Colorado State Football: First Look at the Toledo Rockets
The Rams will travel to Ohio to battle Toledo in non-conference action. Here’s our early preview of what to know about Rockets football.
One of the MAC’s most consistent programs will be tough.
Colorado State Football: First Looks at Non-Conference Opponents
After opening the 2021 football season with a pair of home games, the Colorado State Rams will hit the road and face the Toledo Rockets in the Glass Bowl on September 18.
The Rockets haven’t quite hit the same peaks since Matt Campbell’s departure in 2015, but Rams fans certainly remember how potent Toledo can be from their explosive victory in Fort Collins two years ago. Not much has changed, so Steve Addazio and company will have work to do in order to outlast their latest bout with MACtion.
Location: Toledo, Ohio
2020 Record: 4-2 (4-2 MAC)
Head Coach: Jason Candle (seventh year, 38-21 overall). The Rockets were achingly close to having a much different 2020 season, as two losses by a combined six points to Western Michigan and eventual MAC West champion Ball State were all that stood between Toledo and their shot at a second conference title in four years.
They’ll be in a good position to try and reach the pinnacle once again this fall. By one measure, the Rockets are among the top ten most stable rosters in the country and while they aren’t without questions to address heading into fall camp, Toledo won’t be intimidated by a Rams team that won’t be shy about its desire to assert physicality.
C Bryce Harris
For the Toledo offense, it all begins up front. Colorado State fans can surely appreciate that, in Harris, the Rockets happen to have one of the best and most experienced interior linemen in the Group 5.
Since breaking into the starting lineup back in 2016, Harris has seen time at center and both guard positions and bounced back from injury in 2019 to earn first-team all-MAC honors after helping the Rockets average 6.42 yards per play on offense. Watching what he can do against the likes of Manny Jones, Devin Phillips and others will be an important element of this matchup.
DT Desjuan Johnson
Johnson cracked the starting lineup two years ago as a defensive end, but lining up on the inside made him a real terror across the MAC last season. He led the Rockets with eight tackles for loss and three sacks, so he’ll be a major focal point if the Rams want to win in the trenches.
RB Bryant Koback
If CSU fans remember anything from the last time these two teams clashed, it’s probably this junior running back from Holland, Ohio, who torched the Rams for 228 rushing yards and four total touchdowns. He’s been one of the better runners in the MAC since then, running for 522 yards in 2020 while also contributing 24 receptions out of the backfield.
CB Samuel Womack
If getting the ball to Dante Wright is a priority every week, then Womack is likely to be the guy assigned to ensure that doesn’t happen against the Rockets. According to Pro Football Focus, wide receivers had a harder time getting open against Womack than almost anyone in the Group of 5 and he finished 2020 with a top-ten incompletion rate, so this could also be a critical one-on-one duel for both sides.
WR Isaiah Winstead
The Rockets are loaded with options in the passing game, but Winstead could be the biggest threat of all. He led the team with 25 catches for 429 yards — a healthy 17.1 yards per catch average that was surpassed by just two other MAC receivers who had at least 25 receptions themselves — and scored three touchdowns.
Like the Rams themselves, experience and depth won’t be an issue at many positions but whoever ends up under center, and how well they perform, could make or break Toledo’s fortunes.
Last year’s starting quarterback, Eli Peters, recently retired to transition into coaching but, thankfully, the Rockets had opportunity to break in new incumbent Carter Bradley late in 2020. He showed plenty of promise in two starts against Northern Illinois and Central Michigan, though curtailing turnovers (five interceptions in 89 attempts) will almost certainly be a point of emphasis in the fall.
Elsewhere, Winstead might be the passing game’s big-play generator but he’s hardly alone with Bryce Mitchell (13 catches, 306 yards, 4 TDs), Danzel McKinley-Lewis, and tight end Drew Rosi are all back for 2021, as well. On the ground, Koback won’t have to shoulder the entire burden, either, as Toledo also returns promising redshirt freshman Micah Kelly (44 carries, 208 yards, 2 TDs) though both will have a hand in helping the Rockets improve upon ranking 89th in rushing success rate.
Combined with an offensive line that returns all five starters, Toledo presents as complete a challenge as any Colorado State will face this season.
You’d be hard-pressed to a find a defense anywhere in the country with more continuity since all 11 starters from 2020 are back for another season. Considering the Rockets already ranked just outside the top 30 in points allowed per drive, their ceiling could be very high.
Up front, the name of the game will be creating more havoc in the passing game to complement how good the front seven was against the run. Toledo ranked 40th in stuff rate, 25th in line yards per carry allowed, 17th in opportunity rate allowed and first in power success rate, but a modest 5.2% sack rate ranked 91st among FBS teams.
It may not take much for the front six to take a leap forward, either. A trio of defenders — defensive ends Jamal Hines and Terrence Taylor and linebacker Dyonte Johnson — each had 4.5 tackles for loss and have the talent to rack up more.
In the secondary, you could argue the Rockets had a mild streak of bad luck because while they ranked third in the MAC with 26 passes defended, they also had just four interceptions as a team. Womack is the standout but strong safety Tycen Anderson has been a Toledo mainstay as a three-year starter who chose to return as a super senior for 2021. As on offense, there aren’t many obvious weak links on this side of the ball.
The Rams will be a tough out week in and week out, but the question about whether the offense can hold up its end of the bargain is one that could hold them back from time to time, especially against a seasoned opponent with weapons aplenty of its own. Despite the Rockets’ own quarterback questions, they should have enough in the tank to win a close battle.
Toledo 31, Colorado State 24