Ohio and Toledo. This was supposed to be a tightly-contested clash between the MAC's division leaders and top two offenses. Instead, it was the Nathan Rourke show in Athens. The Bobcats left absolutely no doubt and became one step closer to clinching their second straight MAC East title. Toledo, just steps away from the AP Poll, left plenty of doubt. Here are some takeaways from Wednesday night's duel:
Wait. What actually happened to Toledo's offense?
Great question. The Toledo offense had been a force all season, captained by senior quarterback Logan Woodside — nearly a consensus pick for best quarterback in the conference. Not only does Toledo have Woodside on the roster; the team also lines up a star running back in Terry Swanson and possesses possibly the deepest receiving corps in the conference.
But none of that mattered on Wednesday night. Toledo could not establish a run game against Ohio's defense — a unit that more-than stepped up to the occasion for the big game. Swanson finished with six carries for nine yards and the team, led by Shakif Seymour, finished with 53 rushing yards in total.
Logan Woodside continued his turnover-free ways, now sporting a 10-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio on the season. But fumbling was Toledo's way of choking offensively.
Art Thompkins fumbled on the Ohio 8-yard line on Toledo's opening drive after the Rockets displayed their usual effective offense. The fumble stalled all the momentum and Toledo was unable to find it again. But another fumble by Diontae Johnson in Ohio territory, while the score was 7-7, once again tainted another successful Rockets' drive. This fumble resulted in three points for Ohio and the Bobcats led at halftime.
Ohio's rushing offense is virtually unstoppable
Even with two fumbles inside the 25-yard line — and fumbling is this Ohio team's greatest offensive flaw, just ask Purdue and Central Michigan — the Ohio rushing offense just took it to Toledo. The squad accumulated 393 yards on the ground and produced over seven times as many rushing yards as Toledo's offense.
Quarterback Nathan Rourke led the charge as usual. The first-year starter has been a stud all season long and he is very talented at running the option. Speed options, read options: they all work for the quick sophomore. He sprinted for 115 rushing yards on 14 carries and finished with his 17th rushing touchdown of the season — the FBS's leader in the category.
When defenses aim to stop Rourke, he often pitches it to his friends in the backfield. On Wednesday night, Dorian Brown happened to be the lead back. Brown received a season-high 17 carries and turned it into 142 yards and two touchdowns. His 62-yard footrace to the end zone in the third quarter all but put away the game for the Bobcats, making it 24-7. He'd also put in the finishing touch and score the final touchdown of the evening to win the game 38-10.
The usual feature back, A.J. Ouellette, rushed for 70 yards and the game's opening touchdown. No matter who the ball carrier was, Toledo's defense could not stop him. That's a credit to Ohio's offensive line for effective run blocking as well.
Diontae Johnson MIGHT be the MAC's best receiver
I've written a lot about Diontae Johnson in these takeaways for weeks now. And other than his fumble in the second quarter, he continues to impress me week after week. He comes down with the incredible catches, he constantly finds ways to get open down the field, and he's blazing quick on his routes and can find separation at the last minute. Johnson has the full package.
After a nine-catch, 144-yard, one-touchdown performance, Johnson has performed as well as any wide receiver in college football over a three-game stretch.
In his latest games against Ball State, Northern Illinois, and Ohio, Johnson collectively has caught 23 passes for 480 yards and three touchdowns. Toledo desperately needed a wide receiver to claim the No. 1 spot after Cody Thompson went down with a leg injury in the Eastern Michigan game. Johnson has not only answer the call, he's possibly established himself as the best receiver in the conference. Woodside's new favorite deep threat now has 1,003 yards on the season and four games above the 140-yard mark.
Buffalo's Anthony Johnson is third in the nation with 1,048 receiving yards and Diontae Johnson is fifth. The Johnsons are the top two receivers in the MAC. It's a tough call because both have a great arsenal of skills. But Diontae has stepped up to the occasion since Thompson went down and turned himself into a star. And his pace hasn't slowed down yet. Let's see if he can continue his stardom against Bowling Green and Western Michigan.
Defensive MVP of the game: Quentin Poling
Because the MAC has plenty of sackmasters like Joe Ostman, Sutton Smith, and Anthony Winbush, Quentin Poling probably won't win MAC Defensive Player of the Year, but the senior linebacker is clearly a lock for First Team All-Conference.
Poling's three sacks were key in halting Toledo's offense on Wednesday night. He finished with a game-high 12 tackles and put pressure on Woodside all night long. Poling has been incredible for Ohio's defense, and the unit played at a surprisingly elite level against the conference's top offense.
Remember, this same Ohio team yielded 50 points to UMass. But with Poling performing at an extremely high level and teammates like Chad Moore contributing alongside him, this Bobcats' defense looks like a different unit than it did several weeks ago. The incredible play of Poling, who seemed to be a factor on almost every play, made this game a blowout and not a shootout.
The MAC will not have a ranked team this season
We had plenty of fun enjoying Western Michigan's run to the Cotton Bowl last season. In 2015, we watched Toledo rise in the polls after the Rockets beat an 8-5 Razorbacks team in Little Rock. In 2012 and 2013, we were spectators of the Jordan Lynch show in DeKalb and Northern Illinois stayed in the national spotlight and the rankings for a pair of seasons.
But there will be none of that in 2017.
With 31 votes in the latest AP Poll, Toledo checked in at #28 in the nation according to the writers who cast their ballots. Although the Rockets hadn't beaten anyone of greater caliber than Northern Illinois, their lone loss to #7 Miami (FL) may have been a factor that almost shot them into the Top 25. But with this loss, Toledo won't be back in the rankings. And here's why:
The 2015 Toledo Rockets finished 10-2 with wins over Iowa State and Arkansas, and even a Boca Raton Bowl win over a ranked Temple team. But the Matt Campbell-led Rockets didn't even finish the season in the polls. This year, Toledo doesn't have the luxury of a Power Five victory and the Rockets probably won't face a ranked team or Power Five team in a bowl game. So, it's safe to say 12-2 probably won't result in a ranking.
Ohio is the only other team in the conference with two losses. But with a 23-point loss to Purdue and a loss to Central Michigan, paired with just one Power Five win over Kansas (a win that holds less weight than a Jayhawks' feathers), it's hard to see the national media give Ohio any love for the Top 25.
Since the conference probably won't earn a ranking this season, the MAC is unofficially eliminated from contention for a New Year's Six bowl. The committee has clearly shown its Group of Five bias by ranking an undefeated UCF squad that's a top 10 team by nearly every metric at #18. And Memphis is barely in the poll and 8-1 South Florida can't even earn a coveted ranking. The American Conference has been, and usually is, the best Group of Five conference, and the committee is probably even less inclined to rank a MAC team than say South Florida. The MAC is 0-2 in BCS/NY6 bowls this decade after all (2012 NIU, 2016 Western Michigan), while the American Conference is 2-0 (2013 UCF, 2015 Houston).
Unless chaos ensues and Boise State wins out, the American has clinched the NY6 spot. But the MAC has plenty of bowl eligible teams: Toledo, Ohio, Northern Illinois, Western Michigan, and Central Michigan.
After faring 0-6 in 2016's bowl season, here's something to look forward to: better postseason results!