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Film Preview: Toledo’s quarterback-heavy run game, highly structured defensive alignment

Ohio State takes on Toledo this weekend, and today we take a look at what the Rockets are bringing to the table.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 16 Toledo at Ohio Photo by Graham Stokes/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Ohio State Buckeyes are looking to finish their non-conference schedule with a strong performance against the Toledo Rockets. Toledo is 2-0 on the season, and they bring the most talented roster in the MAC based on the overall recruiting rankings from 247Sports, which takes into account both transfers and recruits. This brings a nice challenge to Columbus for the Buckeyes as they approach the B1G portion of their season.

After last week’s game, there were some eyebrow raising mistakes on the defensive side of the ball. This will be the first area the Buckeyes will be looking to improve against Toledo. Offensively, the Buckeyes will get tested a little bit more by the Rockets’ defense. The growth of the receivers will be tested, and this matchup will give the offensive line a decent test before entering conference play.

This matchup is a typical one for Ohio State heading into conference play, with the Buckeyes playing an overmatched in-state foe. That being said, there will be a lot more to takeaway from this game because Toledo is a significantly more talented roster than Arkansas State. Defensively, the Rockets are statistically ranked in the top-10 in the country in most of the major defensive categories.

The Buckeyes won’t be able to make a statement that makes waves nationally this week, but beating a competent opponent handedly and mistake free will go a long way in this team’s development. This opponent shouldn’t be taken lightly by the Buckeyes, and we’ll see that Toledo plays with a lot of confidence in what they do. Looking back at the first two games of Jason Candle’s team’s season will give a look into how they align, some key concepts, and a first look at some of the players.


Toledo is led by veteran quarterback DeQuan Finn, who the entire offense is run through. Finn’s skillset creates a dynamic zone read option game, a high percentage of designed QB runs in short yardage situations, and a mix of rollouts to use his legs to open up the passing game.

Through two games, there is no secret that Toledo works establish the run to open up larger window throws for Finn. In establishing the run game, they utilize a lot of motions and misdirections to add some complexities to their zone run scheme. The mix of Finn and their stable of backs has been incredibly productive in the establishing the run department in the first two games.

With a competent running game and a quarterback who can do some damage with his arm or legs, Toledo will be another set of challenges for the Buckeyes defense to overcome. If Ohio State stays disciplined and limits the run game, the defense will have a lot to build on heading into next week.


Looking at their personnel groupings, Toledo mainly uses 10-personnel and 11-personnel. When using a tight end, they tend to have him in a wingback alignment off the shoulder of the tackle. The Rockets use a high dosage of motion with their receivers and tight ends to create confusion in the box. For the receivers, they mix in bunch looks, and the Buckeyes had trouble with those looks last season. Overall, there is nothing complicated about what Toledo does, but their offensive talent can be dangerous.


Zone Read

The first key concept that Toledo utilizes is the zone read. In this play, the quarterback is responsible for reading the defensive end opposite of the run action. Here, the Toledo offense is running an outside zone concept, The quarterback is reading the left defensive end, and once he slides down the line of scrimmage, the quarterback makes the read to pull the ball.

This concept can create challenges for Ohio State if the defensive ends and linebackers do not play disciplined in their responsibilities on a given play. Overcommitting to stop the quarterback creates opportunities for the running backs, and that is what makes such a simple play so dangerous.

QB Counter Bash

Counter Bash is a modern classic. This play goes back to the J.T. Barrett era at Ohio State, and is an effective run play teams with athletic quarterbacks employ. In this example, the counter action comes off faking a quick flare out to the running back. Toledo’s quarterback fakes a pass drop, allowing the left guard to pull across the formation giving the quarterback a lead blocker.

To stop this, Ohio State will need to be ready to take on pullers and running backs leading through the hole. If the Buckeyes can effectively take on blocks as well as not fall for the cheap fakes, these plays will lack the punch they can create for overmatched opponents.

QB Rollout

The first two plays showed Toledo’s emphasis on using their quarterback’s athleticism to create offense. That does not stop with the quarterback runs. Toledo uses the athleticism in the passing game as well. In the first example of Toledo’s passing attack, the Rockets set up their rollout by having the quarterback do a quick pump fake. This gets the defensive line to react, and allows for the offensive line to turn them away, walling them off from the rollout.

Once rolling out, Toledo runs a basic flood concept, which creates three levels for the quarterback to pass to. This pass falls incomplete, but by using the rollout they gave the quarterback more time as well as an easier area to throw the football than a messy pocket.

Crosser and Verticals

Overall, the passing attack relies on attacking at levels or vertically. The Rockets use a large mix of shallow crossers to create conflict in zone coverages, and attack man coverage at the routes’ mesh points. In the play below, Toledo runs a shallow cross and wheel route to replace the receiver. The pressure forces the quarterback to try to check the ball down, but this play shows the way Toledo wants to attack. By attacking shallow areas, this opens up vertical routes, and this back-and-forth between concepts creates a balanced passing attack.


Defensively, Toledo has built a solid unit on the backs of a few transfers and a large defensive line by MAC standards. Utilizing a mix of man and zone coverages gives them the ability to align in ways that disguise the formations. They are a predominant Cover-4 team, meaning their four defensive backs are each responsible for a quarter of the field vertically. After seeing a similar defense personnel wise the first two weeks of the season, nothing Toledo does should catch Ohio State by surprise.


Looking at the alignment of Toledo, they are a base 3-3-5 team, but they utilize a stand up SAM linebacker (circled) or a big safety as the third linebacker to matchup against opposing teams. The odd front style is incredibly similar to what Notre Dame ran and the defense Jim Knowles runs with the Buckeyes. This defensive alignment is incredibly common, and the Buckeyes have already seen it. The Ohio State offense has an understanding of how to attack this look in both the run game and the passing attack.


Coverage wise, the Rockets line up in Cover-4 in the play below. The safeties and corners are lined up in a straight line across the yard line. This shows the base look of how Toledo aligns. They disguise everything based off this defensive backfield alignment, which allows them to play both man and their Cover-4 look at any time. Once the ball, is snapped we can see the quarters drops from each DB.

The Will linebacker at the top of the screen has the flat, the nickel corner is responsible for the SCF (seam/curl/flat), and the Mike has the middle hole. This coverage is susceptible to crossers and attacking the middle of the field between the safeties. The Buckeyes have once again seen this already, and they should be well equipped to attack this.


Ohio State has played two solid football games so far, but each performance has been far from perfect. Toledo provides an opportunity to finally put together a game that the Buckeyes can be proud of at all three levels on both sides of the ball. The talent Toledo has shouldn’t present a lot of challenges for the Buckeyes. If they do not take Toledo seriously, the Rockets have enough talent to do damage.

The Buckeyes made a lot of mistakes last week defensively, but only allowed 12 points when it came down to it. Toledo brings a short list of the challenges they present, but that short list can be neutralized with disciplined, responsibility football. On offensive side of the ball, the Ohio State offense will once again need to be on its best performance. The receivers have a huge opportunity against a secondary that does not have the talent to keep up the Buckeyes’ receivers. If the Ohio State offense can find balance between the run and pass, they should have no problems moving the ball against Toledo.

This game is a huge step up from last week’s opponent in Arkansas State. They do not do anything overcomplicated offensively or defensively. If Ohio State stays disciplined on both sides of the ball, they should take care of business. Toledo is the most talented team in the MAC. That goes a long way, and if Ohio State makes mistakes the Rockets can make the game interesting. If the Buckeyes can accomplish winning a game mistake free, it would be a significant step forward for Ryan Day’s team heading into conference play.