Tiger Opponent Preview: Toledo Rockets

On Saturday (11:00 A.M., ESPN), the #22 Missouri Tigers (1-0) go on the road to play the Toledo Rockets (1-0).

On Saturday (11:00 A.M., ESPN), the #22 Missouri Tigers (1-0) go on the road to play the Toledo Rockets (1-0).

Missouri is coming off of a 38-18 win over South Dakota State, while Toledo racked up a 54-20 win over New Hampshire in their season opener.

A year ago in Columbia, Missouri defeated Toledo by a score of 38-23.

Head Coach Matt Campbell, in his third full season at Toledo, has led the Rockets to an 18-9 record. Campbell was a two-time NCAA Division III All-American defensive lineman at Mount Union College, where he and Missouri assistant coach Alex Grinch were teammates on a pair of national championship teams in 2000-2001.

Coach Grinch told me earlier this week that he has a picture in his office of himself, Campbell, and two other players hoisting the National Championship trophy.

Of course, there are numerous other ties between the Missouri coaching staff and Toledo, where in 2009 Missouri Head Coach Gary Pinkel was inducted into the Varsity T Hall of Fame. In 10 seasons (1991-2000) at Toledo, Coach Pinkel amassed a record of 73-37-3, and became Toledo’s all-time winningest coach. In 1995, he led Toledo to a 11-0-1 record and the MAC Championship. Several members of Coach Pinkel’s current Missouri staff were with him at Toledo.

“Matt Campbell’s done a great job at the University of Toledo,” said Coach Pinkel. “It’s his third year there as the head coach. They have an outstanding team! I think this Toledo team is one of the better MAC teams I’ve seen for a long time. They’re a very well coached, disciplined team. I’m very, very impressed with them. They have a lot of players back from a year ago. Mizzou fans know how good they were a year ago. And they’re back with about 18 starters…………………………………… It’ll be a great challenge for us, and we’re looking forward to going in there and competing. It’s a great environment in which to play, the Mid-American Conference, there at the Glass Bowl.”

Coach Campbell said that his team played “four really solid quarters of football” against New Hampshire.

Coach Campbell said that Toledo is excited to play Missouri at home.

“We’ve got tremendous respect for them,” said Coach Campbell. “And also, we know for us, this is game number two, and we’ve got to do a great job of worrying about our Rockets, and getting better each and every day here this week as we continue on, as this season continues to roll on, as well.”

The Toledo offense is multiple, including a variety of some spread looks and some power formations. They are mostly no-huddle, and at times, they like to play up-tempo. Last season, the Rockets averaged 33 points/game, and 6.9 yards/play, including 6.0 yards/per rushing play.

Against New Hampshire, 6’1” 202-pound junior QB Phillip Ely, had a big game in his first start, after transferring in from Alabama. Ely threw for 337 yards and 4 TDs on 24-34-0 passing.

“He played really, really well,” said Coach Pinkel, talking about Ely. “He threw for over three-hundred yards. I was very impressed with him , when I saw the film. (He shows) a lot of poise. He knows what he’s doing. He doesn’t sit in the pocket too long. He gets rid of the ball. They set and throw. They don’t look around at receivers a lot. He’s got an offensive line that is very, very experienced in front of him. So, he’s got a lot of people around him that have played. They have real good receivers…………………………….. They’re fine-tuning. With him coming in there, that’s probably as efficient of a passing game as you can be. So, it was very, very impressive to see him play the way he played. They’ve got a good one there.”

“We know that he’s very talented,” continued Coach Pinkel, speaking of Ely. “He’s got very good accuracy. We’ve seen him throw the football from the hash to the wide side of the field, you know, out routes and such. So, he’s a very, very good player.”

Ely’s favorite target last week was 6’4” 205-pound junior WR Alonzo Russell, a two-year returning starter, who has caught more than 55 balls in each of the last two seasons. Against New Hampshire, Russell had 6 receptions for 78 yards.

