After easily handling Arkansas State last week at noon, Ohio State is back under the lights on Saturday, hosting in-state foe Toledo. This will be Ohio State’s final non-conference regular season contest this year before they open up Big Ten play next week against Wisconsin.
History against Toledo
The Buckeyes will look to keep their undefeated streak at Ohio Stadium against in-state opponents in tact when they host the Rockets. Heading into Saturday’s contest, Ohio State is 46-0-1 at The Horseshoe against opponents from Ohio. The Buckeyes are 192-50-1 all-time against teams also from the state, with a 44-game winning streak on the line.
This will be the fourth time that Ohio State and Toledo have met, with the Buckeyes winning all three previous contests. The last time Ohio State and Toledo battled, the Rockets nearly stunned the Buckeyes, falling 27-22 in 2011. Prior to the 2011 meeting, Toledo was shutout in the previous two games between the schools.
Ohio State is entering this game coming off a 45-12 win over Arkansas Sate. Jaxon Smith-Njigba and Julian Fleming didn’t play against the Red Wolves, giving quarterback C.J. Stroud some more time to build a rhythm with wide receivers Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka.
After closing out last season with three receiving touchdowns in the Rose Bowl, Harrison was quiet in the season opener against Notre Dame. Harrison made plenty of noise last week, catching seven passes for 184 yards and three scores, earning Big Ten Co-Offensive Player of the Week honors. With his trio of touchdowns, Harrison joins Joey Galloway as the only Ohio State receivers to score three receiving touchdowns in two separate games.
Moving up the ranks
C.J. Stroud threw for 351 yards last week, marking the 10th time in 14 starts that he has thrown for at least 300 yards. Since 2017, Ryan Day-coached Ohio State quarterbacks have thrown for 300 yards 39 times. The only team with more 300-yard passers during that span is Alabama, who has had 40 games with a 300-yard passer. Ohio State is 35-4 since 2017 when one of their quarterbacks has thrown for at least 300 yards.
With his yardage total last week, Stroud now has 5,009 yards passing at Ohio State, putting him less than 400 yards from moving past Justin Fields and Dwayne Haskins on the school’s all-time passing yardage list. When Stroud passes Haskins, it will give him the 10th-most passing yards in school history. Before the regular season is over, Stroud could possibly move all the way to second on the career yardage list. Currently, Art Schlichter sits in that spot with 7,547 career passing yards.
Doing the dirty work
TreVeyon Hendrson and Miyan Williams have formed a strong partnership in the backfield when they been called on this year. The performance from the duo was a huge reason why Ohio State was able to right the ship against Notre Dame and rally for a 21-10 win in the second half.
This year, Henderson leads the Buckeyes with 178 yards rushing and two touchdowns, while Williams has 130 yards and a touchdown. The light use of the pair so far could provide dividends down the road, as both will be fresher when the sledding gets tougher in Big Ten play as the weather gets colder.
It feels like Henderson is getting close to breaking off a big run, which is something we haven’t seen from him in a while. The last time Henderson rushed for over 100 yards in a game was against Penn State, when he rolled up 152 yards on the ground. It isn’t like Henderson has been invisible in games since then, as he has rushed for at least 63 yards in each of the last seven games.
The Knowles effect
While the Ohio State offense got back on track last week, the Buckeye defense has been steady in the first two games. After struggling the last few years, the Ohio State defense has been rejuvenated by the hiring of defensive coordinator Jim Knowles. Through two games this year, the Buckeyes have allowed just one touchdown, which came in the first half against Notre Dame. Only nine other FBS teams have allowed just one touchdown so far this season.
Along with only allowing one touchdown through eight quarters this year, Ohio State has given up very little on the ground to opponents, not allowing 100 yards rushing in either of the first two games, which is the first time since 2016 that they have accomplished that feat. The Buckeyes are giving up just 64.5 yards per game rushing, which ranks 11th in the country.
A major reason Ohio State has been so strong on defense has been the play of Michael Hall Jr. The defensive tackle already has five tackles-for-loss this year, which is tied for third nationally. Of those five stops behind the line of scrimmage, Hall has been credited with two sacks, which ties Tommy Eichenberg for the team lead. As a team, Ohio State has five sacks this season and eight tackles-for-loss.
