I recently enjoyed a visit from my brother — an avid, avid Buckeye fan and never optimistic unless the Bucks are up by 50. As we were talking about the 2022 schedule, he said that he worries about Toledo. A “trap game,” he said. “No way,” I replied. “The talent gap is simply too wide.”
Additionally, a trap usually sits between two tougher opponents, presenting the possibility of overlooking the weaker foe. Toledo sits between Arkansas State (Sept. 10) and Wisconsin (Sept. 24). Granted, the Badgers might provide stiff competition. But overlook Toledo? I don’t think so. They’ll use it as a prep for Wisconsin, a chance to try some things out. The Buckeyes are on a mission this year.
The talent gap
Toledo has never had a five-star recruit. Four-stars? They’ve successfully recruited two of them — ever. On this year’s team, for instance, the highest-ranked player coming out of high school is Dallas Gant, who transferred from Ohio State after being buried on the Buckeye bench in 2021. He’ll play for the Rockets and probably want to lay it on his former squad. It’s hard to get really worried about Dallas Gant, however.
247Sports ranked the 2022 Rocket class as No. 100, after being ranked 77th in 2021 and 76th in 2020. Most of the players are three-stars, with a few two-stars thrown in. Most are from Ohio or the upper Midwest. They play hard, though, and have fared pretty well under head coach Jason Candle, who, after playing several different coaching roles at Toledo, has been at the helm of the program since the 2016 season. His teams have gone 45-27, including 7-6 last year.
The Rockets in 2021
Toledo came close to having a great season last year. Of their six losses, four of them were by three points or less, and one was by seven. Only Colorado State really beat them up, 22-6. It should be noted that one of those three-point losses was to Notre Dame in South Bend. It’s such games that get my brother worried. On the other hand, the Rockets’ wins were pretty one-sided. They couldn’t win the close ones.
Nevertheless, Toledo was good on both sides of the ball. The offense averaged 33.4 points per game on 6.6 yards per play. Not Ohio State offensive numbers, but good ones. And the attack was balanced: they rushed for 196.5 yards per game and passed for 239.1. On defense, the Rockets allowed only 21.8 points on average and gave up 4.8 yards per play. Solid.
How does Toledo look this year?
Generally, the football magazines pick Toledo to finish the 2022 season in the top third of the MAC conference. Athlon Sports puts the Rockets second, just behind Northern Illinois, in MAC’s West Division. College Football News ranks them fourth overall in the conference, behind Miami (Ohio), Northern Illinois, and Central Michigan.
Offense: The Rockets have the nucleus of the offense back for 2022, but will have to find replacements for a couple of key positions. Quarterback Dequan Finn had a great season last year, and he’s back. He completed 57.6% of his passes for over 2,000 yards, 18 touchdowns and only two interceptions. Finn also rushed for 688 yards, averaging 4.6 yards per tote. Finn should have good protection in the pocket, as four of the five starting linemen return from last year.
The wide receiver position looks a little shaky to me. Leading receiver Devin Maddox is back for his junior year, and he put up some good numbers last year, catching 41 passes for 567 yards (13.8 average per reception) and four TDs. The next three leading receivers are gone, though. So, Finn will have only a couple of games (against Long Island University and UMass) to break in a new receiving corps before facing the Buckeyes.
Likewise, the running game has lost its top performer in Bryant Koback. Koback could run inside or outside, and averaged 6.7 yards a carry in 2021, picking up a total of nearly 1,500 yards and 18 touchdowns. They’ll miss him. Both Micah Kelly and Jacquez Stuart played substantially last year at running back, and one of them will become the premier rusher. Of course, look for Finn to continue as a dual-threat QB.
Defense: Top tackler Jonathan Jones has moved on, but Toledo returns several true defensive stars from last year that the Buckeyes will have to contend with. Lineman Desjuan Johnson racked up 70 total tackles last year, and 12.5 of them were for a loss. Linebacker Jamal Hines topped those numbers, with 88 tackles, 15 TFL, and 10 sacks. The other linebacker, Dyontae Johnson, had 86 stops and eight TFL.
Safeties were in on the action as well. Maxon Hook registered 95 tackles, and fellow safety Nate Bauer had 55. While these totals are impressive, they also suggest that Toledo didn’t go very deep, that these top players were involved in most of the snaps. Look for the Buckeyes to wear them down pretty fast.
Toledo will put up more of a fight than will Arkansas State, but I don’t think that the Buckeyes’ 100-year streak of in-state wins is in any danger. The Rockets haven’t seen the team speed that Ohio State will bring to the game. No, not even from Notre Dame last season. Consequently, they’ll have difficulty covering the receivers and getting to C.J. Stroud. TreVeyon Henderson should be able to break a long one, or two.
OSU leads the head-to-head series, 3-0, winning in 1998 (49-0), 2009 (38-0), and 2011 (27-22). Don’t look for a repeat of the close game in 2011. That’s the year that the Buckeyes went 6-7 with Luke Fickell as interim head coach. I see the Bucks returning to the earlier form, with Finn leading the Rockets to a few points.
Final score: Ohio State 55, Toledo 16.