This past weekend, Toledo did what no MAC team had done in a decade: It won a game against the SEC-West.
And it did it on the road, in Arkansas, as a three-touchdown underdog.
While the 16-12 loss may have stunned fans in Little Rock, the Rockets expected to win.
“I’ll be really honest,” Toledo head coach Matt Campbell said on CBS Sports Radio’s The DA Show. “We’ve been able to play some of these opponents the last couple years. We played well at times, but we’ve always shot ourselves in the foot. We’ve played Missouri the last two years and have played well in both those games at times. Certainly went to Florida and played well and Ohio State and had our chances to win some of those games. I think as you build a program, it’s all about learning from past mistakes. We’ve got a veteran group of kids and I think the expectation in our room and certainly from our standpoint is we were going in to win the football game. No matter what the odds and the outside of our football world said, I think our kids really believed – and obviously we’ve got great leadership in the program and certainly young men in our program right now, especially our senior class that really believes what’s going on here and really believes they can play with anybody in the country.”
That includes quarterback Phillip Ely, an Alabama transfer who threw for 237 yards and a touchdown.
“I’ll tell you: Phillip is a special young man,” Campbell said. “He’s a young man (from Tampa Bay) that we actually recruited out of high school. (He) got the Alabama offer and went to Alabama. He decided to make a move after his second year at Alabama, came to Toledo, was extremely humble, had to sit out a year for us and was our scout-team quarterback (and) was unbelievable. Just kind of soaking in our culture and just starting to learn the players and the program. He really won the job a year ago for us, and in the second game versus Missouri tears his ACL and tears the labrum in his non-throwing shoulder. Here’s this young man who had waited the opportunity to play and gets it stripped of him as soon as he gets it on the football field.”
So, Ely had to do two things: one, get healthy, and two, beat out Logan Woodside for the starting spot. (Woodside started nine games for Toledo last year, throwing 19 touchdowns and just eight interceptions.)
Ely did both.
“Obviously it says everything about the character of Phillip and the work ethic that he has,” Campbell said. “I couldn’t be prouder. He’s got great family and great parents. He got every vote on our football team to be captain this year. I think that says everything about Phillip Ely.”
While the Rockets (1-0) enjoyed the win, they know they have a long season ahead. They host Iowa State (1-1) on Sept. 19 at 8 p.m. ET.
“It’s hard to win period in college football, let alone being the underdog in those situations,” Campbell said. “But I think what I was a really proud of is our kids really enjoyed it, but it wasn’t like we won the Super Bowl. It was, we knew what we had the ability to do, we came, we did it, but it’s only Week 2 of the college football season. There’s so much left to play for and we’ve got so much left out there that we want to accomplish that I think our kids enjoyed the moment but had great focus leaving that locker room.”