The Toledo Rockets moved to 2-0 on the season with Saturday night’s dominant 55-10 victory over UMass. While the Rockets offense took a while to find their footing in the Week 1 victory over Long Island, there was never a doubt in this one.
Toledo found the end zone on their first four drives of the game, putting this one out of reach before it really ever got going.
It’s tough to learn too much about a team when playing overmatched competition, but the early returns for the Rockets have been very promising. And though the level of competition is about to step up significantly, Toledo certainly seems to have figured some things out.
This defense may be the best in the MAC
Sure, the competition hasn’t been great through two games. Regardless of that, or any other external factor, this defense has been phenomenal through two weeks.
Coming into this week, it was known that the Minutemen were going to rely heavily on the ground game. UMass did finish with 205 yards on the ground, but that number becomes a bit less impressive when considering it took them 54 attempts to get there; 3.8 yards per rush is a figure any defense will be happy with. Linebackers Jamal Hines and Dallas Gant were both phenomenal against the run against the Minutemen, each racking up nine tackles.
The pass defense has been even more impressive. Gino Campiotti and Brady Olson split time at quarterback for UMass, and the Rockets held them to a combined 7-for-17 stat line, good for only a meager 48 yards. Pressure was a big part of the success here, with this unit amassing five sacks and three additional quarterback pressures.
Through two weeks, the Rockets defense is tied for second in the country in points per game allowed (5.0) and fourth in yards per game allowed (183.0). It would be unrealistic to expect these numbers to hold up all season long, but it’s been a great start to the season for Vince Kehres’ defense.
It will be a running back by committee approach
For the past four seasons, Bryant Koback has been one of the best running backs in the MAC and the leader in the Toledo backfield. Replacing a talent like that is never easy, and it appears that the Toledo offensive coaching staff has opted spread that workload around.
Dequan Finn is the leading rusher thus far, and that should not be a surprise. He showed his dual threat ability last year, and his 7.3 yards per carry average this year has proven once again that he’s more than capable as a ball carrier.
Behind Finn, there are a number of backs who have been involved. Willie Shaw III led the way against UMass, finishing with eight carries for 47 yards and a score. Behind him, Jacquez Stewart, Peny Boone, and Micah Kelly all had five carries or more. Through the first two weeks, all four of the aforementioned backs have between 12 and 19 carries. It will be interesting to see if the coaching staff continues with this approach moving forward, or if one of these backs will move into more of a featured role.
Now is the time for Toledo to show us who they are
Every year for the past five years, Toledo has been picked at or near the top of the conference. Every year, they seem to fall short of their preseason expectations. This is the first time the Rockets have started 2-0 since 2017, coincidentally the last time this squad won the MAC title.
With Ohio State on deck, and a trip to San Diego State immediately following, the competition is about to increase dramatically. Based on what we’ve seen in the first two weeks of the season, this team has the talent to win a conference title. Obviously, a win in Columbus is an extremely tall order, and a loss in the Horseshoe won’t have any conference title implications. But good, competitive showings in these last two non-conference games will have the Rockets full of confidence as conference play begins. We all know the MAC is unpredictable, but this team has all the pieces necessary to make a run at the MAC championship.