This is no ordinary MAC snack! The 1-1 Toledo Rockets, under first year head coach and former Buckeye cornerbacks coach Tim Beckman, have the 7th ranked offense in the nation (in terms of passing offense and total offense). They should be well rested from blasting Colorado on Thursday night in week 2. No doubt, they will have some kind of swagger coming into Cleveland. Even in their loss to Purdue, who themselves have gotten off to a pretty good start under a first year head coach, Toledo was able to put some points on the scoreboard.
For that matter, it’s no ordinary field either. The Buckeyes face the Toledo Rockets in what’s officially a home game for the Rockets. However, the venue will be Cleveland Browns Stadium. The Buckeyes play football in Cleveland, America’s most American city, for the first time since playing Nerdwestern in the Mistake by the Mi-lake in 1991. Further, it’s their first road game against an in-state school since traveling to Cincinnati to play the Bearcats at Paul Brown Stadium in 2002.
The matchup between Ohio State’s defense and Toledo’s high octane offense will probably be the battle of the day. Ohio State’s defense played a near masterpiece last week against the Trojans. Indeed, the belligerent warmongers we lovingly call “The Silver Bullets” may actually be back in its Fred Pagac-era form. Their task for this week is the 7th ranked offense in college football. Quarterbacked by the nation’s leader in total offense Aaron Opelt, the Rockets have lovingly taken to the spread offense that Tim Beckman — defensive coordinator for Oklahoma State — brought with him from his 2 years in the Big 12. It emphasizes speed and tempo and will use multiple personnel. It is likely the prevalence of upperclassmen and returning starters has contributed to the very quick transition to the spread in 2009. Toledo returns 9 starters and Opelt has been a mainstay in the Glass Bowl since starting a few games as a freshman in 2006.
Opelt and receivers Eric Page and Stephen Williams have put up the huge numbers so far. The matchup between the Ohio State secondary and the Toledo receivers is certainly worth watching. The Buckeye cornerbacks were often left on an island against USC. They’re the greenest unit on the team, but held their own against the mighty Trojans and it’s worth seeing if they can do it again. However, it is stopping the running game — in the form of Dajuane Collins — that may be a key to victory. Purdue’s defense made Toledo’s offense one-dimensional by holding the Rockets to 70 rushing yards. Colorado, on the other hand, got run over for the tune of 305 rushing yards. The defensive line for the Buckeyes will be important in stopping the run game, as will the linebackers. Expect some grumblings early in the game, as the energized up-tempo Rockets may be able to move the ball well enough through the air. Toledo’s offensive line have started several games together, and have thrived in pass protection (Opelt has been sacked once all season). However, most of the 2 deep consists of true freshmen and the Buckeyes have plenty of fresh bodies to rotate. The battle may be won as the battle goes on, with the Buckeyes hopefully proving too much for the Rockets in the end.
Meanwhile, Ohio State’s offense looks to rebound from an unfortunate showing against the Trojans. For the first time in a long time, we’re not left questioning the performance of the offensive line, per se. Rather, we’re questioning playcalling and the abilities of Terrelle Pryor. Fortunately for the Buckeyes, the Toledo defense does not look to be on the level of the USC defense. While Toledo’s offense has exploded for 42 points a game, their defense gives up 45. They were among the cellar-dwellers in the MAC in several defensive categories in 2008 and, so far, have not shown too much improvement. Getting pressure up front may be a challenge for Toledo’s defensive line. The only defensive linemen that, by weight alone, could play in the Big Ten is defensive tackle Maurice Hill (6’2 286lbs). The remaining starters — Alex Johnson (DE), Derrick Summers (DT), and Douglas Westbrook (LEO-type player) — check in at 244lbs, 256lbs and 233lbs respectively. Size disparity alone is no valid indicator of OL/DL mismatch. What they lack in size, they hope to compensate with speed. Navy showed some of this against the Buckeyes in week one. The performance so far doesn’t inspire too much confidence for Toledo fans. This would be the golden opportunity for Justin Boren, Michael Brewster, Andy Miller, Bryant Browning and newcomer JB Shugarts to tent their fingers with glee and make the dave play work by sheer force of will.
The rest of the defense doesn’t look so good for Toledo either. Rounding out Toledo’s defense are 5 defensive backs and 2 linebackers. One of the linebackers is 5th year senior Beau Brudzinski, who is the son of the last great Woody-era defensive lineman Bob Brudzinski. Beau comes from the same high school that gave us Duron Carter. While nominally a base nickel defense, one of the defensive backs is a converted safety playing a “star” position similar to Jermale Hines. Watch for Barry Church accordingly. He may be the best player on the defense. Beyond the linebackers is a secondary even greener than Ohio State’s unit. 3 freshmen will start in the secondary for Toledo: Byron Best (CB), Jermaine Robinson (FS) and Daxton Swanson (CB). What they lack in size and depth the Rockets will hope to make up for in scheme. Expect Westbrook to drop off into coverage here and there and expect the Rockets to try to bring pressure to force Terrelle Pryor to beat them through the air. I struggle to think that our future opponents didn’t take notes after Saturday’s game against the Trojans. Nevertheless, the defense is a huge question mark for the Rockets. The Ohio State defense needs to stomp its foot on the accelerator while the offense needs to regroup and make a statement.
- I want an ass-kicking of the Rockets, mostly because I feel that if we have to reside in the hell that is the 6 game losing streak to top 5 opponents and the corollary ridicule to come along with it, then I want everyone coming to hell with us. Still, the Beckmans and the Tressels go way back, so I may not get what I want.
- Toledo is no stranger to punking Big Ten teams. We all remember last year’s win over Michigan fondly, but they also bulldozed Penn State in their home opener in 2000.
- Bryant Browning is an honorary captain for this game.
- 2nd team center Jack Mewhort and Dane Sanzenbacher are Toledo natives. Sanzenbacher almost became a Toledo Rocket.
- Ohio State is 25-1 against teams currently in the MAC. The lone loss came to Akron in 1894 (a game played at the Ohio State Fair). Akron was then known as Buchtel College and, if I have my dates correct, was then coached by John Heisman. You may remember the name from his eponymous trophy that should, in all fairness, be rechristened as the Archie Griffin Trophy.