Toledo senior wide receiver Corey Jones returns a punt against Arkansas State at Centennial Bank Stadium in Jonesboro on Friday night. SPECIAL TO BLADE/ARKANSAS DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE
JONESBORO, Ark. — Junior Logan Woodside picked apart the Arkansas State defense and the University of Toledo defense slowed down a fast-paced Red Wolves offense as the Rockets cruised to a 31-10 win at Centennial Bank Stadium on Friday night.
In his first game action in more than a year, Woodside completed 23-of-31 passes for 371 yards and three touchdowns and kept UT in control for most of the game.
"It felt great," Woodside said. "It's something I've dreamed about for a long time. It's been a great ride and I can't wait to keep going with a bunch of good seniors. I'm just trying to do my part and try not to do too much and execute and most of all have fun."
For the third time in the last two calendar years, UT got the best of Arkansas State and in doing so got first-year head coach Jason Candle a win in his first regular season game.
"To come in here and handle the environment and play really well and get off to a good start and get a win, it is certainly a good step forward in the right direction in game one," Candle said.
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After a neutral field win in the 2015 GoDaddy Bowl and a home win last season, UT once again had Arkansas State's number, out-gaining the Red Wolves 556-266.
The UT defense set the tone from the beginning of the game. The defensive line was in the backfield all game long and disrupted what was expected to be a high-powered Arkansas State offense.
Sophomore defensive end Olasunkanmi Adeniyi led the way for the Rockets defense with 7.5 tackles and a sack, while senior John Stepec recorded 6.5 tackles and also had a sack.
"It was just a team effort," Adeniyi said. "We have veteran guys like John Stepec and Treyvon Hester and teams focusing on them and just letting me play. We just know that we are playing Rocket defense and that's what we live by and that's what we are going to keep playing."
With Arkansas State having to account for UT's running game with Hunt, junior Terry Swanson, and senior Damion Jones-Moore, Woodside and the Rockets receivers exploited their matchups.
"Our guys on the outside, they have to make plays for us," Candle said. "I thought Logan did a good job of finding his guys and getting into a rhythm early."
UT got off to a slow start in the first quarter and trailed 3-0 after the first 15 minutes. The Rockets, however, came out with a flurry of offense in the second quarter.
Woodside found tight end Michael Roberts in the corner of the end zone to cap off a 12-play, 75 yard drive with 11:58 left in the second quarter, giving UT a 7-3 lead. Jones-Moore had 20 yards rushing on the drive and Hunt converted a 3rd-down with a 19-yard run.
Hunt plunged into the endzone on a one-yard TD run to cap off a 51-yard touchdown drive and give UT a 14-3 lead with 6:14 left in the second quarter.
After an eight-yard punt by Arkansas State's Cam Echols-Luper gave Toledo good field position, the Rockets converted two key third downs on a six-play, 33-yard touchdown drive. Woodside hit Cody Thompson in the left side of the endzone to give UT a 21-3 lead with 2:03 left in the second quarter.
Thompson finished the game with five catches for 174 yards and a touchdown and Michael Roberts had four catches for 41 yards and two touchdowns.
"Logan came out in his first game back and he really didn't miss a beat," Thompson said. "It's nice to have that connection. He was here when I was a true freshman and then Phil [Ely] came in and did his job and Logan didn't miss a beat. It's a nice connection we have with all the receivers really."
Jones-Moore led Toledo's rushing attack with 11 carries for 81 yards, while Hunt added 78 yards on 17 carries.
Arkansas State opened the scoring on a 43-yard field goal by J.D. Houston with 1:17 left in the first quarter and the Red Wolves led 3-0 at the end of the quarter.
On Toledo's opening drive of the second half, Woodside found Cody Thompson on a 44-yard pass down the sideline. The long play set up a 42-yard field goal by Jameson Vest giving the Rockets a 24-3 lead with 11:12 left in the third quarter.
Woodside hit Michael Roberts on a 22-yard touchdown pass to finish a five-play 86-yard drive and make the score 31-3. Thompson had a 54-yard reception on the drive.
Toledo missed a scoring opportunity when Thompson fumbled through the back of the endzone for an Arkansas State touchback after a long reception.
Early in the fourth quarter, Chad Voytik hit Blake Mack on an 83-yard pass to set up a two-yard touchdown run by Armond Weh-Weh on fourth-and-goal. That cut the lead to 31-10 with 11:14 left in the game.
"We were a little sluggish in the first quarter getting going," Candle said. "I was a little disappointed in our start, but once we got a rhythm going passing the football and running the football I thought we did a really good job of handling that. I think situational football kind of tells the story tonight. Twelve-of-17 on third down was outstanding and our third down defense was incredible."
Contact Brian Buckey at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6110.
Toledo running back Kareem Hunt soars over Arkansas State defenders for a touchdown. SPECIAL TO THE BLADE/ARKANSAS DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE