Updated: Dec 2, 2022
***Part Two featuring the Ohio Bobcats can be found HERE***
We are finally here! The 2022 MAC Championship is RIGHT around the corner, and the Toledo Rockets will take on the Ohio Bobcats to determine who is the King of the MAC. The Rockets come into this game riding a two-game losing streak (to rival BGSU and WMU) after locking up the division with their win over Ball State on Election Night. The Bobcats enter this game on a seven-game winning streak, their lone loss to Kent State in week one of conference play. As we prepare for the 26th iteration of the MAC Championship Game, let’s take a closer look at each team’s history, how they got here, and their strengths and weaknesses that may help or hinder their chances at a championship. ROCKET GAME HISTORY
Toledo has appeared in six championship games, most recently in 2017 where they defeated the Akron Zips 45-28. The Rockets are tied with Marshall for the second-most appearances in the MACCG and will move into sole possession of the second slot after this weekend. As it sits, they are 3-3 but are 2-0 when the game is played in Detroit. (Of note, 2004 was the first MACCG played on a neutral site, from 1997-2003, it was played on campus, of which 5 were hosted by Marshall.)
HOW TOLEDO GOT HERE The Rockets started the season with back-to-back wins over Long Island University and UMass, out-scoring both teams 92-10. They then dropped back-to-back games against Ohio State and San Diego State before they ripped off three straight conference victories against Central Michigan, Northern Illinois, and Kent State. They would lose their next game to Buffalo in Amherst, and that is when disaster would strike. On the final play of the game, starting quarterback Dequan Finn was injured, forcing him to miss the win against Eastern Michigan in Ypsilanti. He would return in the home win (and division-clinching win) over Ball State, but a leg injury forced him to miss the game against Bowling Green, who went up 21-0 early before the Rockets stormed back to take the lead with 52 seconds left in the game. The Rockets would ultimately lose 42-35, and quarterback Tucker Gleason would break his non-throwing hand in the first half. Finn would return in limited action against Western Michigan and throw a pick-six in Toledo’s second consecutive loss. While Toledo and Eastern Michigan would both finish 5-3 in MAC play, the Rockets advance to Detroit on the tie-breaker with EMU (winning the head-to-head match-up).
When Toledo has the ball, they have one of the best scoring offenses in the MAC, averaging 34.1 points per contest in MAC play. They are second only to Ohio, who averages 36.0 points per game. When dual threat Dequan Finn is on the field, defenses have to defend against his ability to tuck and go, as well as his ability to buy his receivers more time. In just ten games this season, he has passed for 1,973 yards and 21 touchdowns. On the ground, he has rushed 95 times for 522 yards and eight scores. He gets plenty of help from a great wide receiver trio in Jerjuan Newton (711 yards, 9 TDs), Devin Maddox (519 yards, 3 TDs), and DeMeer Blankumsee (437 yards, 2 TDs), a passing/receiving offense that ranks third in the MAC behind Akron and Ohio, averaging 247. 8 yards against MAC opponents. The ground game is a solid committee featuring Maryland transfer Penny Boone (410 yards, 3 TDs), Jacquez Stuart (566 yards, 3 TDs), and Micah Kelly (323 yards, 1 TD), who combine to rank third best in the MAC behind Kent State and NIU with 171.5 yards against MAC defenses. Tight End Jamal Turner and WR Mikel Barkley are not to be forgotten, collectively compiling 603 yards and 11 touchdowns. This is an offense that when on, can score at will, and has proven as much with multiple 50+ point games on the year. When it comes to red zone scoring, Toledo is the best in the MAC, scoring on 31 of 33 attempts (26 touchdowns, 15 field goals), nearly a 94% conversion rate. Defensively, the Rockets are loaded with talent, at nearly every position. At linebacker, they are anchored by Ohio State transfer Dallas Gant (103 total tackles, 2 forced fumbles) and Dyontae Johnson (95 tackles, one forced fumble), while linebacker Jamal Hines leads the team with 6.5 sacks on the season. Cornerback Quinyon Mitchell paces the defense with five INTs and 17 pass break-ups (two for touchdowns), while Saftey Maxen Hook has two INTs in ten games. All this combined, the Rockets lead the conference in total defense, allowing just 330.1 yards per game in the MAC. If you expand that out to the entire season, it only increased to 337.7 yards per contest, still the best in the MAC. For passing defense, the Rockets are one of the top three units in the MAC (trailing only CMU and EMU), surrendering just 198.1 yards per game in conference play. On the ground, Toledo is second best only to Ohio, surrendering 132 yards per conference game. Across eight conference games, Toledo averages 3.50 sacks per game, the best in the MAC, and is just second to CMU in tackles for loss, averaging 7.88 per MAC game.
