2013 Record: 7-5 (5-3)
Series History: 1-0 (MIZZ)
Last Meeting: W 38-23 (2013)
Players to Watch: Toledo sophomore running back Kareem Hunt
2014 Projection: 7-5 (6-2)
On a cold Ohio night, the eve of the first Thanksgiving of the new millennium, Gary Pinkel led his Toledo Rockets onto the field for the final time, smashing archrival Bowling Green 52-17 before departing for greener pastures in Columbia.
Fourteen years later, he makes his return to northern Ohio.
In a 10-year stint as the head honcho in Toledo, Pinkel posted a 73-37-3 record, surpassing his predecessor Nick Saban as the winningest coach in school history. But after reaching the same milestone with Missouri on a much larger stage, this trip back to the Glass Bowl has the feel of not much more than a tune-up game.
The Rockets enter 2014 following a 7-5 campaign, the team’s fourth consecutive winning season. However, the Rockets have a daunting task ahead of them: they must replace former star running back David Fluellen.
Fluellen posted a school records with 3,998 total yards and 30 touchdowns, including a team leading 1,343 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2013. That kind of production is difficult to replace for any program, but the Rockets may have already found an even better option in sophomore Kareem Hunt.
In just his first season on campus, Hunt ran for 934 yards and 6 touchdowns as Fluellen’s backup. Even more telling of his promise, the freshman ran for over one hundred yards in five of his final six games.
Hunt’s performance against the Tigers will likely be dependent on the play of the newly revamped defensive line, led by Markus Golden and junior Shane Ray.
But even more important will be the play of defensive tackles Matt Hoch and Harold Brantley. If the two are able to clog running lanes in between the tackles and force the Rockets to throw the ball, Toledo’s new starting quarterback, Logan Woodside, could find his way into some costly mistakes.
Toledo’s defense surrendered 28.6 points per game last season — 78th nationally — meaning sophomore quarterback Maty Mauk, who returns to his home state of Ohio for the first time in his college career, could have his offense humming.
If the Tigers are able to limit Hunt’s big play ability and the Mizzou offense can take advantage of the opportunities Toledo’s defense hands it, expect a Missouri victory and a happy homecoming celebration for Pinkel.