled 22 passing touchdowns and 23 rushing touchdowns.

“Just watching the offense, they are very versatile,” Rhule said.”They drop back with five [wide receivers], and they can run the heck out of the ball. It’s that aspect of they do a little bit of everything. You can’t hone in on one thing. We have to be prepared for several different offenses.”

The Rockets have run 841 total plays in their 11 games this season. Three teams on the Owls’ schedule have run more total plays this season than Toledo.

“I don’t think Temple has played against an offense that can goes as fast as we can or that can slow it down as we can,” Toledo senior offensive lineman Ruben Carter said. “We can use that as an advantage.”

Matakevich said he was surprised by the pace of the Rocket’s offense.

“They have a really fast tempo,” Matakevich said. “I didn’t realize how fast their tempo was, and that is something that is going to be a challenge.”

Tuesday’s game is the first time since 2011 that the Owls will participate in a bowl game. The team defeated the University of Wyoming 37-15 in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Seven players on the Owls’ roster were with the program during the team’s last bowl game under then-coach Steve Addazio. It will also be the team’s first bowl game under Rhule.

“If you are ready for the Penn State game, you are ready for the Notre Dame game, then I am confident they will be ready for this,” Rhule said. “Our team is usually ready for things.”

Michael Guise and Owen McCue can be reached at

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