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2018 Week 5 MAC Preview: Toledo Rockets @ Fresno State Bulldogs

The Rockets battle their most evenly matched opponent of the season down in the Valley.

Fresno State v UCLA Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

The non-conference slate is almost finished for the defending MAC champions. Toledo checks into Week 5 with a 2-1 record, but the Rockets are about to embark on a journey the 2018 team hasn’t experienced yet — playing on the road.

Toledo’s high-powered offense ousted VMI (66 points scored) and Nevada (63 points) at the Glass Bowl, but the unit couldn’t keep up pace with the Miami Hurricanes. The Rockets were clearly better than VMI and Nevada, winning by 63 and 19, respectively. In their one loss, Miami spoiled Toledo’s home-field advantage with a lopsided 49-24 win.

So, there’s one other experience 2018 Toledo has yet to witness — playing in a close game. This Saturday night, it seems destined that both of these unfamiliarities occur, as the Rockets serve as hosts to the 2-1 Fresno State Bulldogs.

Fresno State’s been an up-and-down program for quite some time now. Just one year after holding the FBS-worst record of 1-11, Jeff Tedford resurrected the team to a 10-win season and a bowl victory in his first year as head coach of the program.

The Bulldogs, like Toledo, experienced an early bye week but their last win was a bulldozing of UCLA at the Rose Bowl. Thanks to an explosive offense and a relentless defense that forced four turnovers, Fresno State left the iconic stadium as victors, in 38-14 fashion. The Bulldogs’ one loss occurred at Minnesota, where running back Josh Hokit was intercepted by Minnesota free safety Antoine Winfield Jr. on a trick play, which was also a potential game-tying touchdown pass with less than 90 seconds left.

One important factor to watch out for when Toledo and Fresno State collide in Central California is the contrasting styles between the two quarterbacks. McMaryion has shifted to his focus to passing this season, and he’s been very efficient at doing so. The senior is one of 18 quarterbacks in the country completing 70 percent of his passes.

Toledo’s newcomer Mitch Guadagni prefers to attack with his legs. The junior quarterback recorded the best two-way performance of his career against Nevada, finishing with 131 rushing yards on the ground and 211 through the air. Most importantly, Guadagni was responsible for six (4 passing, 2 rushing) of Toledo’s nine touchdowns in the shootout victory. As he becomes more experienced, he’s gaining confidence in his ability and proving he’s a capable successor to Logan Woodside.

The Toledo running backs have been underwhelming this season, with freshman Bryant Koback leading the pack with 119 yards. Yes, Guadagni posted more rushing yards in the Nevada game than that. But where Toledo really shines on offense is in its receiving corps. The star pair of Cody Thompson and Diontae Johnson is proving to be one of the best in the country once again, recording a combined 390 receiving yards and eight touchdowns in three contests.

The running back position isn’t exactly Fresno State’s specialty, but the Bulldogs also boast a talented wideout in KeeSean Johnson. In each of his three outings in 2018, Johnson has recorded at least six receptions and 85 yards, so Toledo’s secondary must be prepared for McMaryion to frequently target the senior from East Palo Alto, CA.

Defensively, Fresno State has the edge. The programs have been polar opposites on the defensive side of the ball this season, and some of Toledo’s stats are inflated due to facing an inept VMI team from the FCS. The Bulldogs allow 295 yards per game, good for 13th in the nation, while Toledo ranks 100th in the same statistical category.

Fresno State has yet to allow greater than 21 points this season (16 points allowed per game), and the defense has remained consistent in limiting big plays from opposing teams. Toledo prefers to win in shootout style as demonstrated against Fresno State’s Mountain West rival, Nevada, last weekend. The Rockets scored quickly, kept the defense on the field often, and yielded 44 points to the Wolf Pack — and still won by 19!

Saturday’s game will be Fresno State’s toughest matchup outside of the loss to Minnesota, and it will serve as Toledo’s most challenging outside of Miami (FL). One of these decent Group of Five teams will feel bitter with a 2-2 start entering conference play after a double-digit win season in 2017.

Game Notes

  • Time and date: September 29, 2018 — 10:30 p.m. ET
  • Venue: Bulldog Stadium — Fresno, CA
  • Spread: Fresno State (-10)
  • ESPN FPI Predictor: Fresno State has 86.0% chance to win
  • All-time series: Fresno State leads 2-1.

Despite their geographical separation, the teams have squared off on the field three times in the last 13 seasons. Fresno State breezed to a blowout 44-14 victory in 2005, but the matchup three years later was a classic. In 2008, the Bulldogs took down the Rockets at the Glass Bowl, 55-54, in double overtime.

After scoring its second touchdown of the overtime period, Toledo elected to go for the win, as head coach Tom Amstutz cited the tiredness of his players. The two-point attempt failed, and Fresno State flew back to the west coast with a victory in a game that saw 1,018 yards of total offense and numerous lead changes.

Eight years later and several coaching administrations later, Toledo destroyed the Bulldogs at the Glass Bowl, 52-17. This was in the midst of Fresno State’s 1-11 season, while the Rockets finished at 9-4.

Prediction

Toledo’s going to have to adapt to Fresno State’s game. This won’t be the high-scoring, thrilling shootout we witnessed at the Glass Bowl last Saturday afternoon. Fresno State’s defense is going to set the tone for this game, limiting the effectiveness of Toledo’s passing game along the way.

The Rockets will still appear on the scoreboard, but their offense will operate at the level it was at during the matchup against Miami (FL). This game should be neck-and-neck throughout, but the home team will improve to 3-1 because it’s a whole mile ahead in terms of defensive caliber.

Prediction: Fresno State 27, Toledo 21