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Blast off: UT begins season of high expectations vs. Elon

08/30/2017, 4:00pm EDT
By By BRIAN BUCKEY BLADE SPORTS WRITER

High-octane Rockets ready to start in front of home fans


Quarterback Logan Woodside (11) and the University of Toledo football team begin the season Thursday at the Glass Bowl vs. Elon. BLADE PHOTO

There is somewhat of a sense of uncertainty surrounding the University of Toledo football team’s season opener Thursday against Elon.

The Phoenix come to the Glass Bowl with a brand new coaching staff and an extremely young roster at the skill positions, which has made it difficult for UT coach Jason Candle and his staff to scout the FCS opponent.

Curt Cignetti is the new head coach for Elon after a successful six-season stint at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

RELATED: Toledo season preview ■ Rockets’ depth chart set ■ UT set as MAC favorite

“There is a new coaching staff,” Candle said. “Coach Cignetti is a great football coach and he’s done a really good job of putting together a very good staff. It’s a wide-open brand of offense and from what I can see they are going to play the odd front on defense and try to get guys moving all around and get guys in gaps with their blitz packages. It’s not an opponent where it is a conference opponent and you play the same coordinator three or four years in a row. It’s a new season, a new game, and a new program, so there is a little bit of an element of surprise to it.”

A season after putting up record numbers last season, senior quarterback Logan Woodside and the Rockets are ready to pick up where they left off and put pressure on the Elon defense with its wealth of weapons.

“I think coach [Brian] Wright has great job and this offense has done a really good job in camp of just kind of getting back to the fundamentals and the basics,” Woodside said. “So, I think we will be all right out there.”

Last season, the Toledo offense averaged 38.0 points and 517.8 total yards per game on the way to one of the best statistical seasons ever for a Rockets offense.

Toledo returns six starters on offense including Woodside and wide receivers Cody Thompson and Jon’Vea Johnson. Woodside said they will be tested right off the bat against Elon and will need to come out sharp.

“They have a new defensive coaching staff and they probably play a lot of players on defense, so we have to be alert to that,” Woodside said. “I think they will definitely try to mix it up, so we definitely have to be locked in from the start and expect a few things from them.”

On offense, Elon has two freshmen quarterbacks that they could use in Davis Cheek and Jalen Greene. Brelynd Cyphers is a freshman slated to start at running back and freshman Kortez Woods is one of the team’s three starting receivers.

Toledo was fourth in the Mid-American Conference in scoring defense last season at 25.7 points per game and the Rockets return seven starters on that side of the ball. Toledo will try to limit the playmaking ability of some of the younger Phoenix offensive players.

“We have been stressing that their quarterback can run,” senior linebacker Ja’Wuan Woodley said. “They actually have a few quarterbacks that can run. So adding that quarterback into the run game has been big for them.”

Elon, which is coming off of a 2-9 season in 2016, has played nine FBS opponents since joining the FCS in 1999. Candle said the Phoenix could come into the game with a nothing-to-lose attitude.

“I would think their new coaching staff is trying to find out who they are as well,” Candle said. “I certainly think that will be their approach a little bit. Why not give everything you got and pull out all the stops to try to get a win or surprise us in particular situations. I think our guys have to be ready for those situations — trick plays, fake punts, all of that — and not get caught off guard. Just because it’s an FCS opponent and it is week one doesn’t mean you don’t have to prepare and do what you need to do each and every week.”

Candle said he expects a good Thursday-night atmosphere at the Glass Bowl.

“It’s a great opportunity to get out in front of our home fans right away,” Candle said. “Thursday night is kind of the kickoff to the weekend and it’s a great weekend of college football. We have a great opponent coming in and it should be a fun night with a great atmosphere and we are looking forward to a full house and a packed stadium.”

Elon at Toledo

Time: 7 p.m.

TV: ESPN3

Radio: 1370 AM

Series: First meeting

Favorite: N/​A

Notes: Toledo has won nine games in five of the last six seasons, and it has been bowl eligible each of the last seven years. … UT returns 15 starters and 44 letter winners from last season. … Five returning players have earned All-MAC honors during their career (Logan Woodside, Cody Thompson, Jon’Vea Johnson, Ja’Wuan Woodley, and Terry Swanson). … Toledo set program records last season for total offense (517.8 yards per game) and passing yards (322.8 ypg). … Senior quarterback Logan Woodside threw a NCAA-best 45 touchdown passes in 2016 and threw at least three touchdown passes in 12 of 13 games. … Senior receiver Cody Thompson racked up a single-season UT record 1,269 receiving yards. … Elon is 39-55-1 in season openers. … The Phoenix are looking for their first victory against an FBS opponent. … Elon returns five players who started all 11 games last season. … Elon offensive lineman Ikenna Nwokeji has made 34 consecutive starts.

Contact Brian Buckey at bbuckey@theblade.com419-724-6110 or on Twitter @BrianBuckey.

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Tag(s): College  Toledo