The Boise State Broncos play the Toledo Rockets in the Glass Bowl on September 17, 2011, and it will be televised on ESPN. That will be the second game of the 2011 season for Boise State after their trip to Georgia two weeks earlier. This time the Broncos will be taking on a good Mid-American Conference member who finished 2nd in the West division behind Northern Illinois. Many think this years game will be a good test for an experienced Rockets team who return of a lot of players.
Last season Toledo was coming off three straight wins over Ohio, Western Michigan and Purdue when Wyoming went into the Rockets house and handed them a 20-15 loss in front of the hometown crowd. When they showed up at Boise State the next week, they took another beating, this time a 57-14 drubbing on the Blue. But the demoralized Rockets sucked it up and went on to a 9-5 season that ended with a trip to the Little Caesars Bowl.
Boise State will be coming off a bye after their Atlanta trip, while Toledo will be returning home from a tough road trip to Ohio State. The question is how banged up the Rockets will be. As for the Broncos, if they jump out to a lead you can expect their starters to leave the game early as they did last year and allow the backups to see some of the action. In the 2010 matchup, Moore threw three touchdowns in the first half, the offense rolled up 500 total yards, and the starters headed to the bench early in the third quarter. But if Toledo is healthy, that might not happen this year. The Rocket squad has the experience to face off against the Boise State players---and they won't be in awe as they seemed to be last year. Furthermore, Toledo will be pumped to have the Broncos at their house for this game.
But Bronco head coach Chris Peterson knows that. He also knows you can't take any team for granted and that teams change year to year. His task will be the need to keep the Broncos motivated after their trip to SEC land and not get caught napping because of overconfidence. Toledo is already fired up: a date with ESPN with Boise State being the highest ranked team to visit the Glass Bowl---its all good.
You don't think it can happen? Three years ago the Toledo team was 1-4 when they went up to Michigan and gave the Wolverines a 13-10 beating in their own house.
So just how good are the Toledo Rockets this season in comparison to Boise State? For one thing the Rockets return 18 starters that give experienced balance to the team: about an equal number return for both the offense and defense. They have plenty of experience and some great talent. They are also one of the most competitive teams in the MAC.
Toledo also has an excellent coach in Tim Beckman (13-12) who has proven that he knows his game. The former defensive coordinator for Oklahoma State took over as head coach in 2008 and struggled to a 5-7 record in 2009. Last year, however, he got the program on the upswing and finished 7-1 in conference play and went to a bowl game. Even recruiting is picking up under his watch, as more and more top-tier recruits are taking notice of his program. This year Scout.com has Beckman's team listed not far behind Boise State (68) in the recuiting rankings with a score of 74. The recruiting class for 2011 has nine players with a 3 star rating and nine more rated 2 stars, which is excellent for any mid-major program. Don't be surprised if you see a few of those guys on the field in September.
Toledo has two good quarterbacks in Austin Dantin and Terrance Owens. There have been indications they might even co-start (Dantin is coming off a shoulder injury). But you can't rule out he won't be the lone starter. He had a very good spring game where he led his offense to victory while Owens struggled with a long afternoon. Last season Dantin compelted 66.1% of his passes for 1254 yards, along with 7 TDs and 8 interceptions on 192 attempts for a rating of 124.7. But Owens was good, too, and ended the season with a rating of 143.8. He passed for 1244 yards with a pass completion rate of 59.5%, and had 13 TDs and 5 INTs. Acording to Beckman, one of the two will be the starter, but he won't say who until just before their season starts on September 1st.
The QB will have a great player to give him a hand out there. Eric Page is an All-American receiver and kick returner, and one of the best offensive players in the MAC. Rivals.com says he is the 91st best player in the country. In 2010, he caught 99 passes for 1105 yards with an 11.2 yard average. That rivaled his 2009 stats of 82 catches for 1159 yards. He can also be crafty: last year he surprised the defenders and completed 3 of 4 passes that averaged 17 yards. All three were for TDs. He rushed 31 times last season, averaging 5 yards a touch. Page will also be handling the punts and kickoffs for the Special Teams. This guy does it all.
