Toledo and BYU have only settled it on the field once in their program histories, but it only took one Friday night in Provo to create everlasting history between the Rockets and Cougars.
Rhett Almond’s 19-yard field goal sunk through the uprights at LaVell Edwards Stadium as the clock dwindled down to triple zeros, marking a chaotic, memorable 55-53 win for BYU. Toledo nearly seized victory with 1:11 left when Kareem Hunt ran seven yards for a touchdown and the Rockets converted on a jaw-dropping 2-point attempt, which involved quarterback Logan Woodside fumbling the snap, picking up the football, and instantly releasing it toward the end zone to tight end Michael Roberts.
BYU running back Jamaal Williams ran for 286 yards and five touchdowns, and the two teams involved in the duel totaled 11 second half scoring drives.
The 2019 rematch at the Glass Bowl has lofty expectations to live up to, but the Cougars (2-2) and the Rockets (2-1) are capable of creating a sequel to a classic 1,094 days later.
Toledo gets back on track
Toledo’s Week 3 victory is probably the most bizarre finish the Rockets have experienced since their trip to Provo in 2016. The Rockets secured a much-needed 41-35 win over Colorado State, stuffing a Rams’ Hail Mary attempt at the 2-yard on the final play of a late-night finish. The game featured no shortage of offensive excitement, featuring 35 total points in the first 6.5 minutes of the third quarter.
The Rockets, winners of two consecutive matchups after a Week 1 road loss to Kentucky, are retaining their offensive identity they’ve had over the course of the Jason Candle era. Toledo is averaging 36.7 points per game, particularly excelling with the FBS’s 11th-ranked run game which is contributing 269 yards per contest.
Leading the charge is sophomore halfback Bryant Koback. He produced 228 yards on 19 carries last week, scoring touchdowns on three-consecutive third quarter possessions — from 37, 75, and 47 yards outs. Koback has scored a touchdown in all three games with the Rockets this year and is well on-pace to shatter the 917-yard season he posted as a freshman.
Junior halfback Shakif Seymour, who shined with over 700 yards and 12 touchdowns as a freshman in 2017, is also receiving some looks from the backfield. Last week, he accumulated a season-high 70 yards and helped propel Toledo past the sticks on a 4th down to lead the Rockets’ final scoring drive.
But the team’s other strongest runner isn’t a running back. It’s quarterback Mitchell Guadagni. He recorded his third 100-yard game of his career last week with 119 and a score against the Rams. The quarterback hasn’t exactly found his rhythm in the pocket yet this year with the majority of his 2018 receiving corps absent, but he’s avoided throwing a single interception. Guadagni is completing passes just below the 60% mark with four touchdowns and an average of 166 yards per game. The senior left the opener against Kentucky with a concussion following a long rush. Since being cleared to play, Guadagni revitalized the Rockets to a winning record.
Toledo’s defense isn’t off to the best start, allowing Colorado State running back Marvin Kinsey Jr. to rush for 246 last week, but the Rockets made key stops when needed. They not only stopped one Hail Mary at the goal line last week, but two. Strong safety Saeed Holt has served as a breakout player for his excellent open-field tackling in the secondary. The sophomore leads all Rockets with 26 tackles this year and also has registered four tackles for loss. Middle linebacker Jordan Fisher is another key defender the Rockets will rely on this week in stopping BYU’s 105th ranked scoring offense.
BYU could be 0-4, but instead, the resilient Cougars are 2-2. Facing three of the top Pac-12 teams and Tennessee, nothing has come easy to Kalani Sitake’s bunch. Beating Tennessee required a 64-yard pass from their own 20-yard line, followed up with a game-tying field goal to force overtime. A week later, BYU prevailed in overtime once again, knocking off a ranked USC team with a game-sealing interception in the extra period.
Unlike Toledo, the Cougars specialize on the defensive side of the ball. BYU’s offense is netting just 22.5 points per game, struggling in home games versus Utah and Washington. Quarterback Zach Wilson, who rose to fame after throwing a perfect 18-of-18 in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl last December, has played very similarly in all four games this year. He remains quite accurate but has yet to see a second coming of the career performance seen in Boise during the 2018 bowl season.
Wilson will have to step up the passing game, because BYU’s 120th ranked rushing offense took a major hit this week. Running back Ty’Son Williams tore his ACL in the final minute of the first half in the 45-19 loss to Washington. Williams rushed for over 90 yards in two games this season and notably scored the game-winning touchdown in double overtime in Knoxville during Week 2. This means increased usage of running backs Emmanuel Esukpa and Lopini Katoa will be implemented by the Cougars heading into the Glass Bowl.
In the passing game, the player Toledo must keep on lock is tight end Matt Bushman. BYU distributes the ball around fairly evenly, considering three receivers are tied for the team-lead with 15 catches. Bushman is one of these targets that could play a major factor in exposing a Toledo secondary which allowed over 400 passing yards to Colorado State last weekend.
BYU suffered a defensive nightmare at the hands of Washington last week, trailing by three touchdowns in the first quarter and by 33 in the middle of the third. The Cougars defense did a stellar job at limiting a potent Utah offense for a half in Provo and held Tennessee and USC to 16 and 27, respectively, in regulation. Outside linebacker Isaiah Kaufusi is the man to watch on that front. Kaufusi has tallied 19 tackles, an interception, and a Cougar-best three passes defended through the first third of the regular season.
Time and Date: Saturday, September 28 at 12 p.m. ET
Location: Glass Bowl — Toledo, OH
Spread: BYU (-2.5)
ESPN FPI: Toledo has 55.3% chance to win
All-time series: BYU leads, 1-0
Last meeting: BYU 55, Toledo 53 — September 30, 2016
This is a tough one to pick, because with these teams’ contrasting styles of play, this game can go so many ways. Whether Toledo’s scoring controls the pace or BYU’s defense does, this one should remain close throughout. It probably won’t deliver an ESPN instant classic finish like the 2016 version but it will serve as one of the must-watch games in the early slate.
Koback’s going to get his yardage, and it will be a matter if BYU’s offense can keep up with the Rockets. But this screams a breakout game for Wilson. The quarterback seems destined to have his best performance since the Potato Bowl through the air, considering what Kentucky and Colorado State have accomplished against the Rockets in the passing game. Toledo’s secondary will need play a key role in stopping BYU’s receivers, who stepped up and made significant plays in Weeks 2 and 3 to clinch Cougar victories. This game will be a pick ‘em, but I expect BYU to bounce back from last week’s abysmal showing versus Washington.
Prediction: BYU 30, Toledo 28