Two weeks into the 2022 season, and the Toledo Rockets look as good as anybody in the MAC. Two dominant performances from the defense, mixed with an offense that has shown flashes of big play potential, have Rockets fans feeling optimistic that this team can reach Detroit for the first time since 2017.
Long Island and UMass may not be the most notable opponents, but the ease with which the Rockets dispatched both is certainly encouraging. This week, the level of competition steps up considerably.
Toledo will travel 141 miles south on Saturday to take on the third-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes, who also enter this match up at 2-0 after victories over Notre Dame and Arkansas State. The Buckeyes are a legitimate national title contender, led by quarterback CJ Stroud and a ferocious front seven.
Rockets fans will certainly remember the last time their squad made this trip.
Austin Dantin and Eric Page led Toledo into the Horseshoe in 2011 and jumped out to a 15-7 in the first quarter. An Adonis Thomas touchdown run in the third put Toledo in line for a 22-21 lead, but Carlos Hyde’s score later in the third allowed the Buckeyes to escape with a 27-22 victory.
Toledo has had a recent history of playing bigger programs close, such as last year on the road against the Fighting Irish, so there could certainly be some intrigue to be had here.
The 2022 version of the Rockets hope for a different result from the contest 11 years back, in what could certainly be one of the upsets of the season.
- Time and Date: Saturday, September 17th, 7:00 PM EST
- Network: Fox (a valid cable subscription is required for viewing)
- Spread/Total: Ohio State -32, O/U 61
- Series History: Ohio State leads 3-0
When Toledo has the ball
All things considered, you couldn’t ask for much more from Toledo through two weeks of the season. The offense, though a bit inconsistent, has look dangerous, and the defense has been fantastic.
Let’s start on the offensive side of the ball.
Anybody who follows this team knew that it was all going to start with Dequan Finn on offense this year, and thus far the sophomore has lived up to the hype. Finn is currently completing 61 percent of his passes while also leading the Rockets with 138 yards on the ground and a healthy 7.3 yards per carry average. He has been the best player on the field through two games, and his athleticism will present problems to any defense the Rockets may face.
On the ground, coach Jason Candle has spread the workload around quite equitably thus far. This is a departure from what Toledo has done for the past three seasons, as Bryant Koback was indisputably one of the best backs in the conference and thus got the bulk of the carries. Behind Finn, Jacquez Stewart, Peny Boone, Willie Shaw III and Micah Kelly have all gotten 12 carries or more, and all figure to be a factor on Saturday night. This Ohio State defense is currently allowing only 64.5 yards per game on the ground, and only 2.02 yards per rush. Both of those rank in the top ten nationally. This Toledo offensive line will have some work to do if this ground game wants to get going.
The Buckeyes front seven has been the main reason for their success thus far this season. Linebackers Tommy Eichenberg, Steele Chambers, and Cody Simon form a formidable trio in the middle. Defensive lineman Michael Hall, Jr., Caden Curry and Zach Harrison have consistently proven their ability to get pressure and disrupt the timing of opposing offenses. Once again, this Rockets offensive line faces a tall task here. The Rockets success in this game will largely depend on their ability to open running lanes for the Rockets’ backs and keep Dequan Finn on his feet.
Through the air, Jerjuan Newton and Demeer Blankumslee have been the main targets, with Newton averaging an improbable 20 yards per reception through two games. Last years leading receiver, Devin Maddox, missed the season opening win over Long Island, but did return to catch a touchdown last week against UMass. This Ohio State secondary is not quite as stout against the pass as it is against the run – the Buckeyes are allowing 200 yards per game through the air, good for 52nd nationally. Just last week, Arkansas State’s James Blackman went 20-of-34 for 188 yards against this secondary. Those are not eye popping numbers, but it does feel like the secondary is the (relative) weakness of this unit.
Obviously, Ohio State has the talent edge here. Any time a MAC team is going up against a top ten opponent, that’s going to be the case. When faced with a talent disadvantage, one has to rely on a well developed game plan to stay competitive. If the Rockets keep the ball in Dequan Finn’s hands and allow him to make decisions in space, both with his arm and his legs, they may give themselves a chance in this one.
