Rockets look to quarterback tandem and special teams for upset
Mannion McGinley | Friday, September 10, 2021
Notre Dame’s home opener this weekend will already be one for the history books, and the Toledo Rockets have barely set foot in South Bend yet.
This is the first time in well over a year that Notre Dame Stadium will be at full capacity. It’s the sixth time Notre Dame will host a Mid-American Conference team (5-0). All six of those matchups have occurred in head coach Brian Kelly’s tenure. Additionally, Saturday will mark the 20th anniversary of 9/11, so emotions will already be running high across the country.
Toledo head coach Jason Candle captured the weight of all three of those pieces when he first discussed the game this week.
“Obviously this game [is on] the 20th anniversary of 9/11, the worst event in our country’s history, and the first [regular home] Notre Dame football game in a long time,” Candle said. “This is a big deal not only for Notre Dame fans but Toledo fans and fans of college football. We’re looking forward to going out and playing a great football team and giving it our best shot.”
The Rockets are fresh off a 49-10 win over the Norfolk State Spartans. They scored two touchdowns in each of the first three quarters and a seventh in the fourth. They are ready to make an appearance and a name for themselves.
“It’s going to be a great experience, but we’re not going for a great experience,” Candle said. “We want to go win the football game and do the best job we can to try and make the plays necessary to go win the game.”
Kelly and the Irish aren’t taking this game lightly either, especially as the Rockets are coming in with one more day of rest than the Irish — a fact that has also been on Kelly’s mind.
“We’re playing a really good football team in Toledo.” Kelly said, “In my estimation after watching some of their film, this is probably the finest MAC team that we’ve brought into the stadium since I’ve been here.”
The Irish defense and their coordinator Marcus Freeman have to be prepared for another quarterback duo in sophomore Carter Bradley and redshirt freshman Dequan Finn; especially after Milton’s presence threw a wrench in the back half of Sunday’s game.
While the Irish offense expects to use this game to work out the kinks in the run game, they’ll also have to be on high alert for the Rockets defense both on special teams and in regular play.
Freshman Rocket safety Maxen Hook, a native Hoosier, was a major factor in Toledo’s defensive special teams performance. He returned the first blocked punt 25 yards to put Toledo up 14-0 midway through the first quarter. Hook then blocked a punt on his own that redshirt freshman running back Jacquez Stuart returned 14 yards to make it 21-7.
And while the Rockets have faced Goliaths before and won, (Michigan, Penn State, Arkansas and Pittsburgh) they know this week is nothing like last week. But, they’ll still bring their A game and intend to do all the math they can to ride Week 1’s upset wave.
“Obviously, this week is a whole different animal,” Candle said. “I’m grateful and honored to go play a top-five program and one that’s historically been at the top of college football for decades. It’ll be an awesome experience for our young people and one we’re looking forward to very much.”
“This is what every young man wants to be a part of,” he continued. “College football’s pageantry is back, the stands are full, the bands are there, the cheerleaders are there, reporters are there, everybody’s tweeting, everybody’s talking, it’s back to normal. Let’s go have fun with it and go play as hard as you possibly can, stay disciplined and have that emotional intelligence we were talking about, and let’s see how the chips fall.”
Kickoff is at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday. The game will stream exclusively on Peacock from Notre Dame Stadium.