A quick look at Toledo

After suffering the first loss of 2011, Syracuse football looks to rebound on Saturday against Toledo. The Rockets are coming off of back-to-back losses against Division I powers Ohio State and Boise State, and they were able to hang with both squads for the majority of each game.

The Orange also hung with a national power its last time out, though the team lost to USC on the road 38-17.

The Rocket Offense

Toledo has a dynamic offense that provides multiple looks, but the game plan usually revolves around junior wideout Eric Page. Similar to how Southern Cal was able to utilize Robert Woods last week; the Rockets find a way to get the dynamic 5-foot-10, 180-pounder the ball. He will be the primary option on designed screens, rub-routes and even the occasional run. Page has superior route-running ability and solid hands, and he is following a 99-catch 2010 season with 25 grabs over just three games this season. He is also a top-notch kick-returner.

Though Page certainly is the primary threat, the Rockets sport some talented athletes all over the field. Sophomore quarterback Terrance Owens has the potential to be one of the better dual-threat signal-callers in the country, and the lefty is not afraid to fire the ball into coverage as he continues to learn the ins and outs of the spread offense. Running back Adonis Thomas -- who is from Newark, New Jersey -- has proved steady against both big-name schools on the way to notching 112 combined yards while averaging a respectable 4 yards per carry in the process.

Toledo's Defense

The undersized Rocket defense continues to sport a 4-2-5 look, relying on speed at the back-end to create turnovers and limit big plays. The unit has allowed at least 22 points in each game – including the season opener against New Hampshire – but they pressure the offense enough to keep the team in the game. Toledo has forced seven turnovers over the first three games of 2011, good for 20th in the country. However, the lack of size up front allows for opposing runners to find openings more times than not.

While facing fourth-ranked Boise State, the Rockets managed to limit stellar QB Kellen Moore initially, but the early success the Broncos running game saw led to play-action opportunities that helped to put the game away. Boise State RB Doug Martin was able to gash the Toledo defense for 192 total yards (70 rushing) including a 71-yard receiving touchdown.

Matchups

The Syracuse offense should be able to move the ball on Saturday, but they managed to do so against USC as well. The key will be to actually punch the ball in the end zone once the team is in scoring position. With the success that Martin had as both a runner and receiver, tailback Antwon Bailey could be in line for a big afternoon. He was solid against the Trojans' pro-style 4-3 defense, so chances are he will be a big factor once again. QB Ryan Nassib will have another chance to showcase the West Coast offense against a team that sits back in coverage, though accuracy will once again be a key considering how the attacking Rocket defensive backs can get their hands on the ball. However, Toledo has just a pair of sacks to its name through three games, so the offensive line should be able to give Nassib ample time and opportunity to step into his throws.

The Orange defense will once again have its hands full, but it will be an issue of athleticism as opposed to the precision it dealt with against USC. Owens is far from Trojan QB Matt Barkley in terms of accuracy and anticipation, but his ability to take chances with a strong arm may pose some problems for the battered SU secondary. He can buy time in the passing game with his legs, so the inconsistent Syracuse pass-rush will need to improve to help the DBs out. The run defense – which ranks in the top 50 nationally – allows just 3.4 yards per carry. The Rockets will try to keep the Orange honest, but they fall back to the pass typically when the running game shows minimal early success.

A Syracuse win on Saturday would be more likely if both units can get off to a decent start. Early points from the offense will be key against a momentum-driven Toledo squad, and the defense must weather the early storm before inducing the inconsistent Owens into mistakes. The bigger task will be limiting Page whenever he has the ball in his hands, so team discipline will be big against an opponent that has already shown some trickery at seemingly-random points of the game.


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