COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Gary Pinkel says he’ll always be a Toledo Rocket. Well, almost always.
“Just a great place, great people,” the Missouri coach said. “But once game time comes, trust me, you focus and you go. So I’ll be able to do that.”
The 24th-ranked Tigers travel for the first time Saturday to Toledo, where Pinkel coached from 1991-2000 and compiled a 73-37-3 record. He won the Mid-American Conference title in 1995 and was inducted into the school’s athletic Hall of Fame in 2009 as the Rockets’ winningest head coach.
Four of Pinkel’s assistant coaches at Missouri also have experience at Toledo, including defensive coordinator Dave Steckel, who hopes the early start time will have a sedative effect on fans.
“Hopefully they’ll be hungover from the night before and not as loud because they have headaches or something,” he said light-heartedly. “Toledo has great fans. They’re blue-collar fans, which I really like because I’m a blue-collar guy myself.”
Missouri (1-0) will become the first Southeastern Conference team to play at the Glass Bowl after defeating the Rockets (1-0) last season 38-23 in Columbia. While Toledo coach Matt Campbell says the city and university will be excited to host such an opponent, he knows the game shouldn’t be about the Tigers.
“If you put so much stock into who you’re playing, what type of game it is, you can really get yourself in trouble,” he said. “We’ve been down this road enough to understand it’s all about us right now.”
Here are five things to know about the matchup:
MATY MAUK: Playing at Toledo will also be a homecoming for Missouri’s sophomore quarterback, who grew up 75 miles to the south in Kenton. Mauk estimated “a few hundred” people would travel to watch him play, but added that he wouldn’t get sentimental about returning close to home. Campbell recruited Mauk, calling him one of the best quarterbacks in the country because of his ability to escape pocket pressure.
PHILLIP ELY: After transferring from Alabama in 2013, Toledo’s junior quarterback has experience facing SEC schools. He played in six games as a backup with the Crimson Tide, completing 3 of 4 passes for 42 yards and a touchdown. In his first career start last week against New Hampshire, he converted 24 of 34 passes for 337 yards and four scores. Ely says he’s preparing the same way for Missouri as he did for the Wildcats.
SLOW START: Toledo trailed New Hampshire last week 14-3 midway through the second quarter before scoring touchdowns on seven consecutive possessions and amassing 666 total yards. Ely chalked the early deficit up to shaking off the rust from the offseason, and that once the team relaxed, it bounced back. The Rockets will be hard-pressed to use the same strategy against Missouri, though.
SACKS: Toledo didn’t allow a sack against New Hampshire and led the nation last season with only six sacks allowed. The team returns five senior offensive linemen, whom Steckel called “very nasty, tough players. And I mean nasty in a good way.” The Tigers led the SEC with 41 sacks last year, but were shut out against Toledo. Missouri defensive ends Markus Golden and Shane Ray (2.5 combined sacks last week) prefer to have a different outcome this year.
TURNOVERS: Missouri has forced opponents into committing at least one turnover in each of its last 45 games, the longest such streak in the country. That includes last year’s matchup with the Rockets, when Golden returned an interception 70 yards for a touchdown. If Toledo wants to win its 500th game in school history, it needs to protect the football.