Not to see the sun
Nothing left to do, but
Run, run, run
"Not to Touch the Earth" 1968 song by The Doors from their album Waiting for the Sun
This is rivalry week and this is THE RIVALRY GAME. Common wisdom holds that you can throw the records and statistics out the window this week. I have to go against the common wisdom.
BR> The Falcons six wins have come against teams that could either run the ball OR pass the ball and only one, Troy, has a winning record this year. Toledo's offense does NOT fall into this "or" category.
The Falcons, statistically speaking, are doing well against the pass, ranking number 25 in the nation. [Recall that Eastern Michigan, coming into last week, ranked 4th.] A trio of DBs are the BG leaders: DB Keith Morgan (6'0", 206#) with 5 pass breakups, 6 pass deflections and 1 INT, Roger Williams (5'9", 196#) with 4 PUs, 5 PDs and 2 INTs, and Adrien Spencer (6'0", 185#) who has 3 PUs, 4 PDs and 1 INT. Supporting this group is active LB Cody Balser (6'3", 231#), the tallest of the group, with 3 PUs, 4 PDs and a pick. Collectively, these four Falcons are among the top nine in total tackles.
Another stat reveals faults in the Brown and Orange secondary. When measured in terms of pass efficiency defense they are 51st. The Rockets are 65th. They have given up a number of big pass plays leading to scores. In part, this is accounted for their relatively low number of QB hurries (26 to 40 for opponents) and sacks (19 versus 26 for foes). By comparison, UT has recorded 22 QB hurries while giving up 24. The Rockets have recorded 20 sacks while allowing just 17.
It's against the run where the Falcons are really vulnerable. They flat out have trouble stopping the run. They currently are 106th in the country allowing 195+ yards per game including a number of 30+ yard romps.
The offense is the driving force for the Falcons. As goes the passing game, so goes the offense. Statically, the BG running game is more pathetic than their rushing defense, ranking 117th in the nation netting less than 75 yards per game. RB Willie Geter (5'8", 175#) has a team-leading 495 yards, 3.4 ypr followed by FB Chris Bullock (5'11", 218#) with 308 yards, 5.4 ypr. QB Tyler Sheehan, when factoring in yards lost via sacks, has a negative 1.0 ypr average. He is a dangerous rusher picking his spots to rush to keep drives going.
The receiving corps is the real standout. Helping Sheehan complete close to 65% of his passes are eight Falcons with double digit catches or more. Sheehan's ability to spread the ball all over the field is the success factor for the Falcons. Leading receiver in the nation in total catches (129) and total yardage (1482) is Freddie Barnes. Barnes is one of three finalists for the Biletnikoff Trophy which goes to the nation's best receiver, and deservedly so. Looking at the nation's top receivers, Toledo has the two highest ranked receivers from any team – Eric Page, 15th and Stephen Williams, 21st.
When Sheehan is not hooking up with Barnes (14 TD pass receptions), his quartet of other WR is very capable. Adrian Hodges (6'1", 191#) has 45 receptions, 9.5 ypc, Chris Wright (5'10", 187#) has 37 grabs, 13.5 ypc, Ray Hutson (6'2", 198#) totals include 23 catches, 8.7 ypc, and Justus Jones (6'2", 198#) has 13 catches, 11 ypc. If that isn't enough for the Rocket secondary to contend with, running backs are an important part of the BG aerial assault. Willie Geter has 22 receptions, 9.4 ypc, with Chris Bullock leading the team with a reception average of 14.9 ypc on 10 grabs.
Head Coach Dave Clawson switched place kickers without improvement to date. Jerry Phillips, 8 for 13 on field goals, has been replaced by Matt Norsic who is 3 for 6. Both are 1-for-1 from 40 yards or more with each having had a field goal attempt blocked.
Phillips is putting kickoffs between the five yard line and goal line. Coverage has been fair, allowing an average return of 22.5 yards with a season long return of 47 yards and no TDs.
Punting chores are handled by Nick Iovinelli with an average of 37.1 yards. He has yet to have a punt blocked. Punt coverage is allowing an average return of a bit more than 9 yards with one returned for a TD.
What to look for:
The BG offensive line has not opened running lanes, nor done a stellar job of protecting Tyler Sheehan. If the Rockets get three or more sacks and a handful of QB hurries, they win.
Quick passes to Barnes to let him run on quick outs or slants over the middle on short routes. His ability to gain yards after the catch is outstanding.
The Rockets to rush effectively all night long netting 200 yards by the end of the third quarter. The ability for the Midnight Blue and Gold to run is helped significantly by the offense's passing efficiency which is better than BG's.
Fewer penalties from the Rockets than has been typical. Four flags against EMU will continue to be the new norm.
This will be a close game into the fourth quarter. The strengths and weaknesses of both teams will tend to cancel one another out.
The Rockets to employee five or more defensive backs in their defensive schemes, in order to blanket Barnes and company. The goal is containment as shutting down Freddie will not happen anytime before he lands in the NFL, if then.
Special teams play will favor the Rockets.
Halftime adjustments by both teams will loom large in keeping the game close.
A new coaching era for both teams will add to another outstanding rivalry game.