Toledo took a massive step in the right direction to clean up penalties from a year ago when they ranked dead last in the country with 130 total penalties. This year, Toledo ranks 63rd nationally with 78 on the year. While it's not perfect, it's a stark contrast to a year ago when they were averaging ten a game. Not sure if this is noteworthy or not, but in the five losses Toledo averaged five penalties a game vs 7.6 penalties per game in wins.
TOLEDO WEAKNESSES It is well-documented that the Toledo offensive line is one that has struggled to protect its quarterbacks and give its running backs consistent lanes. Now, the loss of two starters before the season began did them zero favors, but this is one of the worst lines in recent Rocket history, masked by the fact that they have QBs who can escape the pocket and make plays with their feet. They rank fifth in the MAC in sacks allowed, giving up 16 to MAC opponents. The Rockets are also tied for ninth in the MAC on tackles for loss, surrendering 57 to opposing MAC defenses. As far as interceptions, they are second to Ohio with 9 picks thrown in conference play, and they lead the conference in passes broken up at 46 on the year. As far as protecting the ball in other ways, Toledo is 10th in the MAC for fumbles (14 against MAC opponents) and fumbles lost (8 lost). Combined, this puts Toledo at a -5 turnover margin in the MAC, sitting only ahead of Ball State, Akron, and Central Michigan. Toledo has struggled with turnovers all season, as was evident against WMU (a pick-six that essentially decided the game in the second quarter), and four INTs and 2 fumbles against Buffalo contributed in a major way to those losses this season.
Defensively, Toledo has had some truly incredible late collapses this season, and every Toledo fan knows which games I am going to point to: A 14-10 lead over SDSU with 2:56 left in the game, a 27-10 lead over Buffalo to start the fourth quarter, and a 35-34 lead over BGSU with just 52 seconds left to play. In the fourth quarter of those games, Toledo was outscored 46-28 including a 24-0 shutout against Buffalo. Toledo may boast one of the best defenses in the MAC, but these stats would be even better (and the record would be too) if Toledo could clamp down late. We could realistically be looking at a one-loss and nationally ranked Toledo team if the defense would have made the plays they needed to make late, but realistically, Toledo should have no more than two losses (if we consider WMU the fluke loss every team has in the MAC). Poor tackling contributed to these losses as well, as evident in the playback of the game film.
KEYS TO THE GAME Toledo lives and dies by the ability of their quarterback to play well and the defense to force opponents into mistakes. Whether it's Tucker Gleason or Dequan Finn, the Rockets will need to establish their will early and often, and force the Bobcats into mistakes. They will also need to button down on defense and guys like Dyontae Johnson and Jamal Hines will need to get this defense to rally and stay together late to give their offense a chance for all four quarters. If they can contain the explosive plays of Ohio’s offense and exploit the weaknesses of the Bobcat defense, the Rockets can claim their first title since 2017. When this team is on, they are the best team in the MAC. When they aren’t, they drop games to Western Michigan. Which team will show up in Detroit? We will find out at noon this Saturday at Ford Field.
Preview Episode: https://t.co/vwY1kpfcGm TICKETS: https://www.fordfield.com/events/detail/mac-championship-1
*** All Stats taken from http://cfbstats.com/ ***