Wednesday night’s MACtion slate features a potential preview of the 2017 MAC Championship Game in Detroit, as Toledo travels to Athens to take on Ohio. With just three weeks remaining until the MAC title game, the Bobcats and Rockets sit atop their respective divisions. After beating Northern Illinois last week, Toledo is in full control of the West Division at 5-0 in league play. Ohio entered Week 11 at 4-1 in MAC play, with Akron also at 4-1 before Tuesday night’s game against Miami (Ohio). The Bobcats and Zips will play on Nov. 14 in a game that could decide the East Division title.
Under the leadership of coach Frank Solich, Ohio is one of the MAC’s most consistent programs. The Bobcats have earned postseason trips in seven out of the last eight seasons and are on track for another appearance in 2017. Additionally, Ohio won the East Division last season and gave Western Michigan all it could handle in Detroit. The Bobcats are 7-2 overall through nine games and Wednesday night’s game versus Toledo is the final home game of 2017. Solich’s team lost to Purdue 44-21 in Week 2, and its only loss in MAC play came versus Central Michigan – a game the Bobcats lost the turnover battle in a minus-three ratio.
Toledo coach Jason Candle is one of college football’s rising stars. Since taking over the program after Matt Campbell left for Iowa State following the 2015 regular season, Candle is 18-5 overall and is 11-2 in MAC play. The Rockets have one of the top offenses in the nation and scored 30 points on a tough Miami defense in late September. The defeat to the Hurricanes (52-30) is Toledo’s only loss this season, and the Rockets have won three out of their last four games in conference play by 20 or more points.
Toledo owns a 31-20-1 series edge over Ohio. However, the Bobcats knocked off the Rockets 31-26 in the Glass Bowl last season. Prior to 2016, Toledo had won 12 games in a row versus Ohio.
Toledo at Ohio
Kickoff: Wednesday, Nov. 8 at 7 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN2
Spread: Toledo -4
Three Things to Watch
1. Toledo’s Offense
After tossing 45 touchdowns and 4,129 passing yards last season, Toledo quarterback Logan Woodside is having another prolific year. The senior has passed for 2,656 yards and 19 touchdowns through nine games and is completing 64.3 percent of his throws. In addition to his accuracy and the ability to hit the underneath routes, Woodside leads all MAC quarterbacks with seven completions of 50 yards or more.
Woodside is the catalyst for Toledo’s attack, but he’s got plenty of help in the receiving corps. This unit lost standout Cody Thompson to a season-ending injury against Eastern Michigan, but Diontae Johnson, Jon’Vea Johnson, Danzel McKinley-Lewis and tight end Jordan Fisher provide a strong group of options for Woodside. Diontae Johnson leads the team with 46 catches and eight touchdown grabs and also averages 18.7 yards per reception.
While Woodside is the headliner, running back Terry Swanson shouldn’t be overlooked. The senior leads the Rockets with 844 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns and averages a healthy 5.3 yards per carry. Swanson missed the Eastern Michigan game due to injury but has reeled off four 100-yard games in a row. In last week’s win over Northern Illinois, Swanson rushed for three touchdowns and posted 116 yards against one of the MAC’s top defenses. Ohio’s defense ranks second in the MAC in rush defense, only giving up 123 yards per game on the ground.
Ohio will counter Toledo’s high-powered passing attack with a secondary ranked fifth in the MAC in pass efficiency defense. However, the Bobcats have allowed the most passing touchdowns (18) of any team in the conference, and this group was torched for 350 yards and three scores by Miami (Ohio) last week. While Ohio’s secondary has allowed 18 touchdowns, this group isn’t giving up big plays. The Bobcats have allowed the fewest completions (two) of 40 or more yards of any defense in the MAC. For Ohio to slow down Woodside and provide some protection for its secondary, the defensive line needs to win the one-on-one battles in the trenches. This defense has excelled at getting to the quarterback in 2017, as Solich’s group ranks second in the MAC in sacks (22). Linemen Trent Smart and Andrew Payne are tied for the team lead with three sacks apiece, and standout linebacker Quentin Poling has chipped in 1.5 to go with his team-leading 80 tackles.
