Down 14-3 in the opening minutes of the third quarter, Toledo needed to quickly generate its offense in order to complete a home comeback against BYU. After a strong running attack tied the game at 21, free safety Kahlil Robinson returned a 40-yard interception to set the Rockets up inside the 5-yard line with under a minute to go. The timely defensive play was the catalyst behind Toledo’s 28-21 win, a statement victory to move the Rockets to a MAC-best 3-1 record (tied with Eastern Michigan).
Here are takeaways from a thrilling finish at the Glass Bowl on Saturday:
Shakif Seymour deserves a large role in the offense
Toledo experimented with different play-calling approaches to its games in non-conference. The Rockets leaned heavily on junior running back Shakif Seymour in the win over BYU, and for good reason.
Seymour produced the Rockets’ two most vital touchdowns of the afternoon. On a 4th and short in the third quarter, quarterback Mitchell Guadagni hit Seymour on a halfback screen, and the veteran back ran 18 yards for a game-tying score. Seymour was also called upon for the finishing duties, as he trucked past several BYU defenders in a powerful game-winning trudge to the end zone.
Seymour earned over five yards per carry, finishing with 96 yards on 19 attempts. His 20 total touches were the most in his three-year Toledo career and his 114 yards from scrimmage were his most since October 14, 2017 at Central Michigan. It’s not like Saturday was Seymour’s first rodeo. He’s an established back who rushed for over 700 yards and 12 touchdowns while splitting the backfield with Terry Swanson in 2017. Utilizing Seymour keeps the Bryant Koback-led backfield versatile, and with Toledo establishing its offensive identity as a strong running offense, the Rockets could benefit from expanding the role of their power back.
All hail our shooting sleeve kicker, Evan Davis
Any follower of the Hustle Belt Twitter account has probably seen this phrase before, and this is the battle cry I tweet every time Toledo kicker Evan Davis drains a key field goal. Davis wears an Allen Iverson-style shooting sleeve, which is probably the coolest accessory I’ve ever seen a kicker wear.
When the offense needed assistance scoring early, Davis was there to help. The true freshman kicked a perfect 2-of-2 Saturday, splitting the uprights with a 45-yarder in the first quarter before connecting from 26 yards in the third. Thanks to his field goals, Toledo was able to build on that foundation in order to tie the game with a touchdown and two-point conversion in the late third quarter.
Davis is now 6-of-6 on field goals this season and 16-of-16 on extra points. His predecessor, Jameson Vest (72-of-96 in four years), is no easy kicker to replace, but Davis is stepping up big-time as a true freshman. The most impressive part of his 6-of-6 season stat line? Three of Davis’ six field goals sailed through from 40 or more yards. In the era of the frequently-used #CollegeKickers hashtag, it’s imperative to have a reliable kicker like Davis who can provide Toledo an extra push in close games.
Wilson’s injury had strong impact on final drive
BYU trotted out a new quarterback in the fourth quarter... on the final possession.
Quarterback Zach Wilson, who convincingly won the job in the middle of last season and put up impressive numbers, suffered a hand injury after throwing the interception to Kahlil Robinson on the Cougars’ penultimate drive. Wilson finished 22-of-38 for 315 yards, contributing two touchdowns before tossing the game-deciding pick.
Toledo’s quick score after the interception allotted BYU 51 seconds of game clock, which is more than enough time to drive down the field for the win. Instead of Wilson, the Cougars inserted Jaren Hall into the game for a shot at a game-tying drive. Hall took several snaps in the Utah game and threw a pass versus USC, but leading a 75-yard drive is a different animal. With Toledo playing in a deep prevent to start the drive, the Rockets allowed Hall to pass for 39 yards on three completions in his first four dropbacks. But at the Toledo 36, Rockets cornerback Chris McDonald broke up and nearly intercepted Hall’s pass, forcing the Cougars to settle for a Hail Mary throw.
Hall managed the drive well, but considering Wilson completed a 75-yard touchdown to start the third quarter and a 64-yarder on a game-tying drive in the final seconds at Tennessee, it’s hard not to imagine what BYU’s starter could have done in those final 51 ticks.
Sam Womack is First Team All-MAC caliber
Womack’s tremendous performance doesn’t raise eyebrows on a stat-sheet, but he blanketed BYU receivers all afternoon and forced three major incompletions.
Womack broke up two would-be touchdown passes in the end zone, and later, on a 4th and 6 with under five minutes left, Womack provided the 1-on-1 coverage against a curl route to thwart BYU’s drive. He finished with five tackles and three pass breakups, and his strong outing elevated the overall performance of the Rockets’ secondary.
BYU frequently tested Womack in 1-on-1 coverage, but the junior corner more than often held his ground. He has eight pass breakups and an interception this season, but after coming up in several crucial moments to stop BYU’s offense, it’s time Womack earns more recognition as one of the elite corners in the conference.
Don’t bet against Jason Candle in the Glass Bowl
Jason Candle’s in his fourth season at the helm in Toledo. His record at the Glass Bowl improved to 18-3 Saturday with the 28-21 triumph.
Toledo lost two games at its home venue last year, one to Miami (FL) and another to Buffalo, but other than those lapses, the Rockets have been consistent in their home stadium since Candle took the reigns from Campbell prior to the 2016 season. Toledo struggled moving the offense in Lexington in the second half against Kentucky and couldn’t stop the run in Fort Collins during a battle with Colorado State. But at home, those issues are often amended.
Outside of that 2018 loss to the Hurricanes, Toledo is 8-0 at home in non-conference play under Candle, earning two early-season wins in Northern Ohio in four consecutive seasons. In front of the third largest crowd a Candle team has witnessed, Toledo handled business as usual despite entering as 2.5-point underdogs.
BYU may be 2-3, but the Cougars proved their worthiness with an overtime win over USC. They have suffered from a difficult schedule (Utah, Tennessee, USC, Washington, Toledo), but this is the type of win Toledo needed to boost its confidence heading into MAC play.