Toledo’s Michael Roberts catches a touchdown pass during the Rockets’ victory over Arkansas State on Friday night. SPECIAL TO THE BLADE/ARKANSAS DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE
In Jason Candle’s first regular season victory as head coach at the University of Toledo, the formula for success was a bit different from some might have expected.
On a team with a veteran offensive line and three talented running backs in Kareem Hunt, Damion Jones-Moore, and Terry Swanson, the threat of the rushing attack forced Arkansas State to stack the line. Then it was Toledo’s passing game and defense that shined in a 31-10 road win.
“There were a lot of guys in the box trying to stop the run, and I think that’s the heartbeat of our team,” Candle said.
“We rely on that offensive line. Kareem Hunt, Terry, and Damion and those guys, they get a lot of attention so you’re going against that eighth, ninth guy in the box quite a bit. Our guys on the outside, they have to make plays for us. I thought Logan [Woodside] did a good job of finding his guys and getting into a rhythm early.”
The junior quarterback, in his first game action since the 2015 GoDaddy Bowl, was sharp all game, completing 23 of 31 passes for 371 yards and three touchdowns.
“The game plan that we had going into it was really good,” Woodside said.
“We worked all week — me and coach Candle and coach [Brian] Wright — to find a game plan and get it together, and we executed it tonight. We have to establish the run first, and that sets up the pass. That’s what we tried to do and we tried to be ourselves and just go out and play Toledo offense.”
The run game still had success for UT, with Jones-Moore totaling 81 yards, while Hunt rushed for 78 yards. The team rushed 45 times for 197 yards.
The Rockets stayed balanced with their play-calling and featured an explosive passing game.
Junior Cody Thompson hauled in five passes for 174 yards and a touchdown, and senior tight end Michael Roberts was used as a red-zone target with four catches for 41 yards and two touchdowns.
“I’m not surprised,” Thompson said of the success in the passing game. “It’s something we work on and we pride ourselves on being pretty even run/pass and we came out there and Logan came out in his first game back and didn’t miss a beat.”
Defensively, Toledo was flying to the ball and disrupted the rhythm of the Arkansas State offense for most of the game.
For a unit that was forced to replace key starters from last season at every level of the defense, this UT defense was fast and physical and played like they had something to prove.
“It’s a proud unit and it’s a very well-coached unit,” Candle said. “Those guys, they expect to play well and they expect good things. I’m sure they were tired of hearing about all the guys that graduated off last year’s team and tired of hearing about how Arkansas State’s quarterback didn’t play against us last year and took it a little personal and I’m glad they came out and played really good.”
“We already know that we are playing Rocket defense and that's what we live by and that’s what we are going to keep playing regardless of what anyone says,” sophomore defensive end Olasunkanmi Adeniyi said.
Adeniyi was a force, recording 7.5 tackles, three tackles for loss, and a sack. Senior defensive end John Stepec had 6.5 tackles, one for a loss, and a sack.
“I’m really impressed by those guys,” Candle said of the defensive line.
“Those guys have a good rotation and I thought they played really hard. Arkansas State has a good offensive line with some returning guys that I know they are very high on, and rightfully so. They are good players.
“Our guys answered the call and disrupted their quarterback a little bit, I thought, and kept the heat on them up front. When you are able to do that and provide pressure with just rushing four, you give your guys in the back half a chance.”
Candle said his team has already shown improvement from the beginning of camp, and will try to continue to get better leading into week two of the season.
“I think we are growing,” Candle said. “We have a very good opponent in Maine coming in to face us. It doesn’t get any easier. The old adage in football is that you grow from week one to week two, so we’ll see. We have to get back and be ready to play a tough team next week.”
Contact Brian Buckey at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6110.