- Time and date: Tuesday, November 8 at 8:00 p.m. ET
- Network: ESPN
- Location: Glass Bowl — Toledo, OH
- Spread: Toledo (-11.5)
- ESPN FPI: Toledo has 86.7% chance to win
- All-time series: Toledo leads, 25-21-1
- Last meeting: Toledo 22, Ball State 12 — September 25, 2021
- Current streak: Toledo, 1 (2021)
Setting the scene
Midweek MACtion enters Week 2, and this time it’s being upgraded to ESPN’s flagship network.
Toledo can clinch its first MAC Championship Game appearance since 2017 this week by defeating Ball State, while receiving assistance with a Northern Illinois win over Western Michigan. The Rockets can create immense separation in the MAC West division by defending their home turf, where they are undefeated this season.
But Ball State is on the doorstep of bowl eligibility, and the Cardinals can accomplish that feat for the third consecutive season with a Tuesday night win. Ball State has quietly won four of five games, lurking a step behind Toledo in the quest for a conference championship berth.
Ball State Cardinals outlook
Ball State is one of the greatest surprises this season, and the Cardinals continued their midseason surge last Tuesday night by knocking off Kent State on the road in a 27-20 result. Now winners of four of their last five, Ball State looks to sustain its excellence in November despite entering the Glass Bowl as double-digit underdogs.
At 5-4, the Cardinals are a force to be reckoned with in the MAC. Excluding their season opener at Tennessee, Ball State has held a fourth quarter lead in every game this year, demonstrating the team’s ability to compete on a weekly basis. One reason for the Cardinals’ 2022 success can be explained by the No. 33, which is worn by true sophomore running back Carson Steele.
Steele has been stellar ever since stepping onto a collegiate field for the first time last fall, but the 6’1”, 215 pound back has elevated his game to the next level as of late. He rides a four-game streak of 100+ yard games entering Tuesday night, coming off a career-high 192-yard explosion which propelled Ball State past Kent State. Steele is now the top running back in the MAC and ranks ninth in the country in rushing yards — already hovering over the millennium mark with three regular season games to spare.
Outside of the power back, who is an expert at breaking tackles and hitting the hurdle, the offense runs through quarterback John Paddock and his set of receivers. Paddock is enjoying a solid first year as an FBS starting quarterback, firing for multiple touchdown passes in six of his nine outings, including last week. While the 16-to-10 touchdown-to-interception ratio could use improvement, he takes high-risk, high-reward throws, and the reward is still common.
Wide receiver Jayshon Jackson has been the recipient of 63 balls from Paddock this year, and he ranks third in the MAC with 729 receiving yards. In short-yardage situations, Yo’Heinz Tyler becomes a frequented option and in the red zone, tight end Tanner Koziol becomes an ideal target. Koziol captured the game-winning touchdown in last week’s midweek game and boasts a team-high six touchdown receptions.
Whether it’s blocking for the conference’s leading rusher in Steele or protecting Paddock, Ball State’s offensive line consistently brings its A-game. The Cardinals are tied ninth nationally in fewest sacks allowed per game, yielding just eight in nine outings.
Ball State’s defense is a bit of a mixed bag. While the Cardinals have struggled to contain the run at times, they are usually efficient in limiting teams from piling on the passing yards. This was the case last Tuesday when Kent State needed 41 throws to obtain just 183 yards through the air. But on the flip-side, the Golden Flashes featured a 168-yard rusher in the defeat. Ball State has only picked off five passes this year, but its secondary has done as good of a job as any secondary in the country at breaking up passes. Three Cardinals — cornerback Nic Jones, safety Jordan Riley, and cornerback Amechi Uzodinma — have eight or more pass deflections to their name in 2022, demonstrating the level of difficulty opposing quarterbacks face when targeting their receivers.
In the front seven, inside linebackers Clayton Coll and Cole Pearce are the names to watch. Coll is on track for another 100-tackle season after accumulating a team-best 78 through nine games. The versatile linebacker has four pass breakups, 3.5 tackles for loss, and two forced fumbles on a loaded résumé. While Coll thrives all over the field, Pearce is the preferred option when invading the backfield. Pearce leads the team with 12 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks, and he’ll lead the charge against a rather sturdy Toledo offensive line.
