With only three weeks left in the regular season, Tuesday night’s matchup between Toledo and Central Michigan should play a key role in shaping the final MAC West standings. Four teams have a shot at winning the West Division, with Toledo, Northern Illinois and Central Michigan each having one loss in conference play. Western Michigan is unbeaten in league action. Considering the Rockets and Chippewas already have one loss within the MAC, Tuesday night’s matchup could be an elimination game to stay alive for a trip to Detroit in early December.
Toledo is coming off its first loss of the season after a 32-27 defeat at the hands of Northern Illinois. While the loss knocked the Rockets out of the top 25 rankings, coach Matt Campbell’s team has compiled a solid resume. Toledo scored two huge non-conference wins, defeating Arkansas in Little Rock and Iowa State in the Glass Bowl in September. Additionally, the Rockets defeated the favorite (Arkansas State) to win the Sun Belt title. Central Michigan is off to a 5-4 start under new coach John Bonamego. The Chippewas enter Tuesday night’s matchup with wins in four out of their last five games. Additionally, Bonamego’s team played well in losses against Oklahoma State (24-13), Syracuse (30-27) and Michigan State (30-10).
Toledo owns a 22-18-3 series edge over Central Michigan. The Rockets have won five in a row against the Chippewas.
Toledo at Central Michigan
Kickoff: Tuesday, Nov. 10 at 8 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN2
Spread: Toledo -4
Three Things to Watch
1. Toledo’s Rushing Attack
Toledo recorded 291 rushing yards and two scores in last week’s loss against Northern Illinois. Kareem Hunt appears to be over an early-season injury, gashing the Huskies for 140 yards and two touchdowns. While Hunt could be the MAC’s best overall running back, he has plenty of help in the form of Terry Swanson (7.5 ypc), Damion Jones-Moore and Marc Remy. Central Michigan’s rush defense ranks fourth in the MAC by limiting opponents to 135.1 yards per game. However, the Chippewas struggled to stop Western Michigan (215 yards) and Northern Illinois (211) earlier this season. The Rockets have rushed for at least 238 yards in each of their last five games. Can Central Michigan find a way to slow down the Toledo rushing attack?
2. Central Michigan QB Cooper Rush
Overall pass defense numbers isn’t the best indicator of how well a team’s secondary is performing. With that in mind, let’s note Toledo ranks 10th in the MAC in pass defense but is second in pass efficiency defense. A deeper look at those totals shows some signs of concern for coach Matt Campbell. The Rockets have allowed six passing scores in the last two games and gave up 17.3 yards per completion in last week’s loss to Northern Illinois. Additionally, Toledo’s pass defense numbers are skewed. The Rockets faced Ball State, Kent State and Eastern Michigan – all ranked ninth or worse in the MAC in passing offense. This unit will be challenged once again on Tuesday night, as Central Michigan’s passing attack averages 296.2 yards per game behind quarterback Cooper Rush. The junior is completing 69 percent of his passes, has only eight interceptions on 335 attempts and has passed for 300 yards in three out of his last four games. Rush likes to spread the ball to a deep group of skill players, with Jesse Kroll (43 catches) as the top option. However, expect to see Anthony Rice (41 catches), Mark Chapman, Corey Willis and tight end Ben McCord targeted frequently on Tuesday night. The Chippewas rank last in the MAC in rushing offense, so it’s up to Rush and the passing attack to keep the chains moving against Toledo.
3. Protecting the Passer
The previous sections highlighted the importance of Toledo running back Kareem Hunt and Central Michigan quarterback Cooper Rush, but neither player will have any success on Tuesday night if the offensive line struggles to win the battle at the point of attack. The Chippewas have allowed 20 sacks (eighth in the MAC), while the Rockets have allowed only two sacks this season – both against Northern Illinois. Toledo quarterback Phillip Ely has tossed five picks over the last two games, and if the Chippewas can get pressure, the secondary will have opportunities to create turnovers. However, generating a pass rush has been an issue for Central Michigan. Through nine games, the Chippewas have recorded only 10 sacks. By comparison, Toledo has 19 in eight contests. After allowing two sacks last week, can the Rockets tighten their pass protection on Tuesday night? Keep an eye on how well the offensive lines perform in this key conference matchup.
As mentioned above, it’s fair to count this contest as an elimination game in the MAC West standings. There are plenty of scenarios still in play, but the loser of this matchup is going to have a tough time finishing No. 1 in the West Division. Plenty of fireworks should be expected in Mount Pleasant. The winning team in this series has recorded at least 38 points in each of the last six matchups. Toledo didn’t take care of the small things in last week’s game. The small errors led to the Rockets’ first loss of the season. How will they rebound on the road? The guess here is Campbell’s team gets back on track. Central Michigan keeps this one close well into the fourth quarter, but the Rockets have better balance on offense and a slight edge on defense. Toledo wins and keeps its MAC West title hopes alive.