The Toledo Rockets are often the class of the MAC. Therefore, we give them the benefit of the doubt when the out-of-conference games don’t always go their way, especially early in the season.
A 49-24 loss to Miami in Week 2 was forgivable enough. The Rockets briefly made hay against the Hurricanes and got tired in the 2nd half, a common failing of G5 schools with thinner rosters than the Power 5 opposition.
Then Toledo lost to Fresno State a couple of weeks later. It felt like a similar type of scenario. Though the Bulldogs play in the Mountain West, they’re built like a top-half Power 5 program. The score was similar to the Miami contest with the Rockets losing by about 3 touchdowns.
But then came October conference losses to Eastern Michigan and Buffalo, and the crisis point is here. The proud Rockets are 4-4 and desperate to find answers at QB and on defense.
Still, they might have been handed a gift in the schedule for Week 10. Ball State is visiting the Glass Bowl, and the 3-6 Cardinals have only beaten 2 FBS teams on the season. College football odds-makers are not giving Ball State much of a chance on Halloween night.
Who: Ball State Cardinals at Toledo Rockets
When: Wednesday, October 31st, 7:30 PM
Where: Glass Bowl, Toledo, OH
Lines: Ball State (+18.5) at Toledo (-18.5) / O/U Total: (62)
Mitch Guadagni began the year behind center for the hosts, but he’s had a rough way to go. A concussion, an arm injury, and a good old QB competition have left the junior unlikely to play on Halloween.
Eli Peters has gotten some reps, and will be ready to step into the starting role against Ball State. More from the Toledo Blade:
When Guadagni was benched against Buffalo, Peters had a shaky performance. He was just 5-of-18 passing for 128 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Just as Guadagni bounced back against Western Michigan, Peters responded with his best game of the season. “The quarterback competition through preseason camp was very close and the margin there was very thin,” (head coach Jason) Candle said. “When you are not named the starter, sometimes that can go in a negative way. In the back of his head, he knows the percentages show that the quarterback here stayed healthy the past few years and that is just not that common in college football anymore. A lot of guys would have folded their tent last week after coming in and playing against Buffalo and then not starting against Western. A lot of guys would’ve gone and hid, but I never saw that from that guy and so it’s no surprise to me that he played really well.”
With everything that has gone on with the quarterback position this season for Toledo, Peters always has prepared like his number could be called at any time. It was in the second half at Fresno State, in a win against Bowling Green, for much of the Buffalo loss, then the second half at Western Michigan.
Peters’ could see his number called again when the Rockets play the Cardinals.
Like any still-developing passer, he’ll rely on his supporting cast. Toledo’s coaching and scouting staff still knows how to recruit for offense. The team is running the egg at a healthy 5 yards per carry rate, and WRs Cody Thompson and Diontae Johnson have combined for 16 touchdown catches.
Defense may be another story. Against Buffalo – admittedly a 7-1 team – the Rockets gave up 24 points in the 2nd half. Eastern Michigan scored multiple times in the 1st quarter, and even against lowly Bowling Green, the Rocket D allowed 6.6 yards per rush and a big passing day from unheralded BGSU sophomore Jarret Doege.
Ball State can score points on Wednesday if it has its act together on offense, and a special teams good enough to lend decent field position.
But the Cardinals have been blown out 2 weeks in a row. Against the EMU Eagles, the Ball State defense contained the running game well but could not prevent sustained drives, and the punt-coverage team didn’t play well enough to help flip the field at crucial moments. QB Riley Neal had a miserable, frustrating performance on home turf.
After that, a trip to Ohio was all but academic. The Bobcats parred and sparred with the Cardinals for 15 minutes, then scored 31 points in the 2nd quarter alone as the Ball State defense collapsed and was embarrassed.
I’m expecting Toledo to get back on track with a quarterback who at least knows in advance he’ll probably start. Peters doesn’t throw a lot of interceptions, so Ball State must again earn field position the hard way.
The wild card is bowl eligibility, as it often is this time of the year. The Cardinals must win 3 in a row to even have a chance at the postseason. But I’m thinking that deep down, the student-athletes know they’re highly unlikely to pull it off. Ohio rushed for 400+ yards against Ball State. If Toledo has any kind of similar inside run game working, the Rockets will enjoy good protection for Eli Peters and open receivers downfield.
Take the Rockets to cover and win 42-17 or by a similar score.