Tuzar Skipper (99) forced a fourth quarter fumble for Toledo's defense, helping to ice a 37-24 win over Nevada Saturday. BLADE/ANDY MORRISON
RENO — The University of Toledo football team had a glaring defensive need coming into the 2017 season. A year after finishing last in the Mid-American Conference in turnovers forced with 10 (six interceptions and four fumble recoveries), the Rockets needed to create takeaways on defense.
So all offseason they worked on creating big plays on defense.
In Saturday’s 37-24 win against Nevada at Mackay Stadium, that work paid off with two fourth-quarter turnovers that changed the game.
With Toledo leading 34-24 and its offense sputtering and momentum clearly with Nevada, the Rockets pass rush pinned its ears back and made crucial plays.
First, UT defensive end Tuzar Skipper sacked Nevada quarterback Ty Gangi and forced a fumble that Nate Childress recovered. Then on the next possession, Olasunkanmi Adeniyi hit Gangi’s hand as it was moving forward to throw. The pass then fluttered right into linebacker Ja’Wuan Woodley’s hands for an interception.
“Those defensive plays were huge,” UT coach Jason Candle said. “Those guys on defense have worked really hard this preseason to create a culture where we are taking the football away. To see that happen in key moments, that is really refreshing.”
After scoring just 10 points in the first half, Nevada started to gain some momentum offensively in the second half. With the game well in reach for the Wolf Pack, the turnovers killed the comeback.
“It was a great feeling,” Adeniyi said of the interception he forced. “It was a play-action pass, and I just kind of flipped my ears back and got to the quarterback and thank God Ja’Wuan Woodley was there to get the ball.”
UT kicker Jameson Vest then added a field goal to make it 37-24, and Toledo’s defense forced a Nevada turnover on downs to finish it off. The Wolf Pack failed to score in the final quarter.
“That was big,” UT running back Terry Swanson said of the defensive plays. “It was a momentum killer for that offense over there. Shout out to our defense, they did a great job.”
Nevada ran 61 plays, and Candle said he thought the Wolf Pack offensive line wore down a bit in fourth quarter. As Toledo was able to rotate players in and out on the defensive line, they created more pressure on Gangi.
“That’s going to happen and if we have a continued, fluid rotation on the line, then what we should expect is to be able to pressure the quarterbacks in those moments,” Candle said.
Swanson led the rushing-heavy offensive attack for Toledo with 27 carries for 101 yards and two touchdowns. The Rockets ran the ball 60 times for 211 yards.
“I felt pretty good out there,” Swanson said. “The offensive line did a great job. This [Nevada] defense, they blitz a lot. So we knew it was going to be difficult coming in.”
Logan Woodside was 19-of-27 passing for 232 yards and two touchdowns, and Cody Thompson caught a career-high eight passes for 101 yards and a TD. Diontae Johnson added four catches for 53 yards and a score.
“I thought he was pretty solid,” Candle said of Woodside’s performance. “I thought he managed the game and did what we asked him to do. ”