Rockets Travel to Akron Looking for a Critical Rebound

After a tough loss at home to the Ohio Bobcats, the Toledo Rockets and head coach Jason Candle are looking to bounce back at Akron. Our Tom Mauter has the full preview.

Tom Mauter, staff writer, Rocket Digest,

October 31, 2016


The Toledo Rockets find themselves in a no lose situation, dropping to 3-1 in the MAC with last week’s loss to Ohio. Now, the only sure way to Ford Field is to win the next four football games. 

What better place to bounce back that the Rubber City? Actually, the location doesn’t matter as much as regrouping and get back to winning ways. 

First up this Wednesday, the Zips of Akron at home in the InfoCision Stadium-Summa Field.

Coach Terry Bowden’s Zips (5-4, 3-2) find themselves in a similar situation, trailing Ohio University by a game and tied with Miami for second in the MAC East. Losing football games in November comes with a steep price. It is past time for the Rockets to limit unforced errors leading to costly penalties.

Speaking of similarities, Coach Bowden has three Mt Union grads on his coaching staff.

Akron Zips On Offense 

Coach Bowden’s offense is predicated on the ability to pass downfield with precise routes and throws. Directing the offense is quarter back Thomas “Tommy” Woodson, also known by his friends as “Sheriff Woody.” In late September he injured his shoulder in the Appalachian State game. He was out for a couple of weeks, returning to lead the Zips to a 35-25 win against Ball State on the road.  Last week, with a short week and in cold, damp and windy conditions in Buffalo, the Zips fell 41-20. Woodson was 18 of 41 for 178 yards. He appeared out of sync in the first half. His receivers dropping a number of passes didn’t help. The offense tallied just one touchdown against the Bulls.

With a week of rest and preparation, look for Woodson to be a more effective QB, more reflective of his 62.0% completion rate year-to-date.

The Zips aerial attack is a three-person crew led by speedy Jojo Natson, transfer from Utah State. He has 50 catches, 692 yards and nine touchdown receptions, all team highs. Natson is a threat to break a big play anytime he touches the ball whether on a screen play or on a deep throw.

Twin 6’3” wide outs, Jerome Lane and Austin Wolf are more possession type receivers. Lane has 47 receptions, averaging 14.7 yards per catch. Wolf has 30 grabs and a 15.7-yards per reception average, best among starting receivers. Wolf and Lane have five and four TD catches respectively.

With a targeted goal of 175 yards or so in the running game, the Zips rotate several running backs featuring speed, balance and a bit of pop. Van Edwards, Jr. and Manny Morgan have split the majority of the work at running back. QB Woodson will take off from the pocket when coverage dictates and, occasionally, on a quarter back draw. In short yardage situations, QB Tra’Von Chapman, WR Michael Traylor-Bennett, and RB Denzel Jones, Jr. can each operate out of the Wildcat position. Chapman has three touchdowns running while Traylor-Bennett leads the Zips with four TDs on just nine rushes.

The tendencies of the passing game and the running game include getting to the edge outside of the tackles. The passing game has been more consistent averaging about 265 yards per game with the running game putting up a bit more than 135 yards a contest. Putting pressure on the defense, over time, opens up the middle for the run and, to a lesser degree, the passing game.

The youngest component of the Zips offense is the offensive line. As a unit, they are better in pass blocking. To date, they have given up 19 sacks in nine games but are improving. In the Ball State win, the Akron OL did a good job protecting Woodson not allowing a single sack. What was impressive is that the Cardinals are second in the MAC in sacks. The Zips OL allowed the first and only QB hurry with 5:09 left in the 4th quarter. The Buffalo game found the sacks returning with Woodson being sacked three times as the Bulls put pressure on him throughout the game.

 The Zips On Defense

The Zips have a tendency to be a team of two halves, particularly from a defensive perspective. DC Charles Amato, with his extensive experience at North Carolina State as head coach, and at Arizona and Florida State, makes key adjustments at half time with his inexperienced defenders. Three of the front-four are transfers including defensive ends Se’Von Pittman from Ohio State and Daumantas Venckus from Iowa.

Two of the three starters at line backer are sophomores but they are talented. Ulysees Gilbert III leads the Zips in total tackles with 100, ranking him fifth in the nation and third in the MAC. He also leads Akron with 8.5 TFL.  Brian Bell is fourth on the team in total tackles including four TFL. As a group, they are stronger against the run than in pass coverage.

