Early 2021 football preview and predictions: Toledo Rockets
Observer Sports Staff | Wednesday, March 17, 2021
Date: Sept. 11
Location: Notre Dame Stadium
History of the matchup
Notre Dame and Toledo have never squared off on the gridiron. Toledo is set to join conference rivals Miami (OH), Akron, Western Michigan and Ball State as just the fifth team from the MAC to ever face Notre Dame in football. No MAC team has ever defeated the Irish, with the closest margin of victory coming in 2018’s 24-16 win over the Cardinals.
2020 performance and 2021 outlook
The Rockets posted a 4-2 record in a six-game, conference-only schedule last season. Both losses were by three points, dropping a 41-38 decision to Western Michigan and a 27-24 margin to eventual conference champion Ball State. They did not advance to a postseason bowl game.
Toledo was driven by their passing attack in 2020. They posted the ninth-most passing yards per contest in the FBS last season at 325.8.
Redshirt senior quarterback Eli Peters threw for 1,106 yards and nine touchdowns against two interceptions in four games of action, exiting the three-point Ball State loss with a knee injury. While his backup, redshirt sophomore Carter Bradley, ceded about seven percentage points in completing passes, he still managed to reach marks of 849 passing yards and nine touchdowns to five interceptions in four appearances. It is unclear if Peters will take advantage of the NCAA’s blanket waiver for 2020 college athletes and return for a sixth season with the Rockets, but if so, he is likely to be starting against the Irish on Sept. 11 barring lingering knee issues.
Out of the backfield, rising redshirt senior Bryant Koback has been dicing MAC defenses for three seasons after transferring to Toledo following a one-year stay at Kentucky as a true freshman. He has over 2,600 career rushing yards and 30 touchdowns on the ground, and he became a legitimate pass-catching threat by tripling his career receptions last season to bring him to 36 for 320 yards and four scores.
Rising senior Isaiah Winstead and redshirt senior Bryce Mitchell were the most productive wide receivers for the Rockets last year. They ranked No. 1 and 2, respectively, in receiving yards at 429 and 306, with Winstead also leading the team with 25 receptions while Mitchell led in touchdowns with four and did his damage on just 13 catches. Three other players recorded at least 200 receiving yards for Toledo last year.
On the other side of the ball, the Rockets were relatively stout. They posted the third-best 3rd down conversion percentage defense in the FBS, were near the middle of the pack in passing yards allowed per game, and 25th in rushing yards allowed per game — albeit in just six games against only MAC opponents.
Senior outside linebacker Dyontae Johnson managed to stuff the stat sheet with 47 tackles in those six games, while the entirety of the defense combined for 28 pass breakups and four interceptions. They also forced and recovered five fumbles.
Hayden Adams — Sports Editor
Things are bound to change for Notre Dame in 2021 — a reshuffled offensive line and several new starters at wide receiver and throughout the defense. But defense isn’t the issue here. It’s the offense, and specifically what the offense will look like two games into the year and just six days after the season opener. I’m not concerned with Toledo (he said, knocking on wood) because while I do worry this is the year Notre Dame finally drops a game against an unranked opponent, I doubt it will come from a MAC team (all due respect to MACtion). This is a matchup to continue working out kinks and identifying who the key contributors are, while Marcus Freeman ideally continues to impress in his first season on the Irish sideline.
Final: Notre Dame 52, Toledo 13
I have no idea what the logistics of this upcoming football season will look like. If this past year has taught me anything, it’s that nothing is set in stone. That said, I am certain of one thing — Notre Dame will win their home opener against Toledo. All season long, I criticized the Playoff Committee’s leniency toward Ohio State on the grounds that they couldn’t evaluate a team based on six games. Yet here I am saying Toledo’s six-game 2020 schedule causes me no concern as a Notre Dame fan (and nearly washed-up alum).
That’s not to say this will be a routing. The Rockets won four games by an average of 17.5 points last season, along with two razor-thin losses. While it remains to be seen whether starting quarterback Eli Peters will return for his final year of eligibility, Toledo has a solid backup option in rising junior Carter Bradley, who stepped in the final two games of the season after Peters suffered a knee injury. Meanwhile, the big question mark for the Irish heading into this season is who will be taking the snap — Jack Coan? Drew Pyne? Tyler Buchner? But despite all the answers Toledo has that Notre Dame doesn’t, the power of Kyren Williams, Chris Tyree and Michael Mayer give any of those three quarterbacks numerous options. Add in the experience and size of the Notre Dame defense and they come keep the home-game win streak alive.
Final: Notre Dame 38, Toledo 10
Ellen Geyer — Senior Sports Writer
Given the games I’ve seen Notre Dame play against mid-level Ohio teams in the past, I think the Irish will be able to win this one pretty handily. It will certainly be a new-look offense: With Ian Book’s departure, Wisconsin transfer Jack Coan is predicted to be the starter, but a game like this would be a great way for the Irish to try a few different faces at shotgun. Regardless of who the play-caller is, Notre Dame is more than capable of putting this one away with ease. I’m hoping for a dominant first half that will give the scrubs some second-half minutes. Is it too much to ask for a shutout?
Final: Notre Dame 45, Toledo 0
Mannion McGinley — Sports Writer
Nothing is guaranteed in the second game of the season, especially when you don’t yet know who your leading signal-caller will be. That being said, this will be the first home game of the season for the Irish. Because of the fire the defense runs on at home, this game may be closer than it should ultimately be to start, but the defense will come through in the end. On principle, the Irish will not break the home win streak to a team outside of the Power 5, so long as the talent on the offense can pull off what’s expected of them.
Final: Notre Dame 35, Toledo 14