2009 Preview – Toledo – September 11, 2009

 If history is any guide, the score of the Colorado/Toledo game will be Colorado 42, Toledo 0.

How do we know this? Well, Colorado has played only two games in its history against teams from the Mid-American Conference, Kent State and Miami (Ohio). The Buffs played the Golden Flashes in 1977; the RedHawks in 2007. What was the score of both games? You guessed it: 42-0.

 Okay, it’s not that simple. Toledo does have a number of weapons at its disposal, the game will be played on the home turf of the Rockets, and the Buffs are playing only five days after playing Colorado State. The game has been designated by the Rockets as a “Midnight Blue Out”, with Rocket fans asked to wear Midnight Blue clothing for the ESPN audience.

Let’s see how the “T.I.P.S.” see the game playing out:

 T – Talent

 As you might expect, the Buffs win the edge in this category. The Rockets do return 20 starters for new head coach Tim Beckman, so there is experience on the other side of the ball. Senior quarterback Aaron Opelt will work behind a line with all five starters returning. Toledo will run a number of four wide receiver sets, with senior Stephen Williams the most dangerous. In 2008, Williams had 144 catches (Scotty McKnight led the Buffs last season – with 46 catches) and 15 touchdowns (McKnight had five).

Opelt and Williams showed their abilities in the 52-31 season-opening loss to Purdue. Opelt passed for 423 yards and three touchdowns, with Williams collecting 15 of those passes for 185 yards and two scores. Still, it did take Opelt 67 attempts to post his 41 completions, and he was intercepted twice. Also, the Rockets only collected a total of 70 yards rushing on the day, with Opelt posting 23 of those. Colorado Game Plan: contain Williams and keep Opelt from posting record numbers, and the Buffs will earn a victory.

 The Toledo running game, as reflected in the above numbers, is adequate, but is not the focus of the Rockets’ attack. Sophomore Morgan Williams did post an amazing 330 yards against Miami last season, and 1,010 yards overall. Even with Williams’ efforts, and those of senior DaJuane Collins, who had 700 yards last year, the Rockets were still a middle-of-the-pack rushing team (60th in the nation). Against Purdue, Collins had only 27 yards on nine carries to lead the Rockets, while Williams did not have a carry on the day.

 New Toledo head coach Tim Beckman coached defense under Urban Meyer and Jim Tressel, and it is his defensive background which made him an attractive pick for the Rockets. In 2008, Toledo surrendered over 31 points per game on its way to a 3-9 record. The best player by far on the team is safety Barry Church, who is on national award lists, and will likely finish his career as a four-time All-MAC pick. The issue with the Toledo defense is in the defensive line, a unit which allowed teams to rack up over 175 yards per game rushing, and which produced only ten sacks in all of 2008.

That trend continued last weekend, as the Rockets were gashed for 315 yards rushing, also allowing Purdue 220 yards passing.

 I – Intangibles

 Friday night lights. While the Buffs are fairly accustomed to playing before a national television audience (including the CSU game), this is a relatively rare opportunity for Toledo. One would expect that the Rockets will pull out all of the stops for the national ESPN audience. Unless the Rockets earn a bowl invitation, this will likely be the one and only game of the 2009 season in which the Toledo players will be on national television, so look for the Rockets’ best efforts.

 There is also the David v. Goliath angle to work. Remember this same Toledo team that took Fresno State to two overtimes last season (before falling, 55-54), and earned one of its three victories in 2008 against Michigan – at Ann Arbor. True, the Wolverines were down last season, but it is also true that before last season, Michigan had never lost to a team from the Mid-American Conference – ever. When you consider that Big Ten teams routinely schedule their neighbors from the MAC, this is no small statement.

 It would be a huge boost for Tim Beckman and his new program to defeat a Big 12 school, at home, before a national television audience on a night with no other college football being played. The Buffs will need to be prepared to withstand the early rush of emotion the Rockets are sure to bring to the Glass Bowl Friday.

