Phew! BYU got out of those first 4 games with a 2-2 record! That’s pretty good. Don’t relax too much, Cougar fans, because this may be the most important stretch of the season. How will this BYU team fare against tough G5 opponents? This will be what defines BYU’s season, not the first 4 games. Up first in the G5 slate is Toledo, where BYU travels to Ohio for a rematch of a 55-53 classic from 2016. I spoke with Steve Helwick from Hustle Belt to get a feel for what Toledo is this year, as well as how he thinks these teams will match up in this year’s contest.
Vanquish the Foe: BYU and Toledo have faced each other one time, back in 2016 in a game that saw Jamaal Williams and Kareem Hunt go back and forth in a 55-53 barn-burner of a game. How does the Toledo team this year differ from the 2016 version?
Steve Helwick: From 2016 to 2019, Toledo’s offensive talent hasn’t wavered. Jason Candle’s teams have held top 20 scoring offenses every single season and this team looks destined to achieve that feat again once MAC play initiates. However, the Rockets forte in the offense has shifted away from the passing game and toward the rushing game. The quarterback Mitchell Guadagni contrasts from 2016 quarterback Logan Woodside, as Guadagni is a more lethal rushing threat. Bryant Koback is one of the country’s most underrated running backs and the depth at the position remains strong with veteran Shakif Seymour in the mix. Toledo suffered major turnover at the wide receiver position, which has slightly hampered the passing game. But from 2016 to 2019, not much has moved the needle in terms of defensive performance for the Rockets.
VTF: In a week 2 win against Murray State, Toledo QB Mitchell Guadagni went 18-25 with 266 yards and 3 touchdowns. In a 41-35 victory against Colorado State, he only had 6 completions, but the team ran for 436 yards. What is the identity of the Toledo offense?
Steve: Toledo’s identity is still an offensive team, but the primary focus is the ground game. Guadagni can excel has a passer and he’s proved it before, but he’s never attempted more than 27 passes in a game like Woodside did on a routine basis. Instead, Guadagni’s scrambling ability and fantastic reads on option plays bolster Toledo’s offense in a different manner by creating an additional threat in the run game. Toledo rushed for 436 yards and four touchdowns against Colorado State, accounting for nearly 80% of the offensive production. With a stacked backfield and the absence of Diontae Johnson and Cody Thompson at wide receiver, Toledo will probably keep the ball grounded often in its competitive games.
VTF: Bryant Koback is the teams leading rusher through the first 3 games of the season with an average of 7.7 yards per carry. That is astounding! What makes him such a dynamic runner and so difficult for opponents to contain?
Steve: The things that make Bryant Koback a great runner are his patience and his ability to find optimal space to pursue at the line of scrimmage. In the third quarter against Colorado State, Koback ran for touchdowns of 37, 75, and 47 yards. Each time, he perfectly followed blockers, took smart angles, and turned on the jets as soon as he entered open space.
At 6’0” and 205, he’s got some power to him as well when encountering contact. He didn’t need to use it on his trio of touchdown runs last week, but his arsenal of skills combined with his intelligence make him one of the top backs in the country.
VTF: Is there a player of Toledo’s defense that can swing the outcome of the game single handed? What makes him so special?
Steve: Toledo has been looking for that defensive star for quite some time now. The Rockets didn’t produce a member of the All-MAC First or Second Teams a season ago. But if I had to pick one player to keep an eye on, I’d recommend No. 20, Saeed Holt. He’s a strong safety and former linebacker, so he basically plays a Deone Bucannon-esque style. He had 10 tackles, a tackle for loss, and a forced fumble against Kentucky and continues to lead the Rocket defense in total tackles. Holt is only a sophomore and scratching the surface of his potential, so he’ll be an interesting player to watch grow in his first year as a starter.
VTF: What will be the game plan for Toledo’s defense to give them a chance to win?
Steve: Pressure Zach Wilson and force him to make ill-advised throws. Toledo allowed both Kentucky quarterback Terry Wilson and Colorado State quarterback Patrick O’Brien to have excellent performances against its secondary after applying insubstantial amounts of pressure. Wilson has yet to return near the level of play we saw from him at the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, but that seems like a possibility if he’s given time in the pocket to scout downfield. BYU’s rushing game may not pose as great as a problem, especially without Ty’Son Williams there to lead the charge. This game’s all on Wilson, and if Toledo can prevent him from having his top performance of the season, BYU may struggle to match Toledo’s offensive production.
VTF: How should BYU look to exploit Toledo’s defense in order to give them the best chance to win the game?
Steve: Mix it up and stay balanced. BYU could finally ignite its running game against a defense that allowed nearly 250 yards to Colorado State’s Marvin Kinsey Jr. last Saturday night. Also, as mentioned earlier, Toledo’s secondary hasn’t done a remarkable job at stopping opponents’ passing attacks. Wilson should keep the offense versatile, spreading the wealth between Aleva Hifo, Micah Simon, and Matt Bushman. The Rockets’ defensive key to this game should be forcing turnovers because stops haven’t been coming easy against their two FBS opponents this season.
VTF: What are your predictions for how this game plays out?
Steve: This is a hard pick — one of the hardest ones I’ve made this season. I’ll go with BYU 30, Toledo 28. This has close game written all over it. I think Koback and Wilson both light up the stat-sheet with impressive numbers, but both teams will turn the ball over at least twice — preventing this game from entering 55-53 territory. The location at the Glass Bowl is almost making me re-write my pick to the Rockets, but I think the Cougars bounce back after suffering a brutal loss to Washington.
The BYU-Toledo game will be broadcast on ESPN+. Sign up for it here: https://watch.espnplus.com/collegefootball?irclickid=xGR0i-VMrxyJTGa0UfQwQyYMUknxQWRWU2ktTA0&irgwc=1&ex_cid=DSS-Affiliate-Impact-Content-Vox%20Media-661047