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Staff predictions 2021: Toledo Rockets

| Friday, September 10, 2021

Aidan Thomas — Sports Writer

Three days later and my heart rate still hasn’t really recovered from Sunday night. That game was closer than I ever wanted it to be, but I took more positives than negatives from the performance. The passing offense was far better than expected, the play calling actually had some creativity at times and the defense forced three turnovers. Jonathan Doerer was 7-7 on kick attempts, including the game-winner. There were struggles on the new-look offensive line, which led to struggles in the run game. And there were questionable play calls from Marcus Freeman after what had been a very solid defense for three quarters, sans a couple of big plays.

But the Irish are 1-0 and that’s what matters. They’ve got two must-wins heading into a brutal five-game stretch that will really determine their season. First up is Toledo. No offense to the Rockets, but Notre Dame will not measure their success by the result in this one. A win should be virtually guaranteed — but Notre Dame evidently needs to iron out some wrinkles. I want to see Avery Davis more involved in the offense, the Irish stay aggressive on defense and the run game to get some traction. If the Irish do those things, they should be able to play Drew Pyne and Tyler Buchner in the second half and cruise to victory.
Notre Dame 52, Toledo 13

Mannion McGinley — Sports Editor

Sunday night’s game had an end no one expected and my immediate reaction was “Oh no. I can NOT do this all season.” Then the stats came out the next day, and the reality of it all was that the Irish played really well. A Milton-led FSU was just better than expected. What does concern me is how quickly injuries popped up but even then, the guys who stepped in for Fisher and Liufau were ready to play.

So now, in this Week 2 matchup, the Irish just have to do all the good again (killer passing game, insane turnovers, clutch kicking, etc.) and be properly prepared for any potential bad (previously injured but incredibly high skilled QBs, for example). However, with very little space in their roster to have any looming threats, Toledo should be a game for the Irish to fill in any holes or clean up any messes on the field before taking on a long stretch of intense games.
It is also a game to consider the future. Jack Coan will leave after this year. If I have said anything, it’s how much of a problem that is for next season if we don’t get Drew Pyne or Tyler Buchner some time on the field — preferably Buchner, for longevity’s sake. The Irish need to score a lot and score early, leaving both enough time and enough breathing room for the quarterback room to take turns on the gridiron. While the Rockets played a very lopsided game against the Norfolk State Spartans, holding them to 10 points gives me hope that the defense will be just strong enough to make time in the game worth it for Pyne or Buchner, but not so tough that any member of our offense feels impeded.
While I know ND isn’t the school to run up the score (either because we can’t or we won’t, depending on the day), now is the time to figure out a way to make that happen and allow the depth chart to stretch its legs.
Notre Dame 55, Toledo 10

Nate Moller — Sports Writer

After an emotional, stressful victory in Tallahassee, the Irish travel back home for their home opener against MAC opponent Toledo. There were a lot of positive and negative takeaways from the performance against Florida State. Jack Coan and the Irish passing game was arguably the best part of the Irish win on Sunday. Coan commanded the offense and made some big-time throws when needed. The incorporation of wide receivers Kevin Austin Jr. and Joe Wilkins Jr. into the passing game alongside tight end Michael Mayer should be a great combination going forward. I would love to see the Irish utilize Braden Lenzy and Avery Davis more going forward as well. The offensive line could be an issue for the Irish, especially with left tackle Blake Fisher out for some time. The defense will have to improve as well, as Florida State found a way to run and pass the ball very consistently against the Irish in the fourth quarter.

