Here I go again on my own, goin’ down the only road I’ve ever known… The road to villainy. Once more we must apply our mustache wax and curl those puppies up, as we’re going to take another villainous look at a Notre Dame opponent, the Toledo Rockets. Now they say it’s bad form to punch down, luckily for you, bad form is my middle name! (It’s actually Montford, which actually is a pretty good villain name in its own right). The Rockets will be the 5th MAC school to come into Notre Dame stadium in the Brian Kelly era, and BK is touting them as the best of the bunch. So let’s take a peak at what’s in store shall we?
Having attended a MAC school, one who’s head coach at the time was Brian Kelly, I know a thing or two about quality of teams represented by the conference. In terms of talent, while there is a number of MAC players currently starting in the NFL(Khalil Mack, Kenny Golladay, Ben Roethlisberger), it’s a conference more known for producing coaches than it is for players.
While they return all 22 starters who played the final two games of the season, you’re not going to see a Kareem Hunt or Dionte Johnson level player on their squad on Saturday. The talent gap between these two teams is as cavernous as you will see this season from a Notre Dame opponent.
Coming into this season, it was actually the defense that Toledo was hoping to hang their hat on. They had four players make the second team all MAC defense in 2020, highlighted by edge rusher Jamal Hines. The expectation is Toledo would have the best defense in the conference this year, which is like saying they are the fittest kid at fat camp. While you can scheme around a dude and catch teams with a hot hand offensively, there is no way to do that on the defensive side. Look at the upsets from mid majors in recent years, it’s not the defense that’s driving those cars. Your Boise State and UCF’s of the world were powered by having some guys on offense who could make things go.
I’m sure Toledo is going to do great in the MAC this year, but those great things aren’t going to play out this weekend. Michael Mayer would honestly give NFL defenders fits — and you’re telling me Toledo is going to contain him?
Toledo from 2014-2017 was a juggernaut in the MAC, as they racked up 39 wins. They operated like a Flintstone’s car, powered by the legs of Kareem Hunt and Terry Swanson. The duo went ran for a combined 7680 yards during that stretch — prolific to say the least.
Sadly for Toledo, neither Kareem Hunt or Terry Swanson is coming out of the tunnel for the Rocket’s on Saturday. Last year in six games against MAC opponents, Toledo managed a measly 4.15 yards rushing (1009 yards on 243 attempts). It was their 325 yards through the air that helped push them to a 4-2 mark. As I mentioned before, they brought the back the whole band. Bryant Koback is still the running back, they brought back the same line. Last week against Norfolk State, they ran for 205 yards, you might be fooled into thinking that was a pretty nice day but you’d be wrong. The longest run against the FCS opponent was just 24 yards from their change of pace QB Dequan Finn, who was the team’s leading rusher. Their lead back Bryant Koback only ran for 52 yards with a long of 12.
While I expect to see #7 come into the game with some regularity, they are going to try and rely on the arm of fourth year sophomore Carter Bradley, Bradley started the last two games of the season for Toledo last year when Eli Peters blew out his knee. The good was he threw 77 times for 697 yards and six touchdowns against NIU and CMU. The bad is he also threw five picks. If Bradley throws the ball more than 35 times against Notre Dame on Saturday, how many interceptions will Kyle Hamilton have? How is their offensive line going to fair with Isaiah Foskey bearing down on them? If Toledo proves to be incapable of running the football, they’ll also prove to be incapable of putting up a fight in this game.
Villain De Jour
The second the xenomorph was on the Nostromo it was game over for the crew. They were ill equipped to deal with the alien and it was able to strike from anywhere. Last I checked, Ellen Ripley wasn’t on the Toledo’s two deep so what chance do they have this weekend? I fully expect Kyren Williams and the running game to bounce back this week and to burst through the chest of the Toledo front en route to a big day.