Western Michigan hosts the Toledo Rockets on Senior Day in Kalamazoo with only pride to play for. Toledo has secured their spot as the MAC West champion and WMU lost their seventh game two weeks ago to Bowling Green.
Maintaining the health of the players prior to the MAC Championship Game is at the front of Toledo’s mind and will rotate their second team onto the field frequently. Western Michigan has already stated they are going to preserve Treyson Bourguet’s redshirt.
The depth of each roster is going to be an important factor in Friday’s matchup.
What does that mean for the game? Let's take a look.
- Time and Date: Friday, November 25th, 2022 at 12:00 pm Eastern time
- Network: ESPNU (A valid subscription is required.)
- Location: Waldo Stadium in Kalamazoo, Michigan
- All-time series: The Toledo Rockets hold a 45-31 series lead over the Western Michigan Broncos. The Rockets have won four of the last five meetings between the two teams.
- Odds: Toledo is favored by 7.5 points and the game has an over/under spread of 54 points, per OddsShark.
The Toledo Rockets through Week 12:
Toledo beat Ball State in Week 11 and wrapped up the MAC West title with two games remaining in the regular season. The annual rivalry game with Bowling Green kept the energy high for one more week, even though the result was not what they were looking for. The Battle of I-75 went to Bowling Green on a touchdown pass with nine seconds remaining in an incredible game.
This week does not have the same stakes.
A week before the MAC Championship Game, health is the top concern for the Rockets who are trying to win their first MAC Championship since 2017. Despite that being recent, there are some Rocket fans unhappy with consistently topping the MAC in recruiting, yet not winning the MAC West consistently.
Toledo can’t win the MAC Championship this week, so there are major questions about who is taking the field in this game and for how long. Quarterback Dequan Finn didn’t take a snap against BGSU while he rested an ankle injury. Backup Tucker Gleason played well, but sustained a hand injury that required surgery.
Talked with Toledo quarterback Tucker Gleason today. He got hurt early in the game against Bowling Green & kept playing. He had surgery the day after the game. Has a plate in his hand. He wants to play Friday. Football guy. pic.twitter.com/FcHS1K8rW6— Jordan Strack (@JordanStrack) November 21, 2022
It’s very unclear what the Rocket quarterback room looks like now. Hand surgery seems like it should keep Gleason out, but he wants to try. Finn is the regular starter and it makes sense to preserve his health for when it matters. Could freshman John Richter get his first collegiate playing time? Time will tell.
The Rockets have three running backs who can help share the load if a freshman quarterback is shaky during his first game. Jacquez Stuart is their leading rusher and averages more than 5.5 yards per carry. Peny Boone and Micah Kelly have run the ball 94 and 95 times respectively, but are far less effective on a per-carry basis.
Leaning on the running game to move the ball makes sense, but it plays right into the hands of a strong Western Michigan defensive front. The Bronco front seven have led the way for their team and kept them in games while creating negative play after negative play.
Jerjuan Newton is the Rocket's best receiver and they need to find a way to get him the ball if Finn or Gleason are unable to go. Newton is one of their best weapons and should be used as often as possible.
The Rocket defense is poised to have a great game. The Bronco offense has averaged 13 points over their last five games and either hit on big plays or struggles to move the ball. The secondary, led by Quinyon Mitchell and Maxen Hook, is a very disruptive group and is up against Jack Salopek.
The last time we saw him in MAC play, he threw five interceptions against Ohio. He also took 22 sacks on 213 dropbacks over the course of seven games. Pass rushers Desjuan Johnson and Jamal Hines will be a lot for a young Bronco offensive line to handle.
If the Rockets get off to a fast start and force the Broncos out of their game plan, the defense could tee off and make the Broncos life very difficult.
The Western Michigan Broncos through Week 12:
Tim Lester has made a decision about quarterback Treyson Bourguet’s redshirt this season. Bourguet has appeared in four games and a fifth appearance would burn a year of eligibility. Lester opted to preserve the redshirt and give this start to Jack Salopek.
Salopek, the team’s starter coming out of fall camps after winning a position battle with Mareyohn Hrabrowski, was replaced by Bourguet after the Ohio game.
Salopek threw five interceptions in that game after showing promise at the start of the season with impressive opening games against Michigan State and Ball State. No matter the circumstances, this is certainly an opportunity to earn his way back into the starting quarterback competition.
It’s still a controversial move with the transfer portal always available. On its face, it seems like a nice thing to save eligibility for the future, but there’s no guarantee that anyone stays at one school for their entire college career. Especially at the G5 level where excellent performance could get that player on the radar of a P5 school. Time will tell, as it always does.
The Bronco offense needs big plays in this game more than in previous games this season. The Toledo defense is exceptional at killing drives and making sure that the opposing offense cannot get five yards at a time all the way down the field.
The good news is that the Broncos don’t do that anyway.
Running back Sean Tyler is a boom-or-bust running back and the passing attack is very vertical. As a result, it’s more-or-less been chunk play or nothing for the Broncos in 2022.
It might be the only statistical advantage the Bronco offense holds over the Rocket defense.
There’s always a chance that Salopek seizes this opportunity to get back on the field and explodes. Generally not getting playing time doesn’t help a player get better, but the time off could be a major motivator.
The defense has been the best unit the Broncos have and have allowed just over 14 points a game over their last four. The preparation this week is complicated by the uncertainty of the Toledo quarterback situation, but the other players are well-established.
Finn is a talented dual-threat quarterback but is unlikely to see the field in this game. He’s their best quarterback and is already dealing with injury issues. I can’t see any reason that he steps on the field with only pride to play for.
Gleason isn’t as explosive as a runner and not as consistent as a passer but is still very capable. He has a new titanium plate in his non-throwing hand.
All signs point to the freshman John Richter getting the start, but nothing is for sure.
The game plan is the same no matter who gets the start: contain the run like the previous four weeks and get off the field on third-and-long. It’s that simple. Jerjuan Newton is the best wide receiver they will have to face over the five-game stretch and it’s not close. He leads all receivers from those teams in yards, touchdowns and yards per catch. Newton is a one-man stress test for this secondary.
Predicting this game feels like predicting a final preseason game in the NFL. It’s totally dependent on who plays and health is everyone’s priority.
That said, the Rockets roster is full of talent. Second-team players will get more playing time than usual on Friday, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t capable. The playmakers on both sides of the ball that the Rockets have will prove too much for the Broncos.
Salopek will come in focused and take his shots. His performance is the biggest wildcard. The best version of Salopek could air it out to Corey Crooms and other receivers against the second-team defense. The last version we saw will force the ball into windows that don’t exist.
Toledo gets the win, but perhaps not as in convincing of a fashion as it could be.
Western Michigan 13