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2022 MAC Football Week 1 Game Preview: Long Island Sharks vs Toledo Rockets

Toledo looks to start 2022 fast after failing to live up to expectations last season.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 10 Toledo at Bowling Green Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Year seven of the Jason Candle era is underway at Toledo, and as usual, the Rockets begin the 2022 season with high expectations.

The pressure is starting to mount for Candle, with Toledo coming off of a 7-6 where they failed to meet pre-season expectations. This has started to become a theme for the Rockets, who have failed to win the MAC West in each of the past four seasons, despite consistently having one of the most talented rosters in the conference. Last season saw the Rockets lead the nation in penalties, which surely contributed to their struggles in close games; of Toledo’s six losses last year, five of them came by seven points or less.

Nonetheless, Toledo enters this season with 16 starters returning and plenty of reasons for optimism. As is the case in most years, the Rockets have as much talent as anybody in the conference, and should compete for a MAC championship if they can live up to their potential. Obviously, a good start to the season can go a long way towards a successful year, and that starts with a visit from the Long Island Sharks of the FCS. The Sharks are still rather new to Division One football, having only moved up from Division Two in 2019.

A season opening route would be a good for morale within this Toledo locker room, and the Rockets have the talent to do just that, if they can play to their potential and stay out of their own way.


GAME NOTES

  • Time and Date: Thursday, September 1st, 7:00 EST
  • Network: ESPN3 (a valid subscription is required for viewing)
  • Spread/Total: N/A
  • Series History: First all-time meeting

Toledo Outlook

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 18 Toledo at Eastern Michigan Photo by Steven King/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

As mentioned previously, there is plenty to be optimistic about for Toledo this year. 16 starters return overall, including some of the biggest contributors on the offensive side of the ball.

Sophomore quarterback Dequan Finn will be the centerpiece for this offense after bursting onto the scene last year as a true freshman. After splitting time with Carter Bradley to start the season, Finn took over as the full time starter in October and immediately flashed the dual threat skills that will make him a nightmare for opposing defenses this season. Finn completed 57.6% of his passes and had an impeccable 18:2 TD to interception ratio, while also rushing for 501 yards and nine scores on a healthy 4.5 yards per carry. In modern day college football, having a dual threat quarterback is almost a pre-requisite to having a good offense, and Finn certainly fits the bill. His athleticism makes him a problem, and if he can further develop as a passer, he will be borderline unstoppable.

Finn will have plenty of weapons at his disposal, including wide receiver Devin Maddox. As Toledo’s leading receiver last season, Maddox provided a true threat on the outside, compiling 567 yards and four scores while averaging a healthy 13.8 yards per reception. Sophomore Demeer Blakumslee figures to slot in on the other side of the offense. Blakumslee posted only a modest 16 receptions and 165 yards last year, but he came on strong at the end of the season, with a touchdown reception in the Rockets loss to Middle Tennessee in the Bahamas Bowl.

The biggest loss for the Rockets is running back Bryant Koback, who led the Toledo rushing attack for the last three seasons. Sophomore Micah Kelly provided a nice change of pace last year, compiling 327 rush yards and three scores as Koback’s back up. He figures to take on a much more prominent role this season, with the expectation that Finn will also provide the ground game with some firepower. With both of them in the backfield, and with four starters returning on this offensive line, this ground game has the potential to be powerful. This is a team that averaged 196 yards per game on the ground last season, and they have the tools to do that again.

Defensively, the Rockets figure to be one of the better units in the MAC once again this year. The 2021 Toledo defense ranked first in the conference in points allowed per game (21.3) and second in yards allowed per game (342.3). Five all-MAC performers return, making this a deep, talented unit.

The defensive line is led by a pair of all-MAC performers in defensive ends Jamal Hines and Desjuan Johnson, who last year combined for 158 tackles, 27.5 tackles for loss, and 14.5 sacks. A strong defensive line is a pre-requisite for any defense, and the fact that Toledo has two veteran performers here bodes incredibly well for their chances this season.

The back end of this defense is similarly loaded, with second team all-MAC LB Dyontae Johnson leading the linebacking corps and safeties Maxen Hook and Nate Bauer returning to solidify the secondary. Given the experience and talent of this defense, there’s no reason to think that they shouldn’t be able to stifle the Long Island offensive attack.


Long Island Outlook

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 11 LIU at West Virginia Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Long Island is a program that is still very much in its infancy in major college football. Though the program has been around since 1957, the Sharks only made the jump to the FCS in 2019— and even then, had to navigate the merger of two universities under the same banner. Through three years of competition thus far at the Division One level, LIU has managed only a 4-20 record, including a 2-8 mark in 2021.

Former Alabama assistant Ron Cooper was named head coach prior to the 2021 season, and the Sharks are looking for reasons to be optimistic as they begin their second season under his leadership.

Offensively, this was not a good team last season. The Sharks averaged only 18 points and 279 yards per game last season, both of which ranked in the bottom ten of the FCS. If LIU wants to improve on last years’ two wins, this unit must, well, improve.

There will be a new face under center, and it appears it will be Derek Green. A graduate transfer from SMU, Green is the son of former NFL signal caller Trent Green, and transferred to LIU looking for a starting role after being a career backup for the Mustangs down in Dallas. Green’s top target will be tight end Owen Glascoe, who led the team last year with 38 catches for 555 yards and three scores. Glascoe was named to the Preseason all-NEC second team.

The offense will be further bolstered by what should be a strong run game, led by running backs Jonathan DeBique and Shemar Paul. DeBique led the Sharks ground game last season, producing 590 yards and four scores, while Paul impressed as a true freshman in his role as a kick returner and figures to have an increased role in the backfield this season.

Defensively, the picture is not quite as bleak. The Sharks gave up 27.5 points and 385 yards per game last year – certainly nothing to write home about, but at least good enough to be an average (if middling) unit in the FCS.

Sophomore cornerback Larry Elder showed serious potential in his freshman campaign, registering 63 tackles and three tackles for loss in his first season on campus. He was named to the Preseason all-NEC Second Team and figures to be one of the leaders of this unit.

Rudy Ngougni and Matthew Nieves return to bolster a defensive line that defended well against the run last year (4.1 yards per carry) but that struggled to pressure the quarterback, amassing only five sacks in ten games. Additional pressure will be necessary if this unit wants to take a step forward this season.

Overall, this is a very young program. There is some talent here, but it will take some additional building from coach Cooper until this team can even think of being in the elite tier of FCS teams with programs such as North Dakota State and South Dakota State.


Analysis and Prediction

As is usually the case when playing an FCS opponent, Toledo has a decided talent advantage here. Although LIU has some talented pieces, the talent that Toledo possesses up and down their roster should overwhelm the Sharks. Dequan Finn will be the best player on the field when Toledo has the ball, and the Rockets defense has far too much experience to be concerned with a Long Island offense that struggled mightily last year. Finn will have a big day, and look for the Toledo defensive line to overwhelm an outmatched Long Island offense. Toledo shouldn’t have any struggles in this one.

Toledo 52, Long Island 6