 P – Preparation / Schedule

 The Buffs did not do themselves any favors by scheduling a Sunday night game, followed by a Friday night game on the road. There have been only a handful of five game turnarounds in Colorado history (with the exception of some games played over 100 years ago, when the Buffs were playing Colorado Mines and Denver University on a regular basis). If the Buffs fall at Toledo, you can rest assured that the finger pointing will begin immediately thereafter. The second-guessing of the trade of a game with Miami for a game with Toledo, and the agreement to play on a Friday night after playing on Sunday night, will be considered a significant factor contributing to the loss.

 However, there is a piece of scheduling which does work to the Buffs’ advantage. Next week, the Rockets square off against Ohio State, in a game to be played as a “home game” in Cleveland. As great as the lure of playing before a national television audience is to the Toledo players, Colorado is not exactly a rivalry game for the Rockets. A chance to knock off the Buckeyes will be seen as a great opportunity for the program. It would be a tremendous shot in the arm for recruiting, and it is not to be discounted that about half of the Rockets’ roster is made up of Ohio high school players – players who were likely not deemed good enough for the state’s flagship program.

 It may be too much to hope for to consider that the Toledo players would be looking past the Colorado game – but we’ll take what we can get.

 S – Statistics

 Toledo finished 3-9 in 2009, 2-6 in MAC play. As mentioned, the Rockets did somehow manage to take out Michigan, 13-10, in week six, but that same team lost to Ball State, 31-0, the week before the Michigan game, and fell to Northern Illinois, 38-7, the week after the Michigan game. It’s a difficult team to figure out.

 The statistics from 2008, as you might have expected, are not great. The highest ranking for the Rockets in any of the major statistical categories was 53rd in passing defense (thanks largely to the aforementioned safety, Barry Church. However, Church’s efforts were counteracted by the fact that teams ran all over the defensive line (the Rockets were 96th in the nation in rushing defense) and were able to score at will (31.4 ppg.; 97th in the country).

 In summary, the Buffs can look for a fired up Toledo Rockets team to come out onto the Glass Bowl. A national ESPN audience will be looking in, and the Toledo players will want to make the SportsCenter highlights. If Colorado can withstand the early emotion, however, contain the Opelt/Williams connection, and successfully run the ball through the weak Toledo defensive line, the Buffs should be able to wear down the Rockets.

 It just probably won’t be 42-0.

3 Replies to “Toledo – Preview”

  1. Don’t know if any of you watch the Buffalo Stampede or not, but after watching the show for the past two weeks D. Hawkins just looks deflated (especially on last night’s show). He doesn’t have that upbeat demeanor and just sat there with Charles Johnson fielding questions in a monotone voice and slumped shoulders … After last week’s debacle I can understand why, but Hawk needs to stop the Pity Party and get himself AND the team fired up! One other thing I have noticed (and it doesn’t really relate to the football team) is that Hawk hasn’t worn his wedding band for either shows …

    Anyway, looking forward to the game and hopefully we will see a different Colorado team step on the field. Go Buffs!

  2. Very nicely written! Let’s hope that Hawk will showcase the running game with the trio of Scott, Lockridge, and Stewart. Get that going and stick with it for a while and that should help with the passing game.
    I disagree with many Buff fans about cody though. He is an adequate qb for the Big 12. His strengths are leadership, knowledge, and accuracy. He was throwing the ball quite a bit further than ever against CSU. His arm strength is improving.

    I think we have an angry Buffalo in Toledo tonight!

  3. I did not see the game Sunday (vacationing with family before deployment) but it seems the same thing happened that always seems to happen with this team. They overlooked their opponent. When will they get it. CSU loves to play CU! If they win their season is already made. If they lose so what. They are supposed to, right? This Toledo game scares me for the same reasons. Are the players going to take this game seriously? I fully blame Coach Hawkins. I don’t have any confidence that he is truly preparing this team to play week in and week out. It is easy to get up for the Texases, Oklahomas and Nebraskas of the world.

    I am also waning in my love for Coach H. in regards to his son starting at QB. I do not think he is the best choice. I just don’t see how this kid is worthy of playing for a Big 12 team. Perhaps, the team really does not want to get back in the national spotlight.

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