In a result everybody from Toledo, OH to Muncie, IN expected, Toledo thrashed Ball State 58-17 at Scheumann Stadium on Thursday night. The Rockets' dominant offense had its way while the Cardinals' already-struggling unit was even further hampered by the injury bug.
Here's what we learned from the 41-point victory:
Ball State probably won't win another game
Yes, the Cardinals actually led 7-3 after one quarter after the Toledo defense let up a 41-yard run by Malik Dunner. But after that play, Ball State did absolutely nothing to convince me that it can pull off a victory this season. Road games against a 2-6 Eastern Michigan (that is much better than its record suggests) and 6-2 Northern Illinois don't even seem winnable at this point for a team that is losing by a combined score of 200-32 against conference opponents. Buffalo and Miami (OH) both sit at 3-5 but these MAC East teams have shown enough competence to seamlessly put away the Cardinals as well.
After an injury to first-time starter Zack Blair, Ball State is now on its fourth-string quarterback Drew Plitt, who never took a collegiate snap before Thursday night. Plitt will likely start against Eastern Michigan unless the Cardinals rule Jack Milas healthy for the game. But in four starts, Milas threw zero touchdown passes and six interceptions, dropping all four contests. It seems Ball State is completely out of solutions at this point, especially with the team's best player Anthony Winbush leaving the Toledo game with an injury. It's back to the drawing board for Mike Neu and the Cardinals, who have yet to register more than five wins since 2013. And this team looked promising at 2-1 before the injury to starting quarterback Riley Neal.
Toledo's offense can score on any play
Jason Candle's offense carries a unique trait: the unit is extremely adept at execution on the deep ball. Toledo just completed big play after big play on Thursday night, finishing with five touchdowns of over 60 yards (although one special teams) and three scores beyond 70 yards. That's a credit to quarterback Logan Woodside and his incredible vision down the field. Also, recognition is due to the Toledo receiving corps, a unit that is still functioning at a high level despite the absence of the team's best wideout Cody Thompson.
No player stepped up like Diontae Johnson in Muncie. The receiver set a career-high 170 yards on just four catches and scored three total touchdowns, including one on a punt return. Here's Johnson's Sportscenter-esque highlight play in the third quarter:
Now that's a talented reception by Johnson, who somehow stuck with the play after the initial deflection. Woodside only needed to complete eight passes to achieve 267 yards and three touchdowns through the air. But most impressively, no Rockets' scoring drive that ended in a touchdown lasted longer than four plays.
Toledo's ability to score at such a rapid rate and its boldness to attack secondaries down the field so frequently make the Rockets a threatening matchup for every team in the conference and even a handful of Power Five teams. Woodside's offense demonstrated this attribute to an extent against Tulsa earlier this year as well, so the Rockets' offense has become accustomed to scoring from over 60 yards out and at the beginning of possessions.
Justin Hall is one of the MAC's underrated receivers
Out of all the players dressed in black and red, no Cardinal impressed me as much as Justin Hall did during Thursday night #MACtion. Hall hauled in seven passes for 39 yards and demonstrated impressive strength and speed while running routes and reeling in catches. But the Ball State receiver executed one of the most perfect hurdles in college football this season near the closure of the first half. It won't receive the highlight attention of a hurdle by Lamar Jackson or Saquon Barkley given Ball State's 2-6 record and the fact that Hall is not a Heisman Trophy candidate, but this is a very impressive, untouched leap by Hall to gain extra yardage in the second quarter.
Ball State's Justin Hall with the cleanest hurdle of the year pic.twitter.com/N8Os1K7F95— Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer) October 27, 2017
Toledo's punt returning is scary good
More on Diontae Johnson:
This season, Johnson averages 28.3 yards per return. That average does wonders for field position. It's like getting two extra first downs before having to bring the offense onto the gridiron. Johnson has done nothing except set the Rockets up for success as a result of his special teams contributions.
And he finally hit the home run on Thursday, earning his first touchdown of the year on this 87-yard beauty, where he tip-toed on one sideline to stay in bounds and finished in the end zone on the other sideline. He probably ran almost 300 yards on this return:
Also worth noting: wide receiver Danzel McKinley-Lewis (6.5 yards per return), who primarily handles punt return duties, also returned a punt 93 yards for a touchdown, but it was called back due to holding. Toledo would expectedly score from 88 yards out on the ensuing play.
The Rockets also blocked a punt early in the game and McKinley-Lewis made the heads-up play to scoop it up and return it to the Ball State 11-yard line.
Toledo ranks second in the conference to Ball State in punt return average.
Toledo develops running backs like no other
It's evident that Kareem Hunt, the program's all-time leading rusher, was a fantastic running back for the Rockets. But in the post-Hunt era, Toledo possesses a very talented and versatile halfback troupe.
Terry Swanson is the leader at the position. He currently has taken a team-high 131 carries and converted them into 728 yards and eight touchdowns. On Thursday night, Swanson added his fifth 100-yard game of the season and third-straight contest past the century mark on the ground. Swanson's highlight of the day was a 71-yard dash to the end zone to give Toledo its first touchdown of the evening.
Freshman Shakif Seymour added 72 yards on five attempts, scoring two touchdowns in the blowout victory. Seymour now has six touchdowns and 467 yards in 2017. But another freshman, who actually entered the game with -1 career yards, exploded onto the scene with 81 yards on five attempts. Meet Nevone McCrimmon, the 5-foot-11 halfback wearing the No. 34 jersey for the Rockets. McCrimmon burst for a 73-yard run at the conclusion of the third quarter, a play that was initially called a touchdown before the referees overturned it and placed the ball on the 2-yard line.
Running back Art Thompkins also received three carries. Toledo has established so many weapons at the position and contain unique depth at halfback. Swanson, the senior, will move forward by earning the bulk of the load but Seymour, Thompkins, and McCrimmon are all formidable threats who can easily dash their way to 80 yards on any given Saturday (or Tuesday or Wednesday or Thursday). As a result, Toledo ranks 20th in the nation and second in the MAC with 1,817 rushing yards.