The Toledo Rockets opened their 2022 campaign Thursday night, welcoming the Long Island Sharks of the FCS to the Glass Bowl. It took the Rockets some time to find their footing offensively, but Dequan Finn and company hit their stride in the second quarter en route to an emphatic 37-0 victory.
It was a slow start for both squads. After trading punts on the first two drives of the game, both offenses opted to go for it on fourth down on their respective second drives— with both failing to convert. The teams traded possession until the end of the quarter, when a 43-yard field goal from Thomas Cluckey gave the Rockets a 3-0 lead.
Despite getting the first points of the game, it still seemed that the Rockets offense was stuck in neutral. Even on the scoring drive, Toledo started on the LIU 39-yard line and could manage only 14 yards on seven plays. Through one quarter, the Rockets offense managed only 64 yards and a paltry 2.91 yards per play.
The Rockets defense came up big on the ensuing possession, intercepting Derek Green on a fourth down attempt to give Toledo the ball at the LIU 44. The legs of Dequan Finn and Jacquez Stewart moved the Rockets into the Sharks’ red zone for the first time, but the Rockets were unable to find the end zone. After coming up short on third-and-16, Thomas Cluckey extended the Rockets lead to 6-0 with a 27 yard field goal.
After the teams traded punts on the ensuing three drives, the Rockets offense finally found an opening. On second and ten from their own 31 yard line, quarterback Dequan Finn found Jamal Turner wide open in the middle of the field for a 69-yard touchdown strike. Cluckey’s extra point gave the Rockets a 13-0 lead with just over five minutes to go until the half.
After the Toledo defense forced yet another three-and-out, the Rockets offense capitalized to give the home team some breathing room. After taking over at midfield, Toledo needed only six plays to find the end zone again, this time courtesy a seven yard run from Finn. 20-0 would be your score at the break.
It’s hard to understate how dominant this Toledo defense was in the first half. Long Island managed only 36 total yards and two first downs before the break, and averaged only 1.44 yards per play.
For much of the first half, the Toledo offense wasn’t much better. The Rockets managed only 89 yards on their first six drives of the game, failing to find the end zone despite starting two drives in LIU territory. The unit seemed to find their footing midway through the second quarter, amassing 144 yards and two touchdowns on their last two drives of the half.
The second half started much in the same way as the first, with the two teams trading punts. Toledo mounted the first serious threat of the third quarter, driving to the LIU nine-yard line. Once again, Toledo failed to find the end zone, this time due to a Victor Nelson Jr. interception in the end zone.
With the score still 20-0, the Rockets defense refused to let Long Island back into the game. After yet another three and out from the Sharks, Toledo regained possession of the ball at the LIU 48. The Rockets once again failed to reach the end zone after navigating inside the Sharks’ 10 yard line, and Thomas Cluckey’s third field goal of the evening extended the Toledo lead to 23-0. Dequan Finn’s touchdown pass to Jamal Turner on third down was negated by a penalty, leading to Cluckey’s field goal.
After another punt from LIU, the Rockets finally found the end zone once again, with Dequan Finn finding Jerquan Newton down the left sideline for a 40 yard touchdown. It was the cap on a magnificent evening for Finn, who finished the game 21-of-28 for 212 yards and two scores through the air. For good measure, he added 64 rushing yards and a rushing score, thus accounting for three of the Rockets four touchdowns.
Toledo added one more score for good measure with just over a minute to play, as running back Jordan Lowe went 29 yards off the right side to extend the Rockets lead to 37-0. That would prove to be the final tally.
There’s no two ways about it: this was a dominant performance from the Rockets.
Despite the fact that the offense got off to a slow start, the defense never allowed LIU into this game. The Sharks managed only 113 yards and seven first downs all game, good for 1.88 yards per play. That is a dominant performance by the Toledo defense, led by 10 tackles from LB Dallas Gant and an interception by safety Zachary Ford. This was a defense that was one of the best in the MAC last year, and it appears they’ve picked up right where they left off.
Offensively, Finn was the star of the show, but he had plenty of help. With leading receiver Devin Maddox sidelined, Jamal Turner (three catches, 87 yards and a score) and Jerjuan Newton (four catches, 54 yards and a score) stepped up. In the backfield, running backs Peny Boone (13 carries, 56 yards) and Jacquez Stewart (eight carries, 53 yards) showed that this backfield by committee approach may be sufficient to replace the loss of Bryant Koback. The jury is still out here, and it will be interesting to see how these back perform as the talent of the opposition improves.
One area of concern for the Rockets continues to be penalties. After leading the nation in penalty yardage last year, Toledo committed nine transgressions for 79 yards in this one. If Jason Candle’s squad wants to compete for a MAC championship, they must clean this up.
At the end of the day, there’s only so much you can tell from a season opening match up against an FCS foe. Despite a slow start, the Rockets looked dominant, as they should have.
Toledo will be back in action next Saturday, as they welcome former MAC for UMass to the Glass Bowl. Kick is set for 7:00 p.m. Eastern time.