When Ohio State has the ball
The Rockets defense is about to face the ultimate test, there’s no way to sugarcoat it. Vince Kehres’ unit is giving up only 183 yards per game right now, but this high-powered Ohio State offense is currently averaging 466.5 yards per contest. Suffice it to say, this game may look a little different than the first two.
The Toledo secondary will be tested by CJ Stroud and a deep cast of wide receivers. Stroud is a Heisman contender for a reason: through two games he’s completing nearly 70 percent of his passes and has a pristine six to zero touchdown to interception ratio. The Buckeyes offense looked rather pedestrian in the season opening win over Notre Dame, but even in that contest, Stroud was efficient: 24-of-34, 223 yards and two touchdowns with zero turnovers. Stroud’s ability to take care of the ball is one of his best qualities, and his aversion to mistakes is a big reason for the Buckeyes offensive success.
It also helps to have a deep stable of athletic targets at your disposal, which Ohio State has in spades. Leading returning receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba (1,606 yards and nine scores in 2021) has been limited by injuries this year, but the depth of the Buckeyes receiver group is such that his absence hasn’t been all that impactful. Sophomore receiver Marvin Harrison, Jr. (you may remember his dad catching passes from Peyton Manning) has burst onto the scene in the first two weeks, leading Ohio State with 240 yards and three touchdowns on an eye popping 20 yards per reception. Right there with him is fellow sophomore Emeke Egbuka, who has amassed 208 receiving yards and two scores of his own.
TreVeyon Henderson and Miyan Williams have split the workload in the backfield, and both have been effective thus far. Williams provided the decisive touchdown in the Notre Dame game in week one, giving the Buckeyes a 21-10 lead in the fourth quarter to put the game out of reach. He has 130 rushing yards thus far on 5.9 yards per carry. Though those are good numbers, Henderson actually surpasses him in both, having run for 178 yards and an eye popping 7.1 yards per carry through two weeks. The Rockets will have to be ready for both, because both will be a part of the gameplan.
The genesis of all of this is a strong, veteran offensive line. Left tackle Parison Johnson, center Luke Wypler and right tackle Dawand Jones form a veteran core that allows this offense to do just about whatever it wants. Their work thus far has allowed the Buckeyes to average 5.5 yards per rush as a team. Even more impressive may be the fact that this line has only allowed one sack and two quarterback pressures through two games.
Slowing this offense down will be a tall task, there’s no doubt. The Toledo front seven has been very good through two weeks, but they will need to be even better in this one to keep up with the Buckeyes. Desjuan Johnson and Judge Culpepper along the defensive line will need to find a way to get pressure and fill gaps, while the linebacking core of Dallas Gant, Jamal Hynes, and Dyontae Johnson will need to be at their best.
The secondary will similarly have their hands full with the talented group of pass catchers suiting up for the Scarlet and Gray, and this secondary has been perhaps the best unit of all through two games. Maxen Hook and Zach Ford will need to have an impact from the safety position to ensure the Buckeyes don’t get an abundance of shots down the field.
Analysis and Prediction
In their first two games of the season, Toledo held a decided talent edge over their opponents. That script will be flipped this week.
That’s no disrespect to the Rockets, as Ohio State will be significantly more talented than just about every other team they play this year. Toledo has shown over the years that they can compete with the big boys, and they can certainly draw inspiration from the 2011 Rockets team that almost walked out of the Horseshoe with a victory.
As good as this Toledo defense is, it’s hard to envision them shutting down Ohio State like they did LIU and UMass. Stroud and the skill position players are too good, and the Buckeyes will get their points.
I will be very curious to see how this Toledo offense matches up against the Buckeyes defense. Dequan Finn is athletic enough to cause problems for any defense he faces, and if he is on his game, the Rockets can give this Ohio State defense some headaches. It’s much easier to envision the Rockets having offensive success than defensive success in this match up.
Obviously this is a huge game for Toledo, and I expect them to come out with their A game. I think Toledo makes this one close for a half, maybe even three quarters if they get a few breaks, but eventually the supreme talent of Ohio State will prevail.
Prediction: Ohio State 38, Toledo 17