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2018 Week 3 MAC Preview: Miami Hurricanes @ Toledo Rockets

Can the rocket pierce through the eye of the hurricane without stumbling?

Toledo v Miami Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

Saturday morning in the Glass Bowl should generate one of the most electric atmosphere’s in the Glass Bowl’s 82-year history. The attendance record at the venue was set in 2001’s matchup between Toledo and Navy (36,852), but with a ranked brand-name program visiting the reigning MAC champions, who knows how long that number stands?

Miami was responsible for handing the Rockets their first of three losses during a 2017 storybook season, which culminated in the program’s first MAC title in over a decade. The Hurricanes climbed to as high as No. 2 in the AP Poll after a 10-0 start.

Toledo was one of the major challengers to that 10-0 record, leading Miami 16-10 on the road at halftime on Week 4 last September. Thanks to Toledo fumbles and a dominant rushing offense in the second half, Miami escaped with a 52-30 advantage.

Some of the major characters from the 2017 prequel will not return for round two on Saturday. Those individuals include former Toledo quarterback Logan Woodside (342 passing yards, 3 TD), former Miami running back Mark Walton (11 carries, 204 rushing yards, 2 TD), and defenders Ja’Wuan Woodley and Malek Young.

There are still several key returning stars to keep your eyes on this Saturday morning:

Players to Watch

Jeff Thomas, WR, Miami

Thomas did not record a reception in last year’s 52-30 result, but as a sophomore, he’s already proving to be one of the most impactful skill position players on the Hurricanes’ offense. Thomas posted 132 yards on the LSU Tigers, who annually possess one of the top secondaries in the country. He followed the performance up with one catch and a 67-yard touchdown in a 77-0 shutout against Savannah State. Quite the acrobat, Thomas is capable of making plays to this extent:

Shaquille Quarterman, ILB, Miami

Miami’s well-renowned defense finished fourth in turnover margin a year ago, and Quarterman is the middle man that anchors this talented unit. In the past two seasons, the linebacker has recorded seven sacks, 17 tackles for loss, and has forced a pair of fumbles. Quarterman already owns 12 tackles and one sack to his name this season, and his presence should be felt by the Toledo run defense this Saturday.

Michael Jackson, CB, Miami

It has yet to be determined if the senior cornerback can moonwalk, but we do know Michael Jackson’s immense talents in pass coverage. The Birmingham, AL native recorded four interceptions and one fumble recovery in 2017. The Turnover Chain appeared so frequently around his neck, it was like a new component of his uniform. The edge cornerback will be responsible for thwarting Toledo’s passing game, which features one of the top receiving units in the nation.

Cody Thompson, WR, Toledo

Thompson drew headlines and rose to the top of highlight reels after completing one of the most ridiculous punt return touchdowns in college football history. The senior wideout is a familiar face to the Miami secondary, as he torched them with 114 receiving yards on five touchdowns last September. In his first game back from a broken leg, Thompson showed no signs of slowing down with 68 receiving yards and a touchdown in a 66-3 blowout victory over VMI.

Diontae Johnson, WR, Toledo

Thompson and Johnson are the Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin, the Steve Smith and Muhsin Muhammad, the Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh of college football this year. The pair of receivers possesses the whole array of talents that a receiving corps must have. What Thompson lacks in speed, Diontae Johnson makes up for it. Johnson scored two touchdowns on eight catches in last year’s bout, and the receiver continued to improve after that game to land a spot on the First Team All-MAC.

NCAA Football: Toledo at Miami Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Jameson Vest, K, Toledo

If this game comes down to special teams, Toledo owns a major advantage in the kicking game. Although the world fell in love with Miami kicker Bubba Baxa when he was introduced during the LSU game, Vest has the experience and a strong kicking leg. Vest netted a solid three field goals on three attempts in the first half of last year’s contest. His long of 49 still remains his career high. The senior kicker sunk over 83 percent of kicks last season, including a clutch game-winner to beat Tulsa at the buzzer last September.

Keys to the Game

Miami wins if the Turnover Chain makes its arrival. The Hurricanes failed to force any turnovers against an LSU offense that typically struggles against quality defensive units. As a result, the Hurricanes lost a lopsided matchup in Dallas and fell to an unconvincing 0-1. The Hurricanes don’t sport a particularly strong offense, but quarterback Malik Rosier proved he is capable of performing beyond expectations every few games.

Last season, Toledo was the victim of one of those performances, where Rosier passed the pigskin for 333 yards and three touchdowns. If the Hurricanes want to win in blowout fashion, Rosier will be required to put up monstrous stats like that. But Miami should be fine keeping the offense balanced and utilizing the capable running back duo of Travis Homer and DeeJay Dallas. Toledo’s run defense was a struggle last season, and we’ve yet to witness if the Rockets improved upon that aspect as they have yet to face a quality team.

Toledo wins if Mitch Guadagni unleashes his inner Logan Woodside. Woodside’s air attack kept the Rockets in manageable distance of Miami in last year’s game. Guadagni, the new starter, impressed in his first debut with 265 passing yards and three touchdowns against a weak FCS opponent. Things will be different when Joe Jackson’s rushing him from the defensive line and Michael Jackson and Jaquan Johnson are covering the Toledo receivers. Guadagni must stay poised and have an accurate day of connecting with Thompson, Johnson, and the rest of the deep wide receiver group. Toledo’s not winning this game by making defensive stands, so it’s up to the offense to perform at a high level. As a bonus, the Rockets will have their home fans backing them in the Glass Bowl, which is always helpful in big games.

Game Notes

Time and Date: Saturday, September 15, 12:00 p.m. EST

Network: ESPN2

Venue: Glass Bowl (26,038) — Toledo, OH

Spread: Miami (-10.5)

ESPN FPI Predictor: Miami has 76.7% chance to win

Series history: Miami leads all-time series, 2-0

The teams first bumped heads in 1987, where a national champion Miami program defeated Toledo only by 10 points, 24-14. It was Jimmy Johnson and the Hurricanes’ closest, non-ranked opponent all year.

Toledo also kept Miami on its toes in 2017, when Woodside and the offense stormed out to a 16-10 lead going into the break. Second half miscues allowed Miami to build on the lead, but the game was much closer than the final 52-30 suggests.

The trilogy begins Saturday.

Prediction

Toledo doesn’t have enough data points in the 2018 season to convince me that they’re better than Miami, and Miami doesn’t have enough data points in the 2018 season to convince me how good the team really is. Both teams posted inflated stats in wins over incredibly inferior FCS opponents. Miami beat Savannah State 77-0 and Toledo beat VMI 66-3.

The Rockets were then granted two weeks to prepare for the toughest game on their schedule, thanks to a Week 2 bye.

The Hurricanes’ Week 1 performance against LSU at a neutral site was anything but impressive, so Toledo can take solace in knowing Miami has performed below standards on the road and in neutral sites lately — losing four in a row dating back to Black Friday in 2017.

Toledo’s going to have a lead for a while, but Miami will wake up sometime in the second half and achieve a difficult road victory. The Rockets’ defense is the most concerning aspect of this Jason Candle team, as the unit was unable to stop rushing attacks from Ohio and Appalachian State one year ago, while Ja’Wuan Woodley was on the roster. It will be a great day for either Travis Homer or DeeJay Dallas, and for the second-straight year, Miami hands Toledo its first loss of the season.

Prediction: Miami 31, Toledo 23