Other than Notre Dame, This next game should be our toughest non-conference test. That is why it has worked out well in terms of our schedule. Since losing to the Irish, we have gone from 1-AA, to bad 1-A, to mediocre 1-A team in succession. I didn't think this would be the case as early as yesterday, but after reading around about the Rockets I see that they are actually a good challenge for us. I would say the College Football Odds are with us, as we're likely going to be a heavy favorite as most Big Ten teams should be against MAC teams.
Let's Go Rockets has been an invaluable resource when reading about Toledo. They have played surprisingly well on defense except for the season opener against Arizona. This appears to be a team that is coming around to coach Tim Beckman's philosophy.
2010 Record: 2-1 (2-0 MAC)
2009 Record: 5-7 (3-5 MAC West)
Bowl Result: None
Blog Representation: Let's Go Rockets
Series with Purdue: Purdue leads 3-2
Last Purdue win 9/5/09 at Purdue 52-31
Last Toledo win: 9/6/1997 at Toledo 36-22
The season so far:
The Toledo season so far is a bit skewed. They opened the year with a forgettable 41-2 loss at home to a very good Arizona team. We all know what the Wildcats did this past weekend. They might be a Pac-10 title contender, so that is far from a bad loss. Toledo responded with a pair of conference road wins over Ohio (20-13) and Western Michigan (37-24). There isn't a lot we truly know about those opponents. Each lost to a Big Ten team in convincing fashion, but Ohio State (who pounded Ohio) and Michigan State (who beat Western Michigan) are both upper tier teams right now. Ohio State's only challenge is against other mascots.
Even though it was a 21-point margin of victory, this group was very successful against us last year. Austin Dantin has taken over for the departed Aaron Opelt at quarterback, but he leads an offense that is dead last out of 120 teams in Division 1-A in terms of total offense. They ranked 108th in in passing at just 128.7 yards per game and 107th in rushing at 92.3 yards. It's not like they just had an epically bad game against Arizona game to skew the numbers, either. Their stats from that game are fairly close to the team averages. They were able to beat Ohio because of a two touchdown drives of five yards or less thanks to Bobcat fumbles. Against Western Michigan They had a 73-yard touchdown pass to Kenny Stafford, but they also had a defensive touchdown and a special teams score.
A ranking of 58th overall may not seem like much for our defense, but I'll take being in the upper half of Division I-A any day. In fact, with the capabilities of our offense we should be an excellent team as long as our defense can hold teams to 20 points or less. We're even 40th in scoring defense, which is, again, improvement. On paper this looks like a game where our average (at least statistaclly) defense will be facing a poor offense that has benefitted greatly from special teams and its own defense.
Dantin has a good completion percentage (66.1%) for 378 yards, but he has thrown three touchdowns against four interceptions. That is the same ratio for our own Robert Marve. Eric Page has been his top target with 13 catches for 156 yards and a score. Stafford has six catches for 136 yards and two scores, but no one else has more than 22 yards receiving. If we can contain Page and Stafford, we should stop their passing game.
Their running game, predictably, has not been much better. Adonis Thomas has 109 yards rushing to lead the team. Dantin is second with 73 yards and two scores. David Fluellen will carry the ball some, as he has 70 yards rushing, but this is not a powerful ground game. The offensive line has allowed six sacks without facing the likes of Ryan Kerrigan and Kawann Short. We saw Kerrigan switch sides regularly last week, so tackles Mike VanDerMeulen and John Morookian should have a workout. This is an experienced, bigger line, so they should be better at helping the offense move.
This area has been a major surprise for the Rockets, and it is likely what will keep them in the game on Saturday. We have had noted pass protection problems. After having only 10 sacks in 2008 and 20 last year they have racked up 10 through three games to rank 14h in the NCAA. Alex Johnson, Malcolm Riley, Dan Molls, and Douglas Westbrook each have two sacks. This tells me the pass rush is coming from multiple directions. We can't have Nick Mondek whiffing on blocks of Just Pierce struggling with interior protection again. This is a great test to see how much they have improved.
Despite the sacks, the pass defense ranks 118th in Division 1-A, so as long as we can protect Marve/Rob Henry we should be able to throw. The run defense is much better, ranking 4th at only 54.67 yards per game, but why run if you can pass all day against them? That area will be tested by our surprisingly effective run game that has generated more than 177 yards per game. Isaiah Ballard and Archie Donald are players to watch on defense. Each has 27 tackles while Donald has had an interception.
This is a unit that has done very, very well at forcing turnovers. Molls has three interceptions, while Desmond Marrow was named MAC West Defensive Player of the Week for his two picks and a touchdown last week. The Toledo defense has forced 10 turnovers in three games (8 interceptions, two fumbles). That has led to the majority of scoring for the Rockets. As long as we can keep ahold of the ball and protect the quarterback I can see our passing taking a big step forward. The return of Al-Terek McBurse will also help the running game.
Toledo Special Teams:
As we saw late last week with the kick return that set up Ball State's second touchdown, kickoff coverage is still very poor. It's not a good thing then that Eric Page had a 98 yard touchdown return last week and earned another weekly award. He ahsn't been as effective on punt returns, but their kick return unit is producing 25 yards per return.
Once again, The Blur (Carson Wiggs, John Finch, and Kris Staats) should be a major advantage on field goals. Ryan Casano is just 1 of 5 on the season with his only make from 24 yards. All four misses were from greater than 40 yards, so not only does this offense struggle to move the ball, it needs to get inside the 20 in order to score.
We're facing a 2-1 team, but they rank in the triple digits in three of the four major statistical categories. They haven't moved the ball well at all, and they have managed to get a pair of wins on the strength of turnovers and a stout run defense. The last time they played a BCS conference opponent it was in a highly anticipated home game. The offense did nothing and the only scoring came via a safety.
This has to be a final tune up game. I have seen enough from our defense to know that we should dominate them. Ball State only scored when given a short field, while the late scores against Western Illinois don't bother me. We're tackling better and as long as we improve at covering short passes over the middle, something Toledo torched us with last year, we should be fine.
Mostly, I want to see continued improvement from the offense. We scored 52 against these guys last year despite three Joey Elliott interceptions. Yes, they rank fourth in overall run defense, but Ralph Bolden absolutely shredded them and Jaycen Taylor had a good game too. I think McBurse can have his breakout game this week if given a chance. Antavian Edison and O.J. Ross may even see more time in the backfield, as well as Justin Siller.
The keys are pass protection and ball security. As long as we protect the quarterback and don't throw interceptions we will take away the two things that Toledo has done well so far. If we do both I don't see us losing unless our defense totally craps the bed.
Western Michigan Highlights