The Toledo Rockets and Ohio Bobcats will face off at Ford Field in the MAC Football Championship Game on Saturday to help kick off a full day of conference title matchups.
Toledo (7-5, 5-3 MAC) won the West Division by virtue of a head-to-head victory over Eastern Michigan on Oct. 29. The Rockets have lost their two most recent games (42-35 vs. Bowling Green on Nov. 15, 20-14 at Western Michigan on Nov. 25) as injuries have played a huge part and will be a factor on Saturday too.
Meanwhile, Ohio (9-3, 7-1) claimed the East by a comfortable margin and has won seven in a row despite losing quarterback Kurtis Rourke to a season-ending injury a couple of weeks ago.
These two teams did not face each other in crossover play during the regular season. Toledo leads the all-time series 32-21-1, although Ohio has taken two of the last three meetings.
The Rockets are making their seventh appearance in the MAC Football Championship Game, which was first played in 1997. They are 3-3 in those appearances and last won in 2017, while Ohio hasn't won a conference title in more than a half-century. The Bobcats' last MAC championship came back in 1968. They are 0-4 in the title game with their last appearance happening in 2016.
MAC Football Championship Game: Toledo vs. Ohio
When Toledo Has the Ball
The Rockets enter this game with plenty of intrigue surrounding the quarterback position. Starter Dequan Finn has been battling injuries, which has limited both his availability and effectiveness. For the season, he's thrown for 1,973 yards with 21 touchdowns and 12 interceptions while adding 522 yards and eight scores on the ground. His dual-threat abilities are why he earned second-team All-MAC honors this season, but an ankle issue has hindered his mobility, and his status for Saturday is unclear.
Freshman Tucker Gleason has stepped in for Finn and has more than held his own. He's thrown eight touchdowns compared to three interceptions in eight games and also can make things happen with his legs (185 yds., 3 TDs). He's 1-1 as the starter but is trying to play with a broken (non-throwing) hand, so head coach Jason Candle has some decisions to make.
Regardless of who starts, the supporting cast around the quarterback will need to step up. The Rockets' running game ranks near the top of the MAC at 173.2 rushing yards per game this season, but the team is averaging 4.3 yards per carry, so that's somewhat a byproduct of volume (480 rushing attempts, second in the conference). Leading rusher Jacquez Stuart (566 yds.) has struggled lately, totaling 102 combined yards on the ground in his last four games. Either he or Peny Boone (410 yds.) will need to find a way to pick up yards against an Ohio defense that's giving up 136 yards per game on the ground (second in the MAC).
The flip side to the Bobcats' defense is that they have been the most generous through the air. In conference-only games, Ohio is giving up 269.9 passing yards per game, although the Bobcats have more interceptions (11) than touchdown passes surrendered (10). Still, it will be imperative for Toledo to get leading receiver Jerjuan Newton (42 rec., 711 yds., 9 TDs) and tight end Jamal Turner (25, 314, 8) involved early and often.
When Ohio Has the Ball
Statistically, Ohio boasts the No. 1 offense in the MAC, leading the way in both points (34.0) and total yards (437.8) per game. However, this attack looks considerably different with quarterback Kurtis Rourke sidelined due to a knee injury. The conference's Offensive Player of the Year, Rourke averaged 318.6 yards of total offense per game and was responsible for 29 touchdowns (25 passing) in the 11 contests he appeared in. Backup CJ Harris accounted for himself just fine in the regular-season finale against Bowling Green, passing 196 yards while rushing for 65 and totaling four scores, but Saturday presents an entirely different challenge for the sophomore.
Fortunately, Harris won't have to do it alone. The Bobcats' running game is led by Sieh Bangura, who was named MAC Freshman of the Year earlier this week. He finished the regular season fourth in the conference in rushing yards per game (88.4) and has really been on a tear lately, totaling 389 yards and four scores on the ground in his last three contests. In the passing game, Sam Wiglusz is the leading receiver. He claimed first-team All-MAC honors after posting 66 catches for 814 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Toledo will counter the formidable Ohio offense with arguably the conference's best defense. The Rockets are No. 1 in both total (337.7 ypg) and passing defense (187. 3 ypg) and also have done a good job against the run (150.3 ypg, fifth). Not surprisingly, Toledo is well represented on the All-MAC team on this side of the ball, with four players — DL Desjuan Johnson, LB Dallas Gant, and DBs Quinyon Mitchell and Maxen Hook — garnering first-team recognition alone.
Both teams come into this game with question marks at quarterback, but Ohio seems better positioned to win this matchup, as the Bobcats have been able to adapt to the loss of Kurtis Rourke. Toledo has the offensive capabilities to make this interesting, but neither of the Rockets' signal-callers will be at full strength. That could be just enough to tip this one in Ohio's favor, as the Bobcats claim their first MAC title in more than 50 years.
Prediction: Ohio 35, Toledo 28
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