For 10 straight Tuesdays this fall, our souls have marinated in emptiness, oftentimes wondering what our purpose as college football fans is. We’ve repeatedly gone to bed with our college football craving left unsatisfied, just waiting for time to accelerate past the most uneventful day of the week. But that barren, desolate Tuesday night landscape in our living rooms is no more. Tuesday night MACtion makes a triumphant return, featuring an unpredictable conference which features more parity than ever before.
The first Tuesday night #MACtion game of the season is a battle between East and West, a battle between two blue and yellow squads, and a battle between the team with the best overall record in the College Football Playoff era and the one with the worst. The Toledo Rockets (5-3, 2-2 MAC) remain a player in the MAC West race, recently shedding off a concerning 2-game skid by defeating Eastern Michigan in overtime. On the other sideline is the visiting Kent State Golden Flashes (3-5, 2-2 MAC), a rebuilding program which has already reveled in more success this season than in any of the past five years.
When Toledo has the ball
Toledo is about an hour from the roller coaster capital of America, the theme park known as Cedar Point. And similar to the attractions at Cedar Point, Toledo’s season has been filled with oscillating rises to the top and rapid falls from grace. But at 5-3, the Rockets still possess the MAC’s best overall record. They handled business in non-conference play by finishing 3-1 with a statement win over BYU, but in MAC play, Toledo suffered an ugly stretch where it lost to rival Bowling Green and was dismantled 52-14 by MAC West leader Ball State.
Toledo has suffered several injuries in the quarterback room this season, and the Rockets will likely start backup Eli Peters against Kent State, per Brian Buckey of the Toledo Blade.
Jason Candle sounded on the MAC teleconference like Toledo is prepared to have Eli Peters as the starting QB tomorrow night against Kent State.— Brian Buckey (@BrianBuckey) November 4, 2019
Peters, a 6-game starter in 2018, emerged victorious in his first start of the 2019 season to improve his record to 5-2 as a Rocket. In adverse conditions, the junior completed 9/18 passes for 138 yards and two touchdowns. Peters is a strong downfield thrower, and his in-game experience trumps that of most backup quarterbacks in the FBS, allowing Toledo to remain respectable offensively without dual-threat starting quarterback Mitchell Guadagni.
Toledo’s offense remains especially lethal in the run game. Running back Bryant Koback is 11th in the nation in rushing and he is 15 yards short of posting his first career 1,000-yard season. The sophomore averages 6.6 yards per carry and is fresh off a dominant career-high 259-yard performance in the win over Eastern Michigan. Koback has two games in which he surpassed 220 rushing yards this year and another with 177. Premier running backs haven’t been kind to Kent State this season, as Jonathan Taylor diced the Golden Flashes’ defense with 215 yards from scrimmage and five touchdowns in virtually one half of football.
Stopping Koback may be difficult enough for Kent State’s 128th-ranked rushing defense, but the Golden Flashes must contain Shakif Seymour as well. The powerful running back has played a strong second fiddle to Koback, breaking the 90-yard rushing mark twice this season.
Kent State’s passing defense is in the middle of the pack in college football, but the Golden Flashes have been solid at preventing passing touchdowns. Only 20 teams allow fewer than Kent State’s 1.1 passing touchdowns allowed per contest. The matchups to watch on the outside involve Toledo wide receivers Bryce Mitchell and Desmond Phillips versus Kent State cornerbacks Jamal Parker and Elvis Hines. Parker leads the Flashes with seven passes defended and two interceptions this season. While he is poised to make Tuesday a challenging night for Mitchell (397 receiving yards, 20.9 yards per catch), the 6’3” Toledo wideout has a considerable height advantage on the 5’8” Parker.
When Kent State has the ball
Kent State has five losses and not a single of them is a bad loss. For a team that’s been stuck in the cellar for the better part of this decade, the Golden Flashes are slowly on their way out in year two of the Sean Lewis era. Kent State was atop the MAC East in the middle of October, but they dropped two one-possession games to fellow MAC contenders Ohio and Miami (OH). The loss to Ohio was fueled by defensive lapses in the secondary and the inability to stop Bobcats’ quarterback Nathan Rourke. Against Miami, establishing the run game was a challenge against Doug Costin and the RedHawk front seven, and the Golden Flashes also committed preventable mistakes such as a second half fumble on the 2-yard line.
Through eight games, Kent State quarterback Dustin Crum has the program’s second-highest passing output since 2015 with 1,345 yards. Crum took over in Week 2 as the starter in place of incumbent Woody Barrett, and he’s played to keep the position. The junior is completing 67% of his passes, and he’s maintained a 10:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Three of those touchdowns in delivered in a 42-point win over Bowling Green and four were thrown in a 45-38 loss at Ohio. Crum is also the team’s leader in rushing yards with 374, serving as the versatile star quarterback Kent State has searched for over the course of the decade.
Isaiah McKoy has been the number one target for Crum by a long shot. The wide receiver has team-highs in receptions (40), yards, (525), and touchdowns (4). Four other skill position players have produced more than 200 yards from scrimmage this season in a balanced offensive attack — running backs Jo-El Shaw and Will Matthews and wide receivers Kavious Price and Mike Carrigan.
The receivers will face interesting matchups in the secondary against Toledo’s shutdown cornerback Samuel Womack. Womack is the FBS leader in pass breakups, intervening between QB-to-receiver connections 14 times this season. The likely All-MAC selection has also recorded two interceptions and 43 tackles. Besides Womack, Toledo’s secondary remains dangerous with the presence of Kahlil Robinson. The strong safety is the recipient of three interceptions and the defender of three pass breakups this season. He notably showed up in crunch time by recording the game-winning interception against BYU and will be the man Crum should avoid when looking deep for McKoy or Carrigan.
Time and Date: Tuesday, November 5 at 7 p.m. ET
Network: CBS SN
Location: Glass Bowl — Toledo, OH
Spread: Toledo (-7)
ESPN FPI: Toledo has 72.1% chance to win
All-time series: Toledo leads, 26-21
Last meeting: Toledo 56, Kent State 34 — November 15, 2018
Toledo has won four-straight matchups against Kent State, dating back to 2010. The Golden Flashes’ haven’t upended the Rockets since 2006, when quarterback Julian Edelman guided Kent State to victory behind one passing and one rushing touchdown. In the teams’ most recent meeting, Peters completed 11/14 passes for 131 yards and two touchdowns, Koback rushed for 192 yards on 17 carries and also scored twice, and the teams combined for 90 points. Kent State struggled defensively, but Lewis’ team enjoyed solid offensive boosts from Shaw (116 rushing yards) and Carrigan (110 receiving yards).
Kent State is no opponent to take lightly. The Golden Flashes posted 34 points against this Toledo defense a year ago, and if not for stellar days from Koback and Peters, Toledo could have been threatened by a 2-10 squad. This Kent State team is miles ahead of the last year’s program. But the current version of the Golden Flashes hasn’t particularly excelled at slowing down running backs, and Toledo has one of the most talented tandems in the nation with Koback and Seymour.
Kent State can score in a quick manner with its up-tempo offense. Its offensive prowess was on full display against MAC East frontrunner Ohio, and Crum’s success in the passing game could translate this Tuesday night in the Glass Bowl. But in the end, Toledo’s offense remains more unstoppable with an elite running back, a slightly better defense, and a solid quarterback in Peters playing at his home field in a primetime game.
Prediction: Toledo 42, Kent State 34