Toledo’s offense looked reanimated after a Week 3 debacle against Miami (FL) at the Glass Bowl. The defense? Not so much.
In college football, a win is a win, and Toledo managed to edge out the visiting Nevada Wolf Pack, 63-44, to improve to 2-1 in the non-conference slate. The game was very similar to Toledo’s Week 3 win in the Glass Bowl last year, where the Rockets edged out Tulsa in a high-scoring 54-51 thriller.
Here’s what we learned from the 107-point day between the MAC and Mountain West foes.
Toledo scored... HOW MANY POINTS?
Yes, Toledo piled up 66 on VMI, an FCS program that wins as often as leap years occur. Scoring 63 on Nevada is very impressive for Jason Candle’s offense, a unit that was nearly shut out against Miami in the first half last week.
The Rockets’ offense was well-paced and dominant throughout the entire game, scoring 21 in the second quarter and 14 in the other three. The scoring drives were quick and efficient, and quarterback Mitch Guadagni shined with four touchdown passes and two rushing touchdowns.
Somehow, there was definitely room for improvement. Toledo still found time for six punts sandwiched in between its nine touchdowns. The Rockets only recorded 230 passing yards on 16 total completions. Also, Toledo won the turnover battle 2-1, but the offense scored zero points off of Nevada’s giveaways.
In summary, Toledo’s offense dominated and still didn’t show its true potential. Guadagni had his best performance as a Rocket, and the receiving corps looked stellar as usual. The result was a 63-point performance against a Nevada team that was entering after a win over the Pac-12’s Oregon State. There’s no question the offense is this team’s strong point, and scoring copious amounts of points is how this team continues to enter the win column.
Mitch Guadagni has proved his stardom
As mentioned before, Guadagni’s arm didn’t reach peak accuracy on Saturday. The quarterback completed just 62.5% of his passes and recorded a pedestrian 211 yards through the air. But that’s all he needed to record in the box score.
Guadagni still threw four touchdown passes, three of which were of 20 yards or more. Where we really saw Guadagni’s excellence was with his legs. He showed flashes of potential against the Hurricanes last week, but the junior quarterback ended Saturday with an exclamation mark instead of an ellipsis.
On 15 carries, he rushed for 131 yards and two touchdowns. These scores came from 27 and 34 yards away from the end zone. His mobility increases the potential of Toledo’s offense and adds an extra dimension to the unit that it lacked a year ago. Guadagni’s best passing performance of his career coincided with an unforgettable outing on the ground. Toledo must continue calling plays that optimize the quarterback’s potential, because he’s a special talent.
Special teams TDs separated Toledo from Nevada early
We all remember Cody Thompson’s blocked punt against VMI on Week 1.
Well, returning blocked punts from touchdowns appears to be a concept Toledo has specialized in this 2018. This time, wide receiver Desmond Phillips batted the ball away from the punter’s foot. Toledo scooped up this rejection for a nine yard score.
Several sequences later, Diontae Johnson continued his returning prowess. After recording a kick return and a punt return touchdown in 2017, the junior wide receiver responded to a Nevada touchdown with a 98-yard kickoff return to pull Toledo in front, 21-14.
Johnson’s been an absolute touchdown machine and has already totaled five touchdowns this year after posting 15 as a sophomore. Toledo will continue to excel in the field position battle as long as Johnson is set to receive kicks. The wideout averages 45.5 yards per return on four attempts this year, adding a great boost to the Rockets’ special teams.
Where art thou, Toledo running backs?
Recently, Toledo fielded backfield heroes like David Fluellen, Kareem Hunt, Terry Swanson. One burning question: who’s next?
Art Thompkins and Shakif Seymour, who showed prosperity at times in 2017, are off to rather slow starts through three games. The pair is averaging a combined 57.3 yards per game, with Seymour ranking third on the team in yards and Thompkins checking in at four.
Instead, Toledo’s premier back looks to be freshman Bryant Koback. Koback leads all Toledo halfbacks with 119 yards this season on 28 carries. But Koback and the other runners didn’t perform above expectations against Nevada.
The three aforementioned running backs combined for 99 yards on 29 attempts in the 63-44 win, with a maximum run of 14 yards. Toledo’s running backs have been unable to burst through the offensive line and manufacture 20-yard gains this year.
Koback’s long is 16, Thompkins’ is 14, and Seymour’s is 11. Guadagni serves as the team’s top runner but seeing improvement with the backs would be helpful for the Rockets down the line.
Victory doesn’t hide defensive struggles
The sample size is still minimal, two games to be exact. Toledo’s defense is yielding an average of 46.5 points per game to FBS teams.
Miami (FL) and Nevada aren’t typical offensive powerhouses though, but the Rockets made both look the part. Toledo allowed 582 yards to the Wolf Pack, allowing quarterback Ty Gangi plenty of time to complete 29 passes for 320 yards.
The run defense showed no improvement either. Just one week after permitting Miami to score five rushing touchdowns and rack up 268 yards, deja vu was seen in the Glass Bowl. Nevada’s feature back Toa Taua recorded 170 yards on just 15 carries, registering a hat trick of touchdowns on an unassuming Toledo defense. For the second-straight game, the Rockets allowed an opponent to rush into the end zone five times in an afternoon.
Toledo’s strategy of outscoring the opponent without imposing its will on defense won’t work against many opponents. It certainly didn’t against the Hurricanes. The Rockets are providing a lack of pressure on quarterbacks, earning just one sack in two FBS contests.
A 19-point non-conference win is always a good sign for a team, but Toledo’s defensive performance definitely raised some concerned eyebrows for the second-straight week. Fresno State is no offensive slouch, and the Rockets must shift the focus to creating stops in order to pull out the upset on the west coast next Saturday.