Earlier this week, Bret Bielema mentioned that his team would have to play eight ranked opponents this year.
After Saturday’s contest, he’ll need to amend that number to nine.
Thanks to an impressive performance by its defense, Toledo upset Arkansas 16-12, and likely vaulted itself into the AP Top 25.
Make no mistake about it: the Rockets were the better team on Saturday afternoon. Sure, UT gave up 515 yards of total offense. However, the midnight blue and gold came through with plays when it needed to the second half. After a Jared Cornelius punt return gave Arkansas the ball at the Rocket 26, the defense responded with a DeJuan Rogers interception. On the following drive, the Hogs appeared to have the upper hand, mounting a 17-play, 79-yard drive. Instead of giving up a touchdown, though, the UT front seven stood tall, forcing an incomplete pass and dropping Alex Collins in the backfield for a five-yard loss to hold Arkansas to a field goal.
While those two stops were impressive, the biggest sequences of the game came on the final two drives for Arkansas. As most people expected, the Razorbacks put themselves into position to win the contest in the final series, driving to the Toledo 4 with just over three minutes remaining. Just as it had done at every other crucial juncture of the game, the Rocket defense rose to the occasion, stopping Arkansas on downs. A few minutes later, Arkansas — without timeouts — advanced the ball to the Toledo 16 with six seconds remaining. The Hogs were able to throw two passes into the end zone, but the Rockets’ secondary was up to the task. Two incomplete passes enabled Toledo to finish off the win.
As well as the defense played, its important to give the entire Toledo team credit for this stunning upset. The Rocket special teams unit turned the tide early in this contest, coming up with a blocked punt (on an errant snap) to set up the first scoring drive. While the offense didn’t necessarily have a big game by its own lofty standards (e.g., the 490.5 yards per game it averaged last year), it got the job done when given the opportunity, capitalizing on great field position from the blocked punt in the first quarter and marching 80 yards for a touchdown after coming up with an interception in the end zone.
So, what does the victory mean in the grand scheme of things?
It means that Toledo is a top-25 team. Although Arkansas didn’t exactly help itself on Saturday, the Rockets deserve all the credit in the world for this victory. It’s tough for any team – regardless of what conference it plays in – to go on the road and pull an upset against an SEC opponent without the services of its best offensive weapon. We’re referring to suspended Toledo running back Kareem Hunt.
In addition, it means that Bielema should have spent this week worrying about a different team from the Buckeye State.