As far as the Toledo game this week, the Irish must not underestimate the Rockets. Toledo will likely be fighting to win a MAC Championship game this year, and they are a far better team than people are giving them credit for. In their opening win of the season against Norfolk State, Toledo won easily and displayed a good combination of passing and rushing in a dominating victory. Notre Dame will be a much stiffer opponent, however, and I expect the Irish to pull away late in the second quarter.
Notre Dame 45, Toledo 24

Emily DeFazio — Associate Sports Editor

I am warier of my prediction this week than I was for FSU, given that all of our forecasts were far from what actually occurred in Tallahassee that night. Never had it crossed my mind that the season opener would be a close battle, and an overtime road victory at that. That being said, it also hadn’t crossed my mind that certain aspects of the Irish game could be better than I expected. Jonathan Doerer went from completing only 65% of his field goal attempts in 2020 to posting a perfect night and eventually winning the game for Notre Dame. I was also thoroughly impressed at the passing game on offense; Jack Coan’s debut proved to be one of the instrumental parts of the victory and, frankly, one of the most enjoyable aspects to watch. Kevin Austin Jr. had a career night because of this, and I anticipate Coan’s arm to become a more integral part of the offense in the future.

My trepidation this week comes in the run game and the defense. Chris Tyree was able to make a few good rushes; the second an opening began, the running back was already through. Even then, he was stopped far shorter than he should have been. Kyren Williams was also consistently shut down by the FSU defense, and he will need to be able to make moves down the field for the running game to be effective. Kyle Hamilton was a star on the field with his two interceptions (still trying to figure out how he crossed the field at that speed for the second one), but the rest of the defense needs to iron out the kinks and become the well-oiled machine we know them to be. For these reasons, again, Notre Dame should not underestimate Toledo. Especially after seeing what happened in Florida, watch for the Rockets to come prepared to exploit these weaker aspects of the game. Despite this, I anticipate this game being a little easier on the Irish, and expect them to pull away by a larger margin, and wouldn’t be surprised if Drew Pyne or Tyler Buchner sees the field late in the second half.
Notre Dame 50, Toledo 21

Jimmy Ward — Associate Sports Editor

The perfect cap to a Labor Day weekend of football proved to be a stressful affair for Irish fans. They escaped Tallahassee with a win but it was surely not in a fashion that anyone was expecting. I think we can chalk this up to first-game jitters, playing in an atmosphere unlike anything they had experienced in the past year. Not to mention the fact that they were battling a team that was coming into that atmosphere at Doak Campbell Stadium honoring ’Noles legend Bobby Bowden, hungry for a win and looking to make a statement on national television.

I think this game against Toledo will provide this team an opportunity to showcase what they are capable of doing on their home turf, in an environment some players on the roster haven’t even had the chance to experience quite yet, in front of a rowdy, loud, excited crowd filling Notre Dame Stadium. The good things we saw surface in the thriller at Florida State will continue to pour over into this team’s play for the rest of the season, and this game against Toledo will be the first real preview we get of just how much this new roster can do. I expect the Irish to be too much for this Toledo team to handle and we get an exciting home opener that sees the Irish run it up and extend their record-breaking home win streak.
Notre Dame 48, Toledo 13 

Colin Capece — Assistant Managing Editor

The Irish came away with a victory last week in Tallahassee and that’s really what matters, but they sure did everything they could have to blow their season opener in the second half. I predicted last week that the Irish would come out of the gate fast and bury Florida State later on, and they certainly looked the part with a perfect opening drive that included four pass plays and zero (zero!) run plays. But the Irish let Florida State claw their way back and erase an 18-point deficit before needing a missed field goal in overtime to squeeze out a victory on the road.

There’s a laundry list of things the Irish need to improve after Week 1, but the most glaring is the run defense. Notre Dame gave up 264 yards on the ground and let FSU tailback Jashaun Corbin break an 89-yard touchdown run. As Brian Kelly alluded to after the game, Notre Dame did not execute well at all and had missed tackles in both the backfield and the open field, which led to a handful of big plays for the Seminoles. The defense will have an opportunity to right the ship against Toledo at home, a team that the Irish should be able to dominate at the line of scrimmage. The offense also needs to continue with the aggressive play calling that Tommy Rees utilized from the jump because Jack Coan is clearly an offensive difference-maker. I expect him to throw early and often against the Rockets to put them on their heels before Kyren Williams finds his groove in the second quarter. The Irish are more talented in every facet of the game and should win this one handily.
Notre Dame 48, Toledo 7

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About Aidan Thomas

A junior marketing and ACMS major at Notre Dame, I've countered the success I've enjoyed as a New England sports fan with the painful existence of a Notre Dame football fan.

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