Last year at Missouri, Russell had a big day, with 7 receptions for 101 yards and 1 TD.

But Russell is not the Lone Ranger in the Rockets’ receiving corp. Toledo has size at receiver for in the red zone, and smaller, speedier guys on the perimeter, as well. Against New Hampshire, Ely twice found 6’4” 220-pound senior Justin Olack for short TD passes in the red zone.

In the backfield with Ely, 5’11” 200-pound sophomore RB Kareem Hunt is expected to carry the load. Last year at Missouri, Hunt had 1 carry for 1 yard rushing, but he finished the 2013 season with 137 carries for 866 yards (6.3 yards/carry) and 6 TDs. Against New Hampshire, Hunt rushed for 120 yards and 2 TDs on 20 carries. And, against New Hampshire, 5’7” 190-pound RB Damion Jones-Moore rushed 7 times for 70 yards and 1 TD.

Up front, Toledo averages 6’5” and 296 pounds along the offensive line. The Rockets returned four starters up front from a year ago, and all five starters are fifth-year seniors who have already graduated. They are very good in pass protection. Last year, the Rockets allowed a total of just 6 sacks all year.

“They’re very talented up front,” explained Coach Pinkel, speaking of Toledo’s offensive line and their ability to pass protect. “But they also have the design, that they don’t hold the football a whole lot. They get rid of the football. I think they’re doing a good job.”

The Rockets boast one of the best field goal kickers in the country, maybe the best. Over his career, senior kicker Jeremiah Detmer has made over 87% of his field goals, including 95% of his field goals in 2013, when he was 19-20. For his career, he’s 15-18 from outside 40 yards.

Defensively, Toledo plays multiple defenses featuring 3-man or 4-man fronts, and they’ll mix it up on the back end between man-to-man and zone. The Rockets utilize a hybrid DE/LB who provides them with the flexibility of lining up with either a 3-man or a 4-man front without substituting personnel. Their other OLB will also walk up to the line of scrimmage to create the look of a 5-man front. Last year, and again last week, Toledo showed a variety of coverages in the secondary, including cover two, and utilized a lot of nickel and dime packages. The Rockets run pretty well, and they do a very good job of getting a number of hats to the football. They’re very physical, and they appear to be very well-coached. They tackle well and they do a good job of maintaining leverage. The Rockets play hard, and they’re tough and physical.

Toledo’s best defensive player is 6’0” 222-pound senior WLB Junior Sylvestre. He had 9 tackles last week against New Hampshire. Last year, he led the Rockets with 118 tackles, and he was named First-Team All-MAC. The Rockets like to move him around before the snap. Then, he’ll come on a blitz, or drop into coverage. “He runs well,” said Coach Pinkel, speaking of Sylvestre. “He’s athletic.” Up front, Toledo rotates a number of defensive linemen. They have good size. As for pressuring the QB, the Rockets rely mostly on blitzes. Often, that comes from the LB position, but the Rockets will also bring pressure from the secondary, as well. “Toledo is a very, very well-coached defensive football team,” said Coach Pinkel. “They’ve got a very good scheme……………………………….. They presented some problems for us last year. They do a lot of good things.”

Earlier this week, while getting his team ready to play Missouri, Coach Campbell repeatedly talked about “the speed of the game”.

Clearly, there’s concern in the Toledo camp regarding Missouri’s athleticism and team speed. He said that they saw it last year, but that they can’t get overly focused on what Missouri is going to bring into their place.

“For us, it’s really, it can’t be the focus on (Missouri),” said Coach Campbell, talking about what his team needs to do in order to be successful against Missouri. “It’s got to be really the focus on us, and getting better. I really mean this. I think between week one and week two in college football, you really see great growth. And I think for us, we’ve got to worry about our continued growth in this whole process.”

When it comes to game time, and being successful against Missouri, Coach Campbell said, “It’s going to be all about execution.”

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