The Toledo Rockets (2-2) are set to play host to the Central Michigan Chippewas (1-3) on Saturday in a MAC play opener for both squads, as both teams look to shake off slow starts from the non-conference season.
This has been a date circled on the calendar for “intriguing MAC games” since it was announced earlier this year. This CMU/Toledo game, which has recently been held near the end of league play was bumped up right to the top, setting up a statement game situation for the winner to announce their legitimacy in the MAC West title race.
We take a deep dive into the state of both teams heading into this one:
- Time and Date: Saturday, October 1, 2022, at 3:30 p.m. Eastern time.
- Network: ESPN+ (A subscription is required for viewing.)
- Location: Glass Bowl in Toledo, Ohio
- Spread/Total: Toledo is a seven-point home favorite, with an over/under of 56.5, per OddsShark.
- All-time series: Toledo leads the all-time series at 27-20-3, with Central narrowly grabbing the win last season.
Getting to know the Rockets
The Rockets are a team brimming with both talent and potential, with perpetual top-tanked recruiting classes giving this roster a deep bench at all positions and top-end starting talent all-around.
They were tabbed potential favorites in the preseason polls for a reason, and it’s because on paper, this should be a team highly favored to sweep the league table. Well, should, anyway.
Toledo is off to a 2-2 start after taking a shocking one-possession loss to San Diego State in a game where they looked stymied and overwhelmed at points, and will be looking to get one over on CMU this weekend to get back on track.
Unlike most Toledo teams of the past, this team is predicated on defense dictating the terms of the game under the coaching of Vince Kehres, a former Division III coaching legend. Take out the 77-point, 11 touchdown performance against a ludicrously-talented Ohio State program, and Toledo has given up an average of nine points per game and 216 yards per game, with just three total touchdowns.
A dozen Rocket defenders have at least 10 tackles on the season, with four of them having 20+ tackles apiece. Ohio State transfer Dallas Gant, a defensive back, has been a great addition through the transfer portal, leading the squad with 29 tackles and 1.5 tackles-for-loss. Desjuan Johnson (22 tackles, four tackles-for-loss, half-sack), Dyontae Johnson (24 tackles, two tackles-for-loss, three pass break-ups) and Jamal Hines (15 tackles, one tackle-for-loss) are havoc-makers along the line, while Maxen Hook (26 tackles) and Chris McDonald (14 tackles, one interception) man the secondary.
This team ain’t bad on offense, either, with developing star Dequan Finn at the controls. Finn’s promise at the tail end of 2021 has continued showing itself in 2022. Finn is currently 64-of-107 for 781 for six passing scores and five interceptions (with three of them last week), while also serving as the team’s leading rusher with 252 yards and five touchdowns on 37 carries.
On the receiving end, Demeer Blankumsee has emerged as the primary target, more than doubling the next-leading receiver with 24 catches for 235 yards, though he’s yet to find the endzone so far. He seems to be an option in the middle of the field to this point. Jerjuan Newton (10 catches, 202 yards, two scores) and Jamal Turner (six catches, 98 yards, two scores) have combined to pull in four of the Rockets’ five receiving scores to propel the offense.
Special teams have also been as reliable as it gets, with Thomas Cluckey at 5-of-6 with a long of 43 yards, missing for the first time last week. New punter Jonathon Batzke has also filled in nicely after Bailey Flint’s graduation, averaging 41.5 net yards per punt, with six inside-the-20 and three of over 50+ yards.
Getting to know the Chippewas
The Chippewas had a stumble out of the gates, taking some unexpected results in a 1-3 start to the season.
They were a trendy pick as a MAC West dark-horse candidate due to the sheer talent at the top end of the roster, but there’s been some adjustment issues that have been in the process of being ironed out over the last four weeks. Central hopes the familar feel of conference play will help get some confidence back into the unit.
This CMU unit is less balanced than in years past, relying on a big play offense to get them through games in 2022. CMU is 48th in the NCAA in total offense, averaging 448 yards and 30.75 points per game so far, showing the ability to pop off points when necessary... though a highly-unlucky turnover margin (eight lost to three gained) has effectivelty neutralized the attack just as often.
Daniel Richardson leads the offense at QB, going 99-of-172 for 1,124 yards for nine touchdowns and four interceptions in an up-and-down campaign. Despite the struggles, his highs are still some of the best in the league. However, his heath status is in question after taking a lick at the end of the Penn State game, with Jim McElwain suggesting Jase Bauer, who ran for two touchdowns vs. Bucknell, along with their other QBs could be prepped into the potential gameplan.
Regardless of who is under center, there’s some intriguing pieces at receiver. Tight end Joel Wilson leads the team in receptions (21) and touchdowns (three) with 224 yards registered (second-most on the team.) On the outside numbers, Maryland transfer Carlos Carriere has 20 receptions for 255 yards and a touchdown. Ball State transfer Jalen McGaughy is the big play threat, with 12 catches for 200 yards and two touchdowns.
There are depth options which have also proven worth, including Northwood [MI] transfer Noah Koenigsknecht and Finn Hogan, who both had decent showings against Penn State.
Lew Nichols continues to hold lead back responsibilities, though it’s been hard to get him going this year, sitting at 325 yards on 84 carries, scoring five times (mostly on short conversions.) Nichols has been getting more reps as a receiver recently, fourth on the team with 15 receptions for 97 yards out of the backfield. Myles Bailey and Marion Lukes will continue to get spell looks on outside runs and screens as well.
The defense has been less-than-desireable in 2022, giving up 402 yards per game and 18 opposing touchdowns in four games, making them the 94th-ranked unit in the NCAA. It’s even more brutal in the secondary, as CMU is 116th with 283 passing yards per game on average and 10 passing scores allowed. They’ve been especially prone to big plays, and have had to try and make up for mistakes in other phases of the game fairly often.
Trey Jones has 21 tackles in just three games, and should be back at the safety spot this week after an undisclosed injury left him out last week. Kyle Moretti and Justin Whiteside lead the tackle charts, with 26 and 23, respectively. Whiteside is also a force in exerting pressure, with a second-best 3.5 tackles-for-loss. EDGEs Michael Heldman and Thomas Incoom and defensive tackle John Wesley Whiteside have 4.5 tackles-for-loss each, with Incoom leading all Chips in sacks (three). De’Javion Stephney and Donte Kent have eaach missed a game in the secondary, but still hold five pass break-ups apiece, while Jones and fellow safety Caleb Spann have both of CMU’s interceptions.
The placekicker position is still unsettled after shaky play from both kickers, but for now, Marshall Meeder is still the listed starter despite a 1-of-4 start to the campaign. Luke Elzinga continues a steady 2022 campaign, averaging 45.6 yards per punt, with six inside-the-20 and three 50+ yard boots, including a long of 65 yards.
What to Expect
The last two contests between these two teams went right down to the wire, with the winner taking it at the last gasp. This one does set up top be quite similar, given the caliber of the teams involved and the stakes attached to this game in particular.
CMU finds themselves the “Homecoming” team for the second-straight week, as the Rockets scheduled the Chips to fill the role of the feel-good win fodder. It’s something McElwain noted multiple times in his press availability, which suggests they’re not too happy about the fact. Pair that with the 1-3 record, and it could reignite what makes the CMU unit so hard to stop.
Toledo could really use the win to legitimize preseason expectations, as last week didn’t go quite to plan against San Diego State. This time last year, Toledo was going through a sea of changes on the offense, with Finn still learning the ropes of the offense. This game could well serve as a progress report of sorts for a team who needs confidence to move through the MAC West race after years of close calls going wrong.
This should make for some good television, should you tune in.