Zach Wilson and the Cougars come to the Glass Bowl looking for a road win over the Rockets from the MAC
This is the first road game for BYU (2-2) against a MAC opponent since 1970 when the Cougars fell 35-17 at Western Michigan. BYU won its first road game in week two after outlasting Tennessee in double overtime. The Cougars are looking to bounce back from a 45-19 loss to Washington that saw them give up 14 points off three turnovers and trail by double digits virtually the whole way.
Toledo (2-1) comes into its final non-conference game on a much more upbeat note. The Rockets escaped with a 41-35 victory over Colorado State behind a career-high 228 yards and four touchdowns from running back Bryant Koback. Toledo stopped the Rams at the two-yard line on the game's final play to preserve the victory.
This game completes a home-and-home series that started in 2016. The first time these two teams clashed produced some major fireworks. BYU outlasted Toledo in a 55-53 shootout behind a school-record 286 rushing yards and five touchdowns from Jamaal Williams. The Rockets put up 692 total yards in the loss.
BYU at Toledo
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 28 at 12 p.m. ET
Spread: BYU -1.5
When BYU Has the Ball
The Cougars were dealt a devastating blow on offense when leading rusher Ty'Son Williams tore his ACL late in the second quarter against Washington. Williams will miss the remainder of what began as a promising season. He led BYU in rushing in each of his first three games and finished the season with 264 yards and three touchdowns while averaging a career-best 5.4 yards per carry.
Emmanuel Esukpa and Lopini Katoa will be the primary ball carriers in Williams' absence. Esukpa, a graduate transfer from Rice, had 49 yards on nine carries against the Huskies. Katoa emerged as BYU's top rusher last season. The duo will be counted on to divert some defensive focus from Zach Wilson by showing an ability to get big runs in short-yardage situations like Williams did.
Wilson has shown a knack for involving several receivers in the offense rather than keying on one or two exclusive targets. BYU hasn't had a game yet with fewer than eight players catching at least one pass. Still, two or three consistent threats have emerged. Matt Bushman is in the same mold of star BYU tight ends from the past. Micah Simon is enjoying the best season of his career. Aleva Hifo is a speedy playmaker on the edge and in the slot. All three players have 15 catches through the first four games and have combined for 612 receiving yards.
When Toledo Has the Ball
The jury is still out on how good the Rockets truly are at this point. Toledo edged a mediocre Colorado State team on the road and could not hang with a decent Kentucky team in the season opener. One thing is certain. The Rockets can put up lots of points and BYU is vulnerable to giving up chunk plays as fast as the Cougars get them.
Bryant Koback will definitely be a player to watch out for as a source of those explosive plays. The sophomore rushed for 168 yards and three touchdowns in the third quarter alone against Colorado State. He came close to having a 1,000-yard season a year ago and is averaging a robust 7.7 yards per carry through three games.
Senior quarterback Mitch Guadagni also is a capable runner when he needs to be. Guadagni tallied 119 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries against the Rams. His passing abilities aren't as much of a strength. Guadagni completed just 40 percent of his passes in the win over Colorado State. His completion percentage through three games is just under 60 percent and he has tallied just 499 yards and four touchdowns through the air.
Toledo's focus will definitely be on establishing the ground game early. BYU's rush defense is one of the worst in the FBS through four games. The Cougars have allowed 215.5 rushing yards per game, ranking 116th among FBS teams.
BYU hasn't won a road game against a MAC team since 1968 when the Cougars beat Western Michigan 17-7. That's likely to change on Saturday. Toledo looked good against mediocre teams, but BYU has won against a much tougher schedule. The Cougars won't be fazed by the Rockets after facing four straight P5 opponents and coming away with wins over USC and Tennessee. It will be an exciting game and will go back and forth. Ultimately, the Cougars will have enough in the tank to exit September with a winning record.
Prediction: BYU 35, Toledo 31
— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.
(Top photo courtesy of BYU Athletics)