Who: Toledo Rockets (2-1) @ Fresno State Bulldogs (2-1)
Where: Bulldog Stadium, Fresno, CA (Capacity, 40,727)
When: Saturday, Sept. 29, 7:30pm PT
How to Watch: Game is broadcast live on ESPNU
After a great romp over UCLA, the Bulldogs went into the bye week with great momentum, and got some needed rest for some battered and bruised players. Now they return home for the first time in almost a month to take on the Toledo Rockets of the Mid-America Conference to close out their OOC slate. The Bulldogs actually benefited from having the bye week when they did, because they were able to see both of their next opponents play when Toledo took on Nevada in Reno. Toledo won a shootout over the Wolf Pack 66-43 in a game where neither defense decided to show up, which should bode well for the Bulldogs and their vaunted defense.
Let’s get this out of the way first, the last time that Fresno State played Toledo, things went terribly for the Dogs. In the last season of the DeRuyter era, Logan Woodside and the Rockets blew them out 52-17 in a game that wasn’t even that close. But this is a vastly different team to that one, so I think we can all just pretend that game never happened.
This marks the second time that the Rockets will travel to Bulldog Stadium, and the 4th time overall that the two teams will matchup. Fresno State won the first two games between the teams in 2005 and 2008, with Toledo taking the 2016 game. This Fresno State team has a lot of similarities to that 2005 squad, and they took Toledo down 44-14 in a season that saw the Dogs get as high as #16 in the BCS. Toledo was also the last team from the MAC that Fresno State beat back in 2008, as meetings between the two conferences have been a bit thin on the ground outside of the Potato Bowl.
As the Rockets enter Year 4 of Jason Candle at the helm, they’ve been a model of consistency in the G5, winning between 9 and 11 games every year since 2014. They’ve done it behind a strong and efficient offense and sometimes porous defense, and the 2018 squad appears to be more of the same. Their starting QB, junior Mitchell Guadagni, leads the team in both passing and rushing, and brings in a passer rating of 205. Not shabby at all through three games. He’s thrown for 9TDs to only 1INT, and 698yds in 39 completions. Decent stats overall, and they’re definitely an offense not known for turning the ball over. Now, to be completely honest, they haven’t quite faced any defenses known for takeaways, so that may be skewed. They blasted VMI, and Nevada’s defense is somewhere between theoretical and bad. They did thud pretty hard against Miami, but even then, they racked up 340yds and 24 points.
The Bulldog defense has so far been giving up 294yds/game, and only 16 points, both of which are far under what Toledo has averaged this season. They’ve also forced 12 turnovers, good enough for 2nd in the country. These WRs will also be the best the Dogs have seen this season, and will probably be the best group they see for awhile. Cody Thompson has been the star and name to watch coming into the season, especially after his incredible punt block TD against VMI in Week 1. The senior has been good for 16.5yds/catch and 4TDs already, but is overshadowed by Diontae Johnson so far. Johnson has racked up 246yds and 4TDs as well on only 12 receptions, more than 20yds/catch. Both guys know how to get outside and bring the ball down, so expect a lot of focus on that for the Fresno State secondary this week.
Fresno State Preview:
First, some extra good news that I haven’t yet covered. It looks like the back injury Marcus suffered in the UCLA game was just a tweak, and he seems to be perfectly fine now. The week off came at a good time for him. Elsewhere, sophomore running back Ronnie Rivers appears to be on his way back, practicing in pads for the first time since Spring Ball when he suffered a foot fracture. Coach Tedford didn’t say whether or not he’ll play against Toledo, but I’d expect him back in some capacity for conference play.
Now for the actual game at hand. The biggest emphasis against UCLA was getting a good push from the offensive line, and boy did they deliver. The Bulldogs were able to out-physical the Bruins for 420yds and 38 points, and I’d look for them to do the same against Toledo this week. If there’s one area that the Rocket defense is weakest in, it’s the run game. Against just FBS opponents, Toledo has been giving up 6yds/carry on the ground, and 265/game. Not exactly stellar numbers. Nevada more than doubled their season rushing total against Toledo last week, going from 190 to 452. So far, the Dogs have been averaging 4yds/carry through 3 games, and rushed 52 times against UCLA. If I’m Jordan Mims, Dejonte O’Neal, and Josh Hokit, I’m looking forward to this matchup in the ground game. And after scoring 4 rushing TDs against UCLA, look for Marcus McMaryion to get more involved in RPO play and misdirection on the ground.
On the passing front, I’d expect the game plan to be more of pass when you need to to keep the defense honest instead of relying on the passing game. I’m sure Keesean Johnson will extend his FBS-leading reception streak, and inch closer to Davante Adams’ records, but I don’t think we’ll see a 200+yd game from him or the WR corps. Now, I’d love to see that, of course, but I think this game will be more ground and pound than high-flying acrobatics from the Fresno State offense.
A season after having the country’s 13th best defense, we all expected a bit of regression from the Fresno State defense, especially after losing 4 line players and the defensive coordinator. Apparently though, no one told that to the players. After 3 games, they’re sitting at 15th in the country, and the 9th most efficient defense according to FPI. The revamped D-Line continues to get pressure on QBs, and the back seven have made life a living hell for opposing offenses. The LB corps continues to make themselves a lot of money if they go to the draft after this season, and the secondary has been picking pockets left and right. Jeff Allison continues to be the best LB most of the country doesn’t know about, and is seemingly everywhere on the field during plays. Against UCLA, he clogged up running lanes, pressured receivers, and even logged both of Fresno State’s interceptions. Look for more of the same from our resident human missile against the Toledo offense.
On the weather front, it actually looks like it’ll be a perfect Fall day for Bulldog football. The predictions right now put the temp at a high of only 82, so I’d imagine it will be around 75 at kickoff. Can’t get much better than that for a football game. The Red Wave should be rocking to welcome their team home, so attendance will probably be in the 30-33k area. Not a sell-out by any stretch, but solid attendance from a notoriously fickle fanbase.
Both S&P and FPI give the Bulldogs a big advantage in this game, and Vegas has Fresno State as a 7.5pt favorite as of this article. S&P gives the Dogs a 68% chance of a win, and FPI is even more optimistic, giving Fresno State an 86% chance of moving to 3-1. I’m going to personally split the difference, and says there’s a 75% chance the Dogs can take care of business at home and close out their non-conference schedule with a win. I just think the Bulldog defense is going to overwhelm the Rockets, and the Fresno State running game will find miles of open lanes against a porous Toledo defense.