Generating pressure for Ohio’s defense won’t be easy against a Toledo front that has allowed only 13 sacks this season. But in order for the Bobcats to prevent Woodside and his receivers to connect on big plays, this defense has to win the battles up front. And if Ohio can’t get to the quarterback, it needs to force Toledo to work its way down the field in small chunks and not give up big plays.
2. Ohio’s Ground Attack
Considering the firepower on Toledo’s offense, Ohio’s best defense could come in the form of its offense. The Bobcats own one of the MAC’s top rushing attacks, averaging 232.9 yards per game. This offense averages 5.5 yards per carry and has scored 31 times on the ground through nine games.
Running back A.J. Ouellette missed most of last season due to injury but has returned at full strength. The junior leads the offense with 827 yards and has reached paydirt six times on 140 carries. But he’s not the only threat in the backfield, as Solich’s team will mix in Dorian Brown (458 yards).
Ouellette and Brown form an effective one-two punch, but the insertion of quarterback Nathan Rourke into the starting lineup has also sparked this offense. Rourke replaced Quinton Maxwell under center for the Week 3 game against Kansas and has passed for 1,504 yards and 13 touchdowns to just three interceptions. The offense got a boost in the passing game last week, as Papi White returned from injury to catch five passes for 80 yards and a score against Miami. While Rourke’s passing skills are solid, he’s been just as much of a factor on the ground. The sophomore has rushed for 553 yards and leads all Bobcats with 16 rushing scores. Additionally, Rourke has posted three games of more than 100 rushing yards and recorded 54 on 10 carries in last week’s win over Miami (Ohio).
In MAC-only games, Toledo’s defense is giving up 113.2 yards per game on the ground and has allowed only four rushing scores in that span. After giving up 423 rushing yards to Tulsa and 254 to Miami, the Rockets have been tougher against the run, as only one MAC opponent has eclipsed more than 200 yards (Ball State) over the last five games. Last week’s matchup against Northern Illinois was a good barometer test for Candle’s defense and the front seven. The Huskies were limited to 185 yards on 40 carries, averaging 4.6 yards per rush. Lineman Olasunkanmi Adeniyi (12 tackles for a loss) is a force on the interior, and Jack Linch (46 stops) helps to anchor the linebacker unit with Ja’Wuan Woodley. Toledo’s defense has been tough against the run, but this unit has struggled to generate pressure at times against opposing quarterbacks. The Rockets have just 12 sacks through nine games.
Can Toledo stop the run and force Ohio’s offense into third-and-long situations? Or will the Bobcats control the line of scrimmage, keep the defense off balance and limit Woodside and the high-powered Toledo offense from getting too many opportunities with the ball?
This game between MAC division leaders is expected to come down to a couple of factors. Can Ohio find a way to slow down Toledo’s passing game? And when the Rockets are on defense, will they have an answer for the Bobcats’ ground attack?
While those two things are critical, the turnover battle is another factor that could be decisive. Toledo has a plus-five ratio through nine games, as it has forced 12 takeaways and only lost four. Ohio isn’t far behind at plus-two. However, the Bobcats have been better at generating takeaways (15) and also more apt to give it away (13).
We are stating the obvious here, but possessions are valuable in a game with contrasting styles. If Toledo jumps out to a two-score lead, Ohio’s gameplan on offense will have to feature more passing and less of its potent ground game. And if the Bobcats are able to jump out to an early lead and create a couple of takeaways, the Rockets won’t have an easy time generating a comeback against a tough defense and offense that can dominate the time of possession.
Expect a close one in Athens, as this potential preview of the MAC title game should be one of the better midweek MACtion games this year. Toledo’s high-powered offense has scored at least 30 points in eight out of its nine games. Can Ohio find a way to contain Woodside and the big-play ability of his receivers? The Bobcats have the right recipe: Run the football and make the Rockets drive the length of the field with no big plays. Toledo lost to Ohio in the Glass Bowl last season. The guess here is Candle’s team gets revenge and wins a close one - and a rematch happens on Dec. 2 in Detroit.