After recording those three tackles-for-loss and two sacks against Notre Dame, Eichenberg didn’t have to do nearly as much against Arkansas State, finishing the game with five tackles. Eichenberg still leads the team with 14 tackles on the season. After a slow start to the 2021 campaign, Eichenberg got better as the season went on, culminating with his Rose Bowl performance where he was credited with 17 tackles against Utah. With 20 more tackles, Eichenberg will reach 100 total tackles at Ohio State.
All is not perfect with the defense, though. One area for concern has been the play of Denzel Burke. After bursting onto the scene last year, Burke has struggled in two games this season. It’s obvious that teams are testing Burke since he doesn’t have quite as much confidence so far this year as he played with last year. Even with his struggles, Burke leads Ohio State this year with three passes defensed.
Another surprising stat for the Ohio State defense is they have yet to force a turnover through two games. Luckily the inability to take away the football hasn’t hurt them yet, but there will be times the defense will need to start forcing turnovers. There is no doubt that the defense is producing more pressure this year, which will hopefully lead to turnovers as the season goes on. By comparison, last year Ohio State’s defense forced 20 turnovers.
Toledo’s season so far
Toledo is 2-0 so far this season, but Saturday night’s contest will be a serious step-up in competition from what they have seen in their first two games of the season. The Rockets opened up the year with a 37-0 win over Long Island. Toledo at least played an FBS team last week, routing UMass 55-10. This marks the first time since 2017 the Rockets have started the season 2-0. Toledo finished that season with an 11-3 record and won the MAC.
Coaching the Rockets is Jason Candle, who is 47-27 in his seventh season as head coach at the school. Toledo is currently in a stretch of 12 straight seasons where they have finished the year with a non-losing record. Last year the Rockets finished the season 7-6, losing to Middle Tennessee State in the Bahamas Bowl. Toledo has lost the last four bowl games they have appeared in, with their last win coming in the 2015 Boca Raton Bowl when Candle was promoted to head coach for the game.
Candle took over after Matt Campbell took the head coaching job at Iowa State in 2015. Toledo has been a cultivator of head coaches over the last 30 years. Nick Saban spent a year with the Rockets in 1990, and was followed by Gary Pinkel, who eventually went on to coach at Missouri.
Toledo isn’t anywhere close to an automatic win for ranked teams, posting a 9-19 record against those teams ranked in the Top 25. The Rockets gave Notre Dame all they could handle last year, almost beating the eighth-ranked Fighting Irish in South Bend. The last time Toledo beat a ranked team came in 2015, when they beat 18th-ranked Arkansas in Little Rock, and closed out the season with a 32-17 win over 24th-ranked Temple in the Boca Raton Bowl.
Saturday’s contest won’t be the highest-ranked Ohio State team the Rockets have played. In 1998 Toledo traveled to Columbus to take on the top-ranked Buckeyes in their second game of the year. Ohio State easily defeated the Rockets, 49-0. Toledo has played the third-ranked team in the country twice before, losing to Miami (FL) in 1987, followed by Washington in 1991.
Leading the Toledo offense is quarterback DeQuan Finn. Last season Finn totaled 27 touchdowns, passing for 18 scores and adding nine rushing touchdowns. Most impressive about the quarterback last year was he only threw two interceptions in 250 pass attempts. The Detroit native’s best performance last season came in his final game of the regular season, when he tossed four touchdowns in a 49-14 win over Akron.
The sophomore is again doing it both through the air and on the ground this year with six total touchdowns through two games. Finn started the season passing for a touchdown and running for two against Long Island before flipping those numbers in the 55-10 win over UMass last week. Ohio State can’t fall asleep on Finn’s ability to scramble, as the Toledo quarterback is averaging 7.3 yards per carry on his 19 totes of the rock this year.
Somebody needs to step up
Unfortunately for Toledo, they have been unable to find a quality replacement for Bryant Koback, who rushed for 1,400 yards and 15 touchdowns last season. After Finn, the second-leading rusher for the Rockets this year is Jacquez Stuart, who has 98 yards and a score. While Stuart is averaging 7.0 yards per carry this year, 31 of those yards came on his longest run on the season.
Peny Boone has two scores on the season, and his 19 carries are the most this year for a Toledo running back. Boone hasn’t found much running room, averaging 3.8 yards per carry. Willie Shaw III and Micah Kelly also have received at least 10 carries this season. All together, Toledo’s running attack has 460 yards on the ground in their first two games.