Toledo Rockets outlook
Toledo’s last losing season transpired in 2009. Yet, despite qualifying for bowl eligibility every year since, the Rockets only have one MAC title game appearance over the otherwise-prosperous span. But the opportunity to increase that number to two is on the table this week, as a win over Ball State and a Western Michigan loss catapult Jason Candle’s team back to Detroit.
The Rockets improved to 6-3 and clinched bowl eligibility in a gutsy road win over Eastern Michigan in Week 9. They operated without dual-threat starting quarterback Dequan Finn and thrusted Georgia Tech transfer Tucker Gleason into the role. It was Gleason’s first substantial playing time at the FBS level, and the redshirt freshman delivered three touchdown times in a 27-24 win.
It remains unclear who Toledo’s starting quarterback Tuesday will be, but Gleason could plausibly earn his second start of the season. While he doesn’t produce the weekly 60+ yard rushing games à la Finn, Gleason has been a trustworthy backup. He has refrained from throwing a single interception while only taking two sacks on 42 dropbacks in 2022.
In case Finn is unavailable to play and provide his usual spark in the running game, Toledo could lean more heavily on its running backs. Peny Boone and Jacquez Stewart have split carries this year, with Micah Kelly also getting involved in the mix. Stewart has flourished the most with 6.1 yards per carry and three touchdowns — ranking first among the running backs in those categories.
Other skill position players Toledo should utilize significantly in the offense include deep threat Jerjuan Newton and program veteran Devin Maddox at wide receiver and Jamal Turner at tight end. Newton averages 18.5 yards per reception and has burned man coverage for a good portion of his seven touchdowns. Maddox is third on the team in receiving but may be cut out for a larger role if Demeer Blankumsee — who missed the Eastern Michigan game — is unable to go Tuesday. Lastly, Turner doesn’t lag too far behind Newton in the touchdowns department, and he is an established red zone threat with six receptions resulting in six points this year.
Defense is the strength of this Toledo team, and that unit provided great support to Gleason in his start against Eastern Michigan. The unit registered three sacks, eight tackles for loss, and an interception in the victory. There is no shortage of talent throughout the unit, starting with the team’s run-stopping machine Dallas Gant, an Ohio State transfer inside linebacker who exhibits a team-high 79 tackles this season. Toledo is also stacked at the outside linebacker position with star pass rusher Jamal Hines (4.5 sacks, 7.0 TFLs) and Dyontae Johnson (69 tackles, 5.5 TFLs) manning that group. Due to their presence, it’s easy to see why Toledo is supreme in fewest yards allowed in the MAC at 347 per contest.
Moving into the secondary, strong safety Maxen Hook is a versatile playmaker with 52 tackles, 3.0 tackles for loss, and an interception as the team’s most effective player on the back-end. Also, Quinyon Mitchell completely took over the Northern Illinois game this year with four interceptions in a single afternoon, so John Paddock and the Ball State offense must be wary of Mitchell’s extraordinary ballhawk skills on the nation’s 24th ranked pass defense.
There’s a reason why this game was selected as the lone ESPN matchup of the six midweek MACtion contests this week. Both teams have winning records, and it should be competitive. Ball State has thrived in the underdog role all year, and when the chips are stacked against the Cardinals, they always come back. Four of their last five games featured double-digit comebacks, and the stamina and endurance of Carson Steele have been crucial when erasing these deficits.
Toledo has yet to lose a home game in 2022, and the Rockets’ answer to Steele and the Cardinals is a really talented defense with several potential NFL Draft picks. The Rockets significantly cut down on penalties this year, making the unit operate closer to its fullest potential. If Tucker Gleason and the offense can capitalize on the opportunities provided by the defense, Toledo can capture its seventh win and become a Western Michigan loss away from winning the MAC West.
Prediction: Toledo 31, Ball State 24