Win On Third Down
On paper, there are very few holes in the Rockets game. They run the ball well, racking up 189 yards per game, and they average a respectable 4.9 yards per carry. They have a dynamic passing attack that ranks in the top 30 in yards per game, passer rating. If there is a weakness its up front, the Rockets have given up 12 sacks on the season and can be knocked off schedule. It is vital for the Bearcats to do just that.
It has flown way under the radar this season. With all the available talking points from Munchie to, the emergence of the new look offensive line, and the surprising defensive play its easy to overlook third down defense. UC is 19th in the country in third down defense, and UC does that by getting teams off schedule with big plays, particularly sacks. Toledo is a dangerous offense, but as the saying goes, there aren't a lot of plays in the playbook for third and long. UC has to force Toledo into those spots to make life more difficult for Terrence Owens and crew.
Run To Win
Toledo is bad a defense, and that is putting it somewhat mildly. Against such a defense I would normally advocate playing the game at a faster pace. But that would play into the hands of the Rockets. UC runs with a nominally fast pace, averaging around 68 plays per game. But Toledo is even faster at 77 plays per game on average.Its in the Bearcats best interest in this game to control the pace and the tempo, and the best way to do that is with the running game.
Toledo fans are more concerned about the secondary, but their defensive line is a disaster right now. T.J. Fatinikun and Christian Smith, starting defensive ends at the start of the season, have been lost to injury for the year. Those injuries happened in the same game, against Western Michigan, pile onto another injury to starting defensive tackle Danny Farr.
Its not a great situation up front, defensively, for the Rockets. How bad is it; Matt Campbell has been forced to press not one or two, but three true freshmen into the defensive rotation. In the long run that will be a net positive for Toledo, but right now its patch work. UC has one of the best ground games in the country, and Toledo just gave up 383 yards on the ground to Eastern Michigan. A team that hadn't yet topped the 200 yard barrier before Saturday. Ground and pound.
In the event that this game becomes a shootout (more likely than I would like) the contest will be decided on the margins. With special teams play, where the return games are, essentially, equal, and the Bearcats have an advantage in terms of kick coverage and, well, kicking. But the Rockets have Bernard Reedy, which makes special teams a wash.
Defensively Toledo has issues, lots of them. Its really hard to give up 488 yards per game and not have issues. But there is one thing they do well, and that's force turnovers. The Rockets have 14 takeaways on the year, in other words two per game, which is quite good.
UC for its part has put the turnover bug to bed after the Delaware State game. Since that game the Bearcats have had just 1 turnover, against Virginia Tech, and have 10 consecutive quarters of turnover free Football. But UC has put the ball on the ground 4 times in those two games, but they did not lose any of them, which is an outlier. UC has to play clean against Toledo who is +6 in turnover margin.