Toledo opened it’s 2022 season with a dominant 37-0 victory over Long Island, with the Rockets defense holding the Sharks to a meager 113 yards of offense in the contest. Toledo welcomes a familiar foe in week two, with UMass visiting the Glass Bowl in a meeting of former MAC rivals.
Former Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown has taken over for his second stint as the head coach of the Minutemen, also having lead the program from 2004-2008 while they were still members of the FCS.
While Brown certainly provides some reasons for optimism, this is a program that has struggled mightily since transitioning to the FBS. It was much of the same for UMass in Week 1, as the Minutemen opened their season with a 42-10 loss at Tulane. Jason Candle and his squad will look to get to 2-0 in this contest, with the level of competition increasing greatly next week.
- Time and Date: Saturday, September 10, 7:00 p.m. Eastern time
- Network: ESPN+ (a valid cable subscription is required for viewing)
- Spread/Total: Toledo -28.5, O/U 49
- Series History: Toledo leads 5-1
Toledo was never in serious peril in against Long Island, but that’s not to say that the Rockets played to the best of their abilities. Far from it – especially on offense.
The Rockets started their first contest of the season incredibly slow on the offensive side of the ball, with two punts and a turnover on downs on their first three possessions. Despite a dominant performance from the defense, Toledo led only 3-0 after the first quarter. As the level of competition increases, the production of this offense must increase as well.
The good news is that Dequan Finn is under center, and the sophomore dual threat quarterback will give the Rockets a chance every week. Finn showed off his entire skill set in week one, completing 21-of-28 passes for 211 yards and two touchdowns, while also amassing 64 yards and a score on the ground. To put it simply, he is the engine that makes this offense go, and everything starts with him.
Leading returning receiver Devin Maddox was out for the Long Island game, and there has been no word as to weather or not he will suit up against UMass. The good news for Rockets fans is that other receivers stepped up in Maddox’s absence, with Jamal Turner (five receptions, 87 yards and a TD) and Jerjuan Newton (four receptions, 54 yards and a TD) stepping up nicely and providing the big plays that this offense needed. Big plays will be available against this UMass secondary, as the Minutemen gave up three pass plays of over 20 yards in their week one loss to Tulane.
In the run game, it appears that it will be a “by committee” approach this year to replace Bryant Koback. The Rockets ran the ball 46 times against LIU, but no individual had more than 12 carries. Finn and Peny Boone led the way with 12 carries each, while Jacquez Steward and Micah Kelly both recorded eight. While this rushing offense may look a little different without a lead back, that doesn’t mean this can’t be an effective rushing attack. Finn is so dynamic with his legs that he can open things up in the running game, and the Rockets did average 4.9 yards per carry in week one. This UMass defense allowed Tulane to rush for 196 yards and four touchdowns in week one, so the Rockets ground game should be able to get going this week.
The star for Toledo right now is the defense. To say that the Rockets were dominant in week one would be an understatement. 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.
Quite frankly, this is a UMass offense that has lacked much firepower for quite some time, and the Toledo defense will once again have a marked talent advantage in this game. The Minutemen offensive line gave up two sacks on only 13 pass attempts against Tulane, so this Toledo front seven should have ample opportunity to pressure the quarterback. This Minutemen team is one that wants to run the ball, and based on what we saw from the Rockets defense last week, this unit can handle anything that UMass will throw at them.
While some questions may still exist about the Rockets offense, this defense has proven their worth. I expect them to have another dominant performance against a UMass attack that is a bit one dimensional.
To say things have been a struggle for UMass since leaving the conference would be putting it lightly.
Competing now as an independent, the Minutemen have gone a combined 6-35 over the past four seasons. Former Michigan and Arizona defensive coordinator Don Brown returned to Amherst this off-season for his second stint as head coach, having also led the Minutemen from 2004-2008 when they were still a member of the FCS.
This is a team that finished last season 126th in the FBS in scoring offense (16.3 points per game), 123rd in total offense (300.3 yards per game), dead last in scoring defense (43.1 points per game) and 125th in total defense (485 yards per game). Those numbers are… not good.
What’s worse for Minutemen fans is that the offensive struggles seemed to continue in their week one loss to Tulane. UMass has clearly undergone an identity shift under Brown, and this is a unit that wants to run the football. In the Tulane game, the Minutemen ran the ball 58 times, compared to only 11 passes. They did manage 200 yards rushing as a unit, which is good. When you consider the 58 attempts (and the 3.4 yards per rush) the total output looks a bit less impressive.
Running back Ellis Merriweather was the best returning piece for this offense, and he began his 2022 campaign with 11 rushes for only 36 yards. Indiana transfer Tim Baldwin will split duties with Merriweather in the backfield and rushed for 65 yards on 13 carries in his UMass debut. This unit will ride these two until their wheels fall off, if only because there’s not much else on this offense to get excited about.
Gino Campiotti and Brady Olson split reps at quarterback in Week 1, though neither were given the opportunity to do much. As mentioned above, the two combined for only 11 pass attempts against the Green Wave, completing only four and throwing three interceptions. Olson was a partial starter last year, though he completed only 48 percent of his passes. Campiotti was brought in as a JUCO transfer, and it seems that both will continue to see time until one claims the job. The old adage “if you have two quarterbacks, you have zero quarterbacks” seems to apply here.
On defense, this team was a disaster last year. There’s no way to sugarcoat it. Don Brown is highly regarded as a defensive coach, and fixing this unit will be his top priority. 13 defensive lineman return that saw action last year, which does feel like a good thing. The downside to that is that this unit registered the second fewest sacks in the nation last year. If this defense wants to improve at all, they must be better up front. The duo of Cletus Mathurin and Billy Wooden will lead the way up front, with both defensive tackles having started eight games last season. Transfers Marcus Bradley (Vanderbilt) and Marcus Cushnie (Florida State) are two other names to remember and figure to play a prominent role.
Anybody who knows Don Brown knows that he loves to blitz, but there does seem to be a bit of a hole at linebacker. Leading tackler Gerrell Johnson returns, but everybody else of note is gone. Johnson is solid, having racked up 80 tackles and 1.5 sacks last year, but he will need help. Rutgers transfer Zukudo Igwenagu seems in line to claim one of the other linebacker spots, as does Dartmouth transfer Jalen Mackie.
Cornerback Josh Lewis is probably the most talented returning starter on this defense, and he gives the secondary a solid foundation. Penn State transfer Typler Rudolph figures to step in at one of the starting safety spots, along with Te’Rai Powell, who impressed as a first year starter last year, compiling 56 tackles and four tackles for loss in 11 games.
The week one performance on defense was not good, allowing 42 points and 20 first downs to Tulane. The Green Wave attempted only 22 passes, but they completed 13 of them for 173 yards. On the ground, the Minutemen allowed Tulane to run for five yards per carry and 200 yards on the game. The Toledo offense may have had a slow start against Long Island, but it does feel as if the Rockets have a decided talent advantage here and will be able to exploit this match up.
Analysis and Prediction
We still don’t know a ton about this Toledo team, and that still may be the case after this week. UMass is a program in a bad spot right now. Don Brown is a very good coach, and he may be able to turn this program around, but it’s going to take some time. There is nobody on this UMass defense that will be dynamic enough to stop Dequan Finn, and the Minutemen offense doesn’t seem to have the firepower to threaten this talented Toledo defense. Toledo takes this one to move to 2-0, and much greater challenges await in the second half of their non conference schedule.
Toledo 41, UMass 7