2018 RECORD: 7-5 (5-3 in MAC play)
HEAD COACH: Jason Candle (4th year)
2019 PRESEASON POLL: First in MAC West
The 2018 Toledo Rockets excelled at scoring points, leading the MAC with an average of 40.4 ppg. Unfortunately for UT, opponents were pretty good at scoring points, too. The result was a 7-5 mark that got Toledo into a bowl game, but a 5-3 conference mark that kept the Rockets out of another MAC title game appearance.
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Here’s more on the Rockets . . .
2018 Stats (All games/MAC rank)
Scoring offense: 40.4 ppg (1st MAC)
Scoring defense:30.5 ppg (8th MAC)
Total offense: 443.8 ypg (1st MAC)
Total defense: 432.3 ypg (9th MAC)
Turnover margin: Plus-3 (5th MAC)
➤➤ Toledo is rich at quarterback, with two excellent options available. Both saw extensive action last year. Mitchell Guadagni started until a late October injury ended his season. Eli Peters stepped in and guided UT to four wins over the last five regular season games.
"I feel comfortable," Guadagni said recently. "I'm just ready to get after it."
➤➤ The Rockets ranked fourth in pass offense (227.9 ypg) and third in passing efficiency (last season). Their 32 passing scores were the most of any MAC team.
➤➤ By far the biggest question for this year’s offense is how well the Rockets can replace three All-Conference receivers. Diontae Johnson and Cody Thompson earned First Team honors, while Jon’Vea Johnson was a member of the Third Team. Collectively, they registered 129 catches for 2,068 yards and 27 touchdowns.
In additional to crediting their personal skills, Candle noted the Rockets ability to run the football also played a part by setting up one-on-one coverages. Given UTs prospects for another successful ground attack, Candle believes his new receiving corps can also "take advantage" of similar opportunities.
➤➤ One target who is returning is tight end Reggie Gilliam, a senior who garnered All-MAC Second Team Honors in 2018. Senior Desmond Phillips is the top returning wideout. He had 27 receptions for 220 yards.
➤➤ The 2018 Rockets again excelled with their running game, which turned out 215.9 ypg. Only Ohio (258.3 ypg) averaged more. Three seniors anchor the O-line, led by MAC Second-teamer Bryce Harris at Center.
➤➤ Toledo’s top two running backs return. Sophomore Bryan Koback led the Rockets with 153 carries for 917 yards and 14 TDs as a freshman. Junior Shakif Seymore followed picking up 565 yards on 121 trips and contributing five touchdowns.
➤➤ Scoring 32 points should be enough to win, but Toledo fell to Florida International 35-32 last December. Avoiding such shootouts falls on the defense, which was particularly weak in defending the pass.
➤➤ Junior corner Justin Clark and senior safety Kahil are returning starters on the back end.
➤➤ Nate Childress and Jamal Hines return up front. Several others picked up experience which may help.
➤➤ UT will likely be able to put seniors across the linebacking spots, but Rockets tackle-leader Richard Olekanma (86 stops) is gone. Jordan Fisher, a converted tight end, is the top returning LB with 59 hits. Plugging in some new talent and getting more out of that unit could help the Rocket defense take strides in the right direction.
➤➤ "We bring back the core guys that have played multiple years," Candle said. "You just hope that one year more of experience is going to help those guys. ... The five freshmen we played on defense are sophomores now, and they're ... bigger, faster, stronger."
➤➤ UT’s all-time kicking leader, Jameson Vest, has finished his collegiate career. His duties could well fall on a freshman. As for punting, Australian Bailey Flint returns after averaging 40.9 yards per boot in 2018.
➤➤ After failing to reach the 2018 MAC Championship game, the Rockets suffered another disappointment when they fell to Florida International in the Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl. "Our guys left that bowl game last year with a little bit of a sour taste in their mouth about how things finished," Candle said. "When I got back (in January), it was a driven, focused group of guys."
➤➤ UT opens at Kentucky, which is coming off a successful season but lost a number of key performers. The Rockets are also at Colorado State (Week 3) but host Murray State and BYU in non-conference action.
➤➤ Toledo’s first MAC game will be a big one as the Rockets host Western Michigan - a serious division contender this year. With both teams owning potent offenses, it could be a busy day on the scoreboard.
➤➤ The I-75 Trophy will be up for grabs when UT visits Bowling Green Oct. 12. Kent State and Buffalo are Toledo’s other inter-division opponents.
The Rockets have been a sustained picture of success through much of the last decade. Whether its past success or the offensive weaponry, media were impressed enough to pick Toledo as the likely MAC West winner.
The Rockets know all-to-well that Northern Illinois has a way of making it to the championship game. Western Michigan has its own offensive juggernaut when healthy, and other programs in the West have raised their games. Improving the Toledo defense is a big challenge, but it has likely been an area of focus in preparing for a run on the 2019 title.