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2023 MAC Football Week 6 Game Preview: Toledo Rockets at UMass Minutemen

UMass comes back to the MAC for dessert, hosting the Toledo Rockets for their third game against the conference in the young 2023 season.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 16 UMass at Eastern Michigan Photo by Steven King/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It’s been eight years since the independent Minutemen were in the MAC, but they clearly miss their old conference pals. When UMass (1-5) takes on Toledo (4-1) Saturday, it will be the Minutemen’s third matchup against a MAC opponent in 2023. The struggling Minutemen will be looking to use home field advantage to knock off the Rockets who have strung together four straight wins since a loss in the season opener.

Game Notes

  • Date and time: Saturday, October 7th, 2023 at 12:00 p.m. Eastern time
  • Location: McGuirk Alumni Stadium in Amherst, Massachusetts
  • Network: ESPNU (a valid cable subscription is required for viewing.)
  • Gambling considerations: Toledo is a 19.5-point road favorite, with an over/under of 56.5, per DraftKings.
  • All-time series: Toledo leads the series 6-1
  • Last Meeting: Toledo dominated UMass by a final of 55-10 in early non-conference play on Sept. 10, 2022.

Toledo outlook Boca Raton Bowl - Liberty v Toledo Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images

Toledo started the season as the MAC favorites, and a conference title is still in their control. The Rockets haven’t been quite as sharp as some predicted, but they haven’t had to pay for it so far this season, as they hold the pieces to get into a very high gear at any moment this season.

Dequan Finn had an injury scare against Western Michigan two weeks ago but returned against Northern Illinois last week and was nearly perfect as the Rockets outlasted the Huskies. Finn has now thrown for 960 yards with ten touchdowns and four picks while rushing for an additional 241 yards. He’ll be looking to continue to connect with a couple of his top targets against a UMass squad that has allowed nearly 250 yards per game in the air. Junior Vandeross III has emerged as the Rockets receiving yards leader this year and Jerjuan Newton, who leads the team with seven touchdowns, continues to be a threat in the end zone.

Toledo should also be feeling pretty good about their running back situation entering this game. Jacquez Stuart entered the year as the starter and picked up an injury in Week 2 which kept him out until last week. In his return against Northern Illinois, he bounced back well, rushing for 79 yards and a touchdown. Peny Boone picked up much of the slack on the ground game when Stuart was out and continued his hot play alongside Stuart last week. He had his third-straight 100 yard game and was efficient once again. He’s got 515 yards on an impressive seven yards per carry — good for seventh in the FBS.

Defensive play is where Toledo has slipped up a bit recently. After giving up 31 points to Western Michigan, the Rockets allowed another 33 to Northern Illinois, especially struggling against strong rushing offenses.

Part of Toledo’s defensive issues in the last two games have to do with the absence of linebacker Terrance Taylor. Taylor had been a force in Toledo’s defense in three appearances, but missed the next two with a lower leg injury. He was seen warming up before last game, which suggests the injury isn’t too serious but his status for Saturday is unknown.

Dallas Gant and Daniel Bolden have been at the heart of the linebacker unit in Taylor’s absence. In the defensive back unit, UMass should be wary of safety Maxen Hook, who returned just last week from injury. The Toledo D-line has room to improve from previous weeks and someone that can help with that is big Judge Culpepper.

UMass outlook

Massachusetts v Auburn Photo by Michael Chang/Getty Images

UMass hasn’t had a winning season since 2010, and they have just one win against an FBS opponent in their last 24 games. Those numbers look pretty bad, but four of the six games the Minutemen have played this year suggest they are not too far off from improving their win-loss record.

They took blowout losses at Auburn and last week at home against Arkansas State, but were competitive In their two previous games against MAC opponents, losing by 13 to Miami and then just by two to Eastern Michigan. The Minutemen split the season series with the Land of Enchantment’s FBS schools, defeating New Mexico State in Week 0 and losing to New Mexico in overtime in Week 4.

Something that can help UMass find success is to help starting QB Taisun Phommachanh get back in rhythm. Phommachanh returned last week after missing three games with an injury and was solid, going 29-of-38 passing for 269 yards, atouchdown and a pick. He didn’t get much playing time in his previous years at Clemson and Georgia Tech, but can use the rest of the season to prove himself if he stays healthy. Anthony Simpson has been the biggest receiving threat for the Minutemen with a team-leading 426 yards while Mark Pope and George Johnson III have also been seeing some targets.

Kay’Ron Lynch-Adams has been the main man in the Umass running attack. The fifth-year former Rutgers back has proven to be a workhorse, averaging 18 carries a game and has already passed the 500-yard threshold on the season. Backup RB Greg Desrosiers Jr. only has 12 carries this year but broke off a big 60 yard gainer last week. He has 12 catches on the season as well and is a potential playmaker for Toledo to look out for.

The UMass defense has had quite a few issues this year. They are allowing 39 points per game which is worse than any MAC team in 2023. The Minutemen have had a lot of trouble against both the pass and rush this season. Last week, they allowed Arkansas State QB Jaylen Raynor to throw for six touchdowns and just under 400 yards.

UMass will need some people to step up in the front seven and defensive back unit to put a handle on Toledo. Defensive tackle Billy Wooden can be that guy on the D-line as he has 4.5 sacks and two forced fumbles on the year. CB Te’Rai Powell and safeties Tyler Rudolph and Dashaun Jenkins can make things happen in the secondary.

Game outlook

Toledo hasn’t played perfect football recently but they’ve done enough to win four straight and the offense has fired on all cylinders since game 1, even with Dequan Finn and Jacquez Stuart getting banged up. The defense will hope to send out a healthier unit this week to try to stifle the opposition. UMass is coming off a tough loss but showed they can be competitive against MAC opponents. They’ll look for their passer Taisun Phommachanh to be a leader in this game.

Toledo should have the talent advantage to be able to secure a road win in Amherst. UMass might be able to stay in the game with some big offensive plays but will have a very tough time slowing down Toledo’s juggernaut offense.

Prediction: Toledo 42, UMass 24