Toledo opened the 2022 season with a 37-0 win over FCS Long Island on Thursday night, led by a dominant performance from the defense.
Some issues that plagued the Rockets in 2021 showed up once again and will need to be addressed, but all things considered the Rockets performed as you would expect they would against an overmatched FCS squad.
There were some encouraging signs for Toledo to build upon, as Jason Candle’s squad looks to compete for a MAC West title.
Our observations are below:
Dequan Finn will give this team a chance every week
Dequan Finn broke out as a freshman last year, starting the final eight games of the season and amassing over 2,500 yards from scrimmage. Against LIU, Finn picked up right where he left off in 2021, going 21-for-28 for 216 yards and two scores through the air, while also contributing 64 rush yards and a score on 12 carries. With leading returning receiver Devin Maddox sidelined, Finn spread the ball around, completing passes to seven different receivers throughout the game. His dual threat skills came in handy many times, as he avoided sacks and extended plays in the pocket.
One concern offensively is that it took the Rockets a while to get going in this one.
Toledo’s first three drives on Thursday night resulted in two punts and a turnover on downs, and the Rockets led only 3-0 after the first quarter. Slow starts like that will not get things done in conference play, and this coaching staff certainly knows that. This unit must figure out a way to get off to a better start. With Finn under center, this unit has a chance to be great. Can they put all of the pieces together and reach their full potential? The outcome of their season rests largely on that question.
This defense will be one of the best in the MAC
People may think of offense first when they think of the Toledo football program, but it’s been the defense that has been the star of the show for the past few seasons.
In 2021, the Rockets led the MAC in scoring defense (21 points per game) and were second in total defense (342.3 yards per game) and passing defense (191.5 yards per game). The unit started off 2022 with about as dominant of a performance as you’ll ever see, never allowing the LIU offense to get going.
The Rockets held the Sharks to 113 yards of total offense and only seven first downs all game. Toledo forced eight three and out possessions, recorded two sacks, and held the Sharks offense to a meager 1.88 yards per play.
Linebacker Dallas Gant (10 tackles) and defensive tackle Desjuan Johnson (seven tackles) were fantastic, and the secondary was never truly tested due to the relentless pressure brought on by the Rockets front seven.
Obviously, there was a talent disparity in this game, and we can’t expect dominant performances like this week in and week out from the Rockets. Regardless, it was an encouraging first performance, and this defense is good enough to give Toledo a chance every single week.
Penalties are still a problem
Toledo led the entire FBS with 9.8 penalties and 90.2 penalty yards per game in 2021. This was a major problem for the Rockets, considering that four of their five regular season losses were by three points or less.
This team won seven games last year, but easily could have won nine or ten if penalties weren’t such an issue. Unfortunately for the Rockets, this issue seems to have persisted into 2021, as evidenced by the nine penalties for 79 yards against Long Island. If this team wants to reach their goals this year, this must be addressed.
A penalized team is an undisciplined team, and this has been an issue for a while now with the Rockets.
Talent is not the issue for this squad – this roster can compete with anybody in the MAC. To let that talent show through, however, Toledo must be more disciplined. This will be something to watch moving forward, and if the Rockets can get this addressed, they have as good a shot as anybody to win the league.
Toledo will take on former MAC conference mate UMass for their next contest, with a scheduled kick for 7 p.m. Eastern from the Glass Bowl.