The secondary features a pair of transfers, field corner Larry Hope from Miami U. and CB Bryce Jones from Boston College. The second best tackler in the secondary, FS Zach Guiser, has missed the last two games. He reports that he has dislocated his elbow, broken his nose, and severely sprained his ankle. Guessing he will not see the field against the Rockets. 

Hope and Jones both have six pass break ups, team highs. Hope does have one interception while back up sophomore CB Kryon Brown has collected three of the team’s seven total picks.

Moving to the safety position from CB is true freshman Alvin Davis. Davis has emerged as a rising star. He had 15 tackles, including a team high eight solo tackles against Ball State. Davis also led the Zips in total tackles against the Bulls and is currently second in total tackles on the team.

The Zips Special Teams 

The special team play has been amongst the best in the MAC. As a unit, they have blocked a punt and two field goal attempts.  They lead the MAC in punt return average with 19.5-yards per punt return, third best in the nation.  The Zips have returned three punts for touchdowns. 

Jojo Natson, Jr. is a dangerous punt returner with six career punt returns for touchdowns including two this season. He is challenging Western’s Darius Phillips for first team All-MAC as a punt returner.

Nick Gasser does the punting with a 37.7 average on 41 punts. Sixteen have landed inside the 20-yard line and 10 being fair caught. Akron is allowing 7.64 yards per return on 14 returns. Toledo, on nine punts, has allowed an average return of 9.33 yards.

Tom O’Leary has made 35 of 38 PATs and converted six of nine field goal attempts with a long of 46 yards. O’Leary also kicks off for the Zips typically putting the ball in play. Akron is yielding 21.28 yards per return.

Akron kickoff return unit is averaging a bit more than 19 yards per kickoff. They are led by Van Edwards, Jr. who has 18 of the 31 kickoff returns for an average of nearly 25 yards with a long of 75 yards. 

The Rockets are just returning kickoffs for 17.61, 10th out of 12 in the MAC. On kickoff coverage, the Rockets are third best in the MAC allowing 18.72 yards per return.

Players To Watch

  • #5 LB Uslyees Gilbert, will be all over within 10 yards of the LOS
  • #1 DB Alvin Davis will be all over the field
  • #4 QB Tommy Woodson, with gloves on both hands, should be at or near full strength with a week to recover and much better weather than last week

What To Look For

  • ·      Rockets defense applying pressure on Sheriff Woody to prevent time and comfort in the pocket
  • ·      Woodson counters with a quick release on spot throws
  • ·      Zips to test the Toledo secondary going deep early and often
  • ·      Rockets to run the ball early in an attempt to dictate the game flow
  • ·      Akron attempting to generate a running game to provide balance for their passing plans
  • ·      Rockets to key on stopping the Zips running backs and keeping Woodson throwing short passes
  • ·      Reserve WR #3 Kwadarrius Smith, a track athlete from University of Missouri transferred to Akron to play football and run track, brings more speed to WR position on deep patterns
  • ·      Rockets to have at least one kickoff return beyond the 35-yard line
  • ·      Zips to attack the perimeter both on the ground and in the air
  • ·      Extensive use of wildcat formation by Akron in third and fourth and short yardage situations
  • ·      #7 WR Jerome Lane on quick outs and slant patterns
  • ·      Rockets to record at least one interception
  • ·      # 82 WR Austin Wolf to work the sidelines on mid-to-deep-range patterns
  • ·      Toledo to make offensive adjustments at halftime to counter the Akron defensive changes
  • ·      #28 RB Manny Morgan is capable of taking a hand off to the right side and, with the defensive backs selling out to stop the run, hit a WR for a big gainer
  • ·      Akron’s offense to pick up intensity in the second half
  • ·      #25 RB Denzel Jones to come in to provide addition blocking for Woodson and will also be used as a screen pass target
  • ·      Nick Ellis to keep tabs of #9 Jojo Natson at all times


Game Forecast: Partly cloudy, with a low around 57 degrees. Winds out of the Southwest at 6 mph with70% humidity. Just 10% chance of precipitation.

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Game Info: Kickoff Wednesday, November 2, 7:30 PM (ET) on ESP2 at InfoCision Stadium- Summa Field, Akron, Ohio

How to Listen: Toledo Scout's Zach Harig will be on the call for 88.3 FM in Toledo - WXUT. You can listen to the broadcast with Zach & color commentator, Jed Shilling beginning at 7:15 pm on Wednesday. Direct link:


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