It’s game day in Jonesboro and the long, hot summer of anticipation is almost over. Now all focus turns to the Toledo Rockets and what promises to be a premier G5 matchup between these two teams. Not that Red Wolves fans don't already know all they care to about the Rockets after playing 3 times in the last 15 games, but you can always find another Cliff Clavin nugget to share at the bar.
Special thanks to Alan Rucker with hustlebelt.com for answering a few questions about the Rockets.
1) Arkansas State fans are very familiar with the Rockets but will the personality of the Rockets change under new coach Jason Candle?
The personality most likely won't change. Candle has been a disciple of Matt Campbell's for some time, and it was important to Toledo to keep that success going. Consistency and trusting the process have been the Rockets' mantra since I remember following MAC football, and Candle has been pushing those cultural values since he took over.
2) So who will be the signal caller in Jonesboro Friday night?
Logan Woodside has been named the starting quarterback for Toledo. That name will be familiar for stAte fans: Woodside was the starter for the GoDaddy Bowl that Toledo won in 2014. Woodside was the starter for that whole season and did a serviceable job with the ball. He was also a valued backup in 2015 to Philip Ely. Woodside is efficient with the pass and will have some interesting weapons to throw to, including Corey Jones.
3) Defending the rocket running game looks daunting, but if the Red Wolves D can slow it down, can the Rockets pass?
That's a rather big ask. Toledo has not one, not two, but THREE running backs that could go over 1,000 yards. You are, of course, familiar with Kareem Hunt, who scored a zillion touchdowns in the prior-mentioned GoDaddy Bowl. Terry Swanson and Damion Jones-Moore are legitimate starters serving in role spots to give the oft-injured Hunt some rest. The line is also huge and will be very hard to stop when they're operating at the same pace.
In the situation where the Rocket rush is limited, one could very well make the argument that the pass game could be limited. Alonso Russell has graduated and Diontae Thompson, a big play threat, is going to see extended time on the sideline. This leaves Jones and TE Michael Roberts (who had sneaky good numbers as a third-down target in 2015) as primary targets.
The Rockets will be able to pass for sure, but they would much prefer to have that running that, which is how they set up many of those plays.
4) Who is one player from both sides of the ball that stAte fans will know when the game is over?
Get to know Storm Norton, the left tackle. He wears #74.
He stands at 6'8" and 308 lbs. and has been getting a lot of looks from scouts on sheer size alone, but he played great games against Temple and Mizzou last season. He dominated opponents all season, leading a line that allowed five sacks last season. Yes, five. The line didn't allow a sack until well into the conference season.
Norton was first team all-MAC and was on the watch list for the Rotary Lombardi trophy last year. The Red Wolves' hopes of limiting the pass lie in getting past Norton. That's no easy task.
5) Would the rockets rather get into a shootout at stAte or a grinding defensive game?
In my opinion, Toledo plays best when going fast and forward. They'll run for big yards, eat up clock, then use length and execution to get a key pass play. With the amount of athletes they have on offense, they definitely want a shootout.
A defensive game means that the offense is sputtering, which is when the Rockets are usually vulnerable. Check back on the tape from the UMass and NIU games last season and that becomes apparent.
The defense will do just enough to keep the offense afloat.
Prediction from your viewpoint:
It's going to be close, and it's going to be a shootout. I'd really hate having to place a bet on this game. I think, though, Toledo rules the day. They own the last two games and there's just too much talent on both sides of the ball to deny, while stAte will be breaking in new players at key positions.
Toledo 24-14 stAte