Remember when Toledo had No. 10 Notre Dame on the ropes in South Bend, frightening the Fighting Irish with a go-ahead touchdown in the final two minutes?
One week later, that moment could not have felt any more distant for the Rockets. In what was supposed to be a “get right” game at the Glass Bowl quickly turned into an unmitigated disaster for Jason Candle’s team.
Toledo (1-1) was pegged as 14.5-point favorites over a winless Colorado State (0-2) squad prior to kickoff, and honestly, that seemed generous to the Rams. Colorado State was blasted by FCS program South Dakota State, 42-23, in its opener. The Rams followed that embarrassment by blowing a 14-point lead to Vanderbilt, the only other FBS team to lose by three scores to an FCS opponent this season.
When the Rams came to the Glass Bowl, the Rockets could not establish a semblance of an offense. They left the field Saturday without a single end zone appearance in a 22-6 meltdown. In a day filled with many negatives, there were several positives for the Rockets. One involved kicker Thomas Cluckey remaining a perfect 13/13 on field goals in his collegiate career. The other was the sensational play of the defense. Toledo only forced one special teams turnover and didn’t record a sack, but the unit registered stop after stop — completely preventing Colorado State from crossing the goal line.
Thus, not a single offensive touchdown was scored by either team in the game, but Colorado State returned a 70-yard punt to the house to break a 6-6 tie in the third quarter. In the fourth, the Rams pitched in three field goals while Toledo was held scoreless in the frame.
So, how did the two-touchdown favorites fall at home to the Rams? Here were Toledo’s three most glaring issues:
Yellow laundry everywhere
Toledo wore minimalist uniforms in its return to the Glass Bowl on Saturday. The signature rocket logo embellished the matte navy blue helmet, plain white numbers were emblazoned on the navy blue jerseys, and the pants were all white with no intricacies in the design. Other than a small Mid-American Conference logo patch slightly below the right shoulder, there was not a hint of yellow present in the entire uniform.
Yet, Toledo players left plenty of yellow laundry on the field.
The penalty flags were abundant and Toledo was called for 11 flags which inhibited the Rockets by 89 yards. No penalty was more significant than a second quarter holding call which wiped away a 25-yard touchdown pass to Isaiah Winstead. Although the Rockets notched three points on the possession, the holding flag was the ultimate momentum killer for an offense desperate for a sign of life.
The pre-snap penalties were rather egregious as well. Toledo was called for four false starts, and the Rockets never converted a first down after drawing a flag for this penalty the entire game. The worst false start sequence was rather pivotal in the third quarter with the Rockets trailing 13-6. Early movement pushed a 2nd and 4 into a 2nd and 9. Then, after Devin Maddox accumulated seven yards on 3rd and 9, the Rockets began the fourth quarter on a 4th and 2 on their own 46. Jason Candle elected to go for the critical down, but another false start forced a change of plans. Toledo never reached as far as its own 46 again in the final four possessions of the contest.
While Toledo’s defense prevented the Rams from scoring a single offensive touchdown, the Rockets were unable to sack quarterback Todd Centeio. Still, the team pressured Centeio all game and the secondary stepped up to force six pass breakups. As a result, the quarterback finished 11/27 with 110 yards.
Rockets quarterback Carter Bradley had a more productive day through the air than Centeio, but there was one major difference between their performances which allowed Colorado State to gain a significant edge. Centeio faced zero sacks. Bradley faced four. And Toledo’s secondary quarterback Dequan Finn took two. Enduring six sacks in the backfield stalled plenty of Toledo drives. Frequent sacks forced the Rockets to play catch-up so often on offense, facing improbable down and distance situations on a regular basis. It was no surprise the Rockets finished 4/18 on third down attempts and 1/4 on fourth downs.
Getting brutalized in the backfield wasn’t a one-off thing for Toledo. This is a trend this season. Notre Dame invaded Bradley’s space and brought him down five times in Week 2. And in Week 1, despite a 49-10 victory over FCS foe Norfolk State, Toledo still took three sacks. The offensive line has been a glaring issue so far as the Rockets rank in the bottom 10 in sacks yielded per contest through the first quarter of the season. And this isn’t the end of the offensive line problems, because there’s also...
Running into walls
Bryant Koback’s 2019 performance in Fort Collins on a late September night was nothing short of spectacular. The All-MAC halfback averaged a career-high 12.0 yards per carry that night, and he left dozens of Colorado State defenders in the dust. Koback attained 228 rushing yards that night and a hat trick of touchdowns, striking from long range at 37, 75, and 47 yards — all within the first seven minutes of the third quarter.
Saturday could be described as the opposite. Koback fielded 13 handoffs and converted them into just 32 yards. While the veteran running back was breaking out for long distance touchdowns in his last meeting with the Rams, eight yards was as far as he could traverse in the rematch.
Koback served as a significant threat to the Notre Dame defense just one week prior with 114 yards on 20 carries, consistently breaking for runs of eight or more yards. But there were no openings for him against the Colorado State front seven. Every run was met immediately with force, and many of Toledo’s unproductive runs stemmed from missed blocks. As a team, with sack yardage factor in, Toledo managed 21 rushing yards on 29 attempts. Quarterback Dequan Finn was the only player to manage more than 10 on a single run all afternoon.
This is a unit that has finished in the top quartile in rushing yards per game in three of the last four seasons. Failing to jump-start the run due to poor blocking is a blueprint for how Toledo can fall to any opponent in the country. That result was on full display Saturday during the mind-boggling home loss to Colorado State.