Most of the damage Toledo has done through the air has been because of Jerjuan Netwon and DeMeer Blankumsee, with the duo having 21 of Toledo’s 34 receptions this year. Blankumsee leads the team with 13 catches, but the Cincinnati product has just 88 yards receiving on those catches. The sophomore has almost already matched his reception total from last season when he hauled in 16 passes.
Newton has been a little more explosive this year, averaging 20 yards per catch on his eight receptions. The junior is coming off his best performance in college, catching four passes for 104 yards against UMass, which marked the first time he has eclipsed 100 yards receiving in his college career. Newton is one of three Rockets with a receiving touchdown this year, with the leading returning receiver from last year, Devin Maddox, and tight end Jamal Turner being the others.
The Toledo defense will feature a very familiar name to Ohio State fans. After walking off the field in last year’s game against Akron, Buckeye linebacker Dallas Gant transferred back home to Toledo. In two games this year, Gant is the Rockets’ leading tackler, recording 19 tackles and a forced fumble. Gant played sparingly during his time in Columbus, notching 54 tackles during his four years in the scarlet and gray.
One area where Toledo hasn’t be able to do much is with their ability to get to opposing quarterbacks. In their first two games this year, the Rockets have just two sacks. Cornerback Andre Fuller is the only Toledo player with a solo sack, while defensive tackles Desjuan Johnson and Darius Alexander have split a sack. Linebacker Terrance Taylor has been getting close to recording his first sack of the season, as he has been credited with four quarterback pressures.
The lack of sacks by the Rockets is surprising considering their leading sacker from last season is back. Linebacker Jamal Hines led the team last year with 10 sacks, and he has 16.5 sacks in 45 games at Toledo. His 10 sacks last year was the second-most in the MAC, resulting in Hines being named First Team All-MAC. Along with his sack total, Hines was third on the team last year with 88 tackles. Across the first two games of this season, Hines has 13 tackles.
A similar look
If Toledo wants to have a shot in this game, they’ll have to do something that not many opponents have been able to do: force C.J. Stroud into making turnovers. The Rockets do have a number of starters in the secondary that have made at least 10 starts, but Toledo hasn’t been able to pick off many passes since the start of last season. After intercepting just eight passes last year, junior Zachary Ford has Toledo’s only interception this year.
Much like Ohio State, Toledo runs a 3-3-5 defense. The Rockets are going to need all their defensive backs and then some against the dynamic Ohio State passing attack. Nate Bauer and Maxen Hook are slated to start at safety for Toledo on Saturday night, while Ford, Chris McDonald, and Quinyon Mitchell round out the starters in the secondary on the depth chart of the Rockets.
It’s hard to find fault in a 33-point win, but Ohio State has a serious shot at the national championship, so there will always be areas we can feel they can improve on. The Buckeyes did come out of the gates a little sleepy against Arkansas State, only holding a 17-9 lead before Harrison’s second touchdown of the game with 4:24 left in the second quarter. The sluggish start can be attributed to a noon kick, as well as the level of competition after a huge game against Notre Dame to start the season.
Juice shouldn’t be a problem on Saturday night, since this game will be played under the lights, giving players all day to get amped up for the game. Last year we saw the Buckeyes take care of business handily when they hosted in-state foe Akron at night inside Ohio Stadium. Even though Toledo is a little more talented than the Zips were, Ohio State shouldn’t have much of a problem with the Rockets.
With their Big Ten schedule starting next week, Ryan Day is going to want a complete performance from his team before Wisconsin comes into town. The Buckeyes showed they can move the ball without Jaxon Smith-Njigba, as Marvin Harrison Jr. took over last week. It’s likely Smith-Njigba will be back in the lineup this week, which will give him and Stroud an opportunity to work on their timing ahead of next week’s contest against the Badgers.
Even though Toledo has handled their business so far this season, they have done so against an FCS team, as well as one of the worst teams in the FBS. Dallas Gant will undoubtedly want to have a memorable game after what transpired the last time he was in a Buckeye uniform, but Ohio State has just way too many weapons for Gant and company to handle.
We essentially know what we will get from the offense in this game. What will be interesting to see is if Ohio State can continue their improved defensive performance this year, and force their first turnover of the season. Even though the Buckeyes do have a bit of a test against a quarterback that can throw and run, Ohio State has the superior athletes to force Finn into mistakes that he hasn’t been accustomed to making during his time as Toledo’s starting quarterback.