Game 9 preview: Toledo Rockets
Record: 5-3 (4-0 MAC).
Recent games: The Rockets come into Rynearson Stadium on a two-game winning streak. Two weeks ago they beat Kent State 34-21, and last weekend they downed Ball State 31-24.
Quality wins: The Rockets have two quality wins this fall. On September 11 the beat Ohio in Athens, 20-13. On September 25 they beat Purdue in West Lafayette, 31-20, in one of only three MAC wins over AQ-conference teams this fall.
Embarrassing losses: They managed to get Arizona to come to the Glass Bowl for the season opener and lost 41-2 on national TV. They also lost pretty badly to Boise State in Bronco Stadium, but that’s not really that embarrassing — it happens to almost every team that is willing to make that trip.
Last meeting: Toledo won last November 20, 47-21.
All-time series: After playing in 1923 and 1924, which Toledo won 13-0 and 7-0, the teams did not meet again until 1972. Toledo leads the series 26-11, and has won the last three games (each by at least 24 points) and nine of the last ten (all by double digits).
Coach: After a 3-9 season in 2008 that included a win over the Michigan Wolverines (the only MAC win ever over the Wolverines), Tom Amstutz resigned, and Tim Beckman was named Toledo’s head coach. Beckman, an alumnus of the University of Findlay, was a graduate assistant for the Auburn football team in 1988 and 1989. From 1990-95 he coached the defensive backs at Western Carolina, following which he was the defensive coordinator at Elon University in North Carolina for two years. In 1998 he was hired as the defensive coordinator at Bowling Green, where he remained through 2004. In 2005 and 2006 he was the cornerbacks’ coach for Ohio State, until Mike Gundy hired him to be defensive coordinator of the Oklahoma State Cowboys. So far in his first head coaching position, Beckman’s team is 10-10, 7-5 in the MAC.
Offense: The Rockets’ offense is led by sophomore quarterback Austin Dantin. This year, Dantin has completed 126 of 190 passes (66%) for 1256 yards (6.6 yards per attempt), but his seven passing touchdowns are offset by eight interceptions. Far and away his top target is fellow sophomore Eric Page, who, at 61 catches for 690 yards and three touchdowns, accounts for nearly half of the passing production. (Page is also Toledo’s top kickoff and punt returner.) Other frequent targets (one to two catches per game) include Kenny Stafford (12 catches for 192 yards and two touchdowns), running back Adonis Thomas (15 catches for 143 yards and a touchdown), running back Morgan Williams (16 catches for 120 yards), and tight end Danny Noble (11 catches for 94 yards and two touchdowns). There’s not a senior among those players, so look for Toledo to continue to be strong next season also.
The Rockets run the ball 58% of the time, and though the play is different, the top names are the same. Adonis Thomas has carried 90 times for 465 yards (5.2 yards per carry) and three touchdowns. Dantin has kept the ball 101 times, gaining 294 yards (2.9 yards per carry) and eight touchdowns. Morgan Williams has 56 runs for 199 yards (3.6 yards per carry).
Basically, three players account for the vast majority of Toledo’s offense: Austin Dantin (passing, running), Eric Page (receiving, kickoff/punt returns), and Adonis Thomas (receiving, running). If they play well, the Rockets will have little trouble scoring, but if one or several of them struggle, EMU may have a decent chance.
Defense: On balance, Toledo’s defense falls in the middle of the MAC — in fact, their average of 27.5 points per game allowed puts them exactly in the middle of the MAC’s 13 teams, and their 360.6 yards per game allowed ranks sixth. But their defense is not balanced. While they only allow 118.4 yards per game on the ground, second-best in the MAC, they allow 242.3 yards per game through the air, and only Akron is worse. The one solid aspect of their pass defense is that they lead the MAC with 14 interceptions. Four of the eight MACWDDPotW awards have gone to four different Toledo defenders (Dan Molls, Desmond Marrow, Archie Donald, T.J. Fatinikun), and last week Isaiah Ballard was the MACWDSTPotW.
Keys to watch: If the EMU offense can get things going — and keep them going — the Eagles will have a chance. Long drives like we saw EMU put together against Ball State will help take some of the pressure off the EMU defense. Javonti Greene is listed as EMU’s starting running back with Priest backing him up; hopefully Greene’s stats look more like they did last week and less like they did against Vanderbilt and Ohio State. EMU’s defense needs to focus on not giving up big plays, particularly to Page and Thomas. Ditto the EMU special teams, who have allowed each of the last two opponents to return a kickoff all the way.
Predictions: The betting line favors Toledo by about two touchdowns, and I suspect that’s about right. Toledo will probably win this one by about 37-24. I’ll give EMU about a 10% chance of pulling off the upset (mostly since it’s a home game), though I wonder if even that isn’t too optimistic.