Rockets come to Fort Collins to take on the Rams in MAC vs. Mountain West matchup
Two teams that haven't faced each other in more than 40 years will get reacquainted when Toledo plays Colorado State on Saturday night. It also represents an intriguing matchup of Group of 5 teams, pitting the MAC vs. the Mountain West.
For Toledo, it's been a mixed bag early on. The Rockets played Kentucky tough in a 38-24 season-opening loss in Lexington. They followed that with a 45-0 shutout of Murray State but the Racers from the FCS ranks still managed to collect 331 yards and 21 first downs. Not quite the kind of start head coach Jason Candle probably wanted to see from a team that has aspirations of winning the MAC West.
Colorado State has had its own struggles, starting out 1-2 with a pair of lopsided losses to Power 5 teams and a fairly easy win over an FCS opponent. The Rams were walloped in a 52-31 season-opening loss to rival Colorado then got into the win column with a 38-13 home victory against Western Illinois. But last week, CSU suffered a double-digit defeat to an SEC team — just like the Rockets in Week 1. The Rams' margin of defeat was a little larger though, falling to Arkansas 55-34 in Fayetteville.
Colorado State couldn't keep up late, as the Razorbacks outscored the visitors 21-0 in the final quarter. To add injury to insult, starting quarterback Collin Hill was knocked out of the game early in the second half. Earlier this week it was announced that Hill had torn the ACL in his left knee for the third time in his career. Head coach Mike Bobo called Hill's injury a "big blow," but the Rams must find a way to regroup with Toledo on tap and the start of Mountain West play just around the corner.
These two teams have played each other twice before (series split 1-1) but not since 1973.
Toledo at Colorado State Rams
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 21, at 10:15 p.m. ET
Spread: Toledo -9.5
When Toledo Has the Ball
Quarterback Mitchell Guadagni has done a solid job through two games, throwing for 388 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions while completing 68 percent of his passes. The senior has done this despite working with a reshuffled receiving corps after losing his top three targets from last season.
Three players have already gone over 100 receiving yards, led by wide receiver Danzel McKinley-Lewis' 143. Bryce Mitchell (125) and tight end Drew Rosi (101) are next on the list. All three could be active against a Colorado State defense that gave up 537 yards and five touchdowns through the air in losses to Colorado and Arkansas.
Toledo isn't just a pass-happy team either, as sophomore running back Bryant Koback leads the ground attack with 135 rushing yards and two touchdowns. As a team, the Rockets are averaging five yards per carry. This balance could give the Rams trouble as they also yielded more than 200 rushing yards to both the Buffaloes and Razorbacks.
When Colorado State Has the Ball
With Collin Hill (torn ACL) lost for the season, Patrick O'Brien is set to make his first collegiate start. A junior, O'Brien came to Colorado State after transferring from Nebraska where the Southern California native was recruited as a four-star quarterback but was relegated to backing up Tanner Lee for the 4-8 Cornhuskers in 2017.
Now a Ram, the 6-foot-5, 244-pound O'Brien will get a chance to showcase his big arm against a Toledo defense that hasn't exactly shut down either of its first two opponents. The Rockets gave up 422 total yards to Kentucky, which isn't that surprising, but also allowed 331 to FCS member Murray State. The Racers didn't score but had some success moving the ball.
Colorado State's game plan for Saturday night probably includes a heavy dose of running back Marvin Kinsey Jr. The senior is coming off of a career-best 180 rushing yards on just 20 carries in the loss to Arkansas. He also is third on the team with 163 receiving yards and has three total touchdowns.
When O'Brien does drop back to pass, he'll probably look for freshman Dante Wright, who is leading the team with 280 yards and has already scored five times (three receiving, two rushing). Junior Warren Jackson has hauled in a team-high 19 catches and sophomore tight end Trey McBride is the other Ram with 10 or more receptions in the early going.
With Patrick O'Brien likely needing some time to settle in, don't be surprised if Colorado State's offense gets off to a slow start. Unfortunately, Toledo will probably waste little time putting points on the board unless the Rams defense rises to the occasion.
So unless the CSU QB is a quick study — and it wouldn't be a surprise since the Rockets didn't exactly turn back their FCS foe last week — this game has the potential to get away from the hosts early. Home cooking may help the Rams keep things close but expect the MAC to top the Mountain West in this one.
Prediction: Toledo 45, Colorado State 33
(Top photo courtesy of Toledo Athletics)