Senior WR Kenny Stafford, 6' 4" 204 lbs, is the deep threat behind Page. His 18 receptions in 2010 averaged 18.9 yards, and one was a 75 yard bomb. He also hauled in 4 for TDs. Other WRs who will be in the game are Tim Cortazzo, 6' 1" 198 lbs, and junior Cordale Scott, 6' 4" 220 lbs. Scott is a big Illinois transfer who had a great spring practice and earned a starting postion. Another notable player during the spring game was Bernard Reedy, a sophomore receiver from Florida. He had eight catches for 143 yards so he is sure to get a chance downfield.
A big-time rusher is RB Adonis Thomas, 5' 10" 175 lbs. He is a hard-working, determined back who ran for 1,098 yards on 175 carries last year, each averaging 6.3 yards. Eight of those carries were punched in for touchdowns. Thomas also caught a 31 passes last season for 373 yards and 2 TDs making him a dual threat on the field. Thomas has backups eager to take a snap. Darius Reeves has shown he can do a nice job at running the ball, along with running back Morgan Williams.
This Toledo offensive squad will be going up against what is unquestionalby going to be one of the top ten defenses in the county again this year. Last season the Broncos were ranked 7th in scoring defense and they return all but one starting player. The Rockets will be lining up across from All-Americans DT Billy Winn and DE Shea McClellin, and they have two excellent players in Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe and Michael Atkinson as backups. Other starters are DT Chase Baker, DE Tyrone Crawford, LBs Byron Hout and Aaron Tevis, cornerbacks Jamor Taylor and Jerrell Gavins, and All-American safety George Iloka who will be backed up by Cedric Febis. Freshman safety Jeremy Ioane will also be a starter. And Hunter White will be in at nickel.Last season, the Rockets passed for 222 years against the Broncos, and Dantin accounted for 13 of 18 for 167 of those yards before he was carted off the field in the third quarter with a concussion. The Toledo runners were held to 65 rushing yards. The Broncos ended up forcing 5 turnovers. Beckman noted later that his team needed to have better ball control and not fall victim to fumbles and interceptions. Perhaps this year will be different.
Defensively, the Rockets have a good lineup with a lot of depth to man their 4-2-5 system. It is anchored by all-conference LB Dan Molls. Another starting LB will be senior Isaiah Ballard. T.J. Fatinikun is at DE. Another DE who could be starting is Jayrone Elliot, a 6-3 sophomore DE from Cleveland. The secondary looks to be in pretty fair shape going into the season. Desmond Marrow will be at corner and, if he's healthy Jermaine Robinson will be at safety along with Mark Singer. Up on the D-line, Malcom Riley and Johnie Roberts will be the two big tackles going after the Bronco runners.
They are going to be needing a good defensive strategy if they plan to stop the Broncos. Boise State's offensive band of usual suspects has, of course, All-American and Heisman candidate Kellen Moore back at the helm. He will be throwing to WR Tyler Shoemaker and WR Gerald Hiwat. Offensive tackle Nate Potter and tailback Doug Martin, and center Thomas Byrd are three more All-Americans ready to wreck havoc on the Toledo D-line. Add LG Joe Kellogg and TE Kyle Efaw to the offense lineup, put RB Doug Martin's backup, D.J. Harper in the backfield, and you have an awesome attack machine.The Rockets D-squad will be working hard not to get steamrolled in front of the fan base. Last year, the Broncos rolled to a huge victory with 293 passing yards and 207 rushing. If the Toledo team has any hope of winning, they will need to find a way to stop the relentless Broncos from having their way on the field. The key is to stay in it thru the first half. Last year the score was already 36-7 when the teams went into the locker rooms at half-time. At that point the game was essentially over.
If the Toledo Rockets could eek out an upset win over the Broncos it would be the highlight of their 2011 season. Most people would say they have about as much of a chance as a hotdog at a Georgia Bulldog game. But the reality is this: with a MAC championship within Toledo's reach again this year, and having last years experience in Boise to draw on---who knows? Upsets happen.