Toledo Rockets question and answer
Heading into this week's Homecoming game, the Daily News is debuting a new weekly piece in which we speak with the opposing team's beat writer. Toledo, a team right outside the top 25 in the polls (No. 26), looks to come into Muncie to spoil Ball State's Homecoming.
In what looks to be a great game, Daily News football writer, Evan Sidery spoke to Nick Piotrowicz, the Rockets' beat writer for the Toledo Blade. Here are Piotrowicz's thoughts on the game.
Q: For the first time since 2001, Toledo is undefeated through its non-conference schedule. How is this team different compared to previous ones? This defense looks pretty legit, if I must say so myself.
A:. This team is more well-rounded than the other ones have been, which is most apparent in how it defends the pass. Under Matt Campbell, Toledo always has had excellent offensive lines and good skill players, but the pass defense was dicey at best. Now, they have probably 8-10 legitimate guys in the secondary, which they didn't always, to say the least.
Campbell said all offseason that this was the deepest team he has had.
Q: Toledo is shutting down team's once they enter the red zone (1/11 touchdowns in RZ). Compare that to Ball State's offense this season, where they are struggling to put it in the end zone (8/19 attempts). How big of an advantage do you see that as for the Rockets
A: It's going to be important, one way or another. When Ball State gets into the red zone, it just has to score touchdowns. If the Cards are getting down there and settling for field goals (or less), that does not bode well. Realistically, if Ball State is going to win this game, it'll need a couple of touchdowns inside the 20.
Q: Orion Jones's play in the past two weeks has been impressive for an interior defensive lineman (11 tackles, 4.5 sacks). How big of a factor is Jones for Toledo's defense, and how will he fare against Jacob Richard, one of the nation's best centers?
A: Believe it or not, Jones is arguably their fourth-best defensive lineman. That's the deepest position group on Toledo's roster. The guys that play next to him, tackle Treyvon Hester and end Allen Covington, are all-MAC-caliber players. The other end, Trent Voss, is one of the better defensive players in the league. The guys behind them aren't big drop-offs, either.
Richard is really good and can take out one of them, but Ball State will need its entire line to be pretty good.
Q: Riley Neal, the true freshman quarterback for Ball State, has given this offense another dimension with his ability to run. How do you expect Toledo will game plan to stop him and rest of the Cardinals runners (Darian Green and James Gilbert)?
A: Toledo didn't do a very good job against the first mobile quarterback it played, Sam B. Richardson of Iowa State. Richardson elongated a ton of plays and Toledo couldn't put him on the ground. Iowa State converted 15 third-downs in that game, mostly because of Richardson's mobility, so Neal's ability to run certainly is a concern for Toledo.
I think what the Rockets' defense will try to do is rattle Neal with pre-snap movement and lots of blitzing. Without a doubt, Toledo wants to stop the run and make Ball State win the game by throwing.
Q: What do you think are the keys to the game for a Toledo victory? Also, what would have to happen for them to drop their first game of the season?
A: First is to protect the ball. Ball State doesn't make many mistakes, so short fields and awry possessions can really corner a team, especially on the road. The second is getting Ball State in third-and-long. Neal is a really promising freshman, but let's not forget he was in high school only months ago. Toledo wants to put him in tough spots and make him win the game.
For Toledo to lose, I think Ball State has to do two things: score at least seven points off turnovers and be efficient on offense. The more Ball State's offense can gain first downs and keep the ball away from Toledo, the better.
A: The Toledo-Ball State series is notoriously close, so I won't pretend to be confident in the pick. A lot more is at stake for Toledo, though, which is looking at the top 25 and a chance at one of the big bowl games. I think Toledo wins with a late score, 31-24.