Before each Ohio State game, Eleven Warriors catches up with a media member who covers the opposing team to get their perspective on the Buckeyes’ upcoming opponent.
In this week’s Across The Field, we welcome back a familiar face: Former Eleven Warriors beat writer Kyle Rowland, who now covers Toledo for the Toledo Blade. While Rowland currently reports on the Rockets, he also has years of experience covering the Buckeyes, making him the perfect person to give us insight into the matchup of in-state opponents that will take place at Ohio Stadium on Saturday night.
After a 2-0 start to the season, do the Rockets have a chance of upsetting the Buckeyes this weekend? Rowland shares his thoughts on how good he thinks the Rockets can be this season, whether their highly ranked defense can keep up with Ohio State’s offense and what it means to Toledo to play on a national broadcast network this weekend for the first time ever.
Toledo has won its first two games by a combined score of 92-10, but those wins came against an FCS team (LIU) and one of the worst teams in the FBS (UMass). How good do you think the Rockets actually are?
Rowland: I think it’s an eight-win team, and it could be a 10-win team. Next week’s trip to San Diego State is a major 50/50 game that will tip their record in one direction or the other.
Defensively, the Rockets are really solid. The defensive line will be one of the best Ohio State faces all season. I think UT’s defensive line would be fourth- or fifth-best in the Big Ten. The entire defensive unit has been good since Vince Kehres took over as coordinator in 2020, and they continue to improve.
Offensively, however, there have been some hiccups in recent seasons. Injuries have played into it, but the line play has been subpar. Dequan Finn looks like he’s the answer at quarterback. He’s a dual-threat guy who can really create a lot with his legs. He needs to be more accurate, but he’s one of the hardest workers on the team, which is a great thing for your starting quarterback.
Toledo currently ranks in the top five nationally in both total and scoring defense. What’s been the key to its success defensively so far, and how capable do you think the Rockets are of matching up with C.J. Stroud and Ohio State’s offense?
Rowland: The aforementioned defensive line is the biggest factor. Tackle Desjuan Johnson is a force, with 4.5 tackles for loss in two games. Edge rusher Jamal Hines is another impact guy on the line. Penn State transfer Judge Culpepper, a tackle, has fit in well.
The linebackers also produce at a high level, starting with Ohio State transfer Dallas Gant, who’s been UT’s leading tackler in both games. Dyontae Johnson is the best leader on the team and has done nothing but make plays at Toledo. The secondary does a good job of not allowing chunk plays.
Desjuan Johnson, Hines and Dyontae Johnson should all be drafted in April. Johnson and Hines could go in the first three rounds. It’s rare for a MAC program to have that much depth.
Can they stop – or slow down – Ohio State? Yes, but I don’t think it can be sustained for 60 minutes. There is enough talent, and UT has enough bodies to make this a competitive game for a half or longer, but I have a hard time believing that the outcome will be in doubt during the fourth quarter.
This will be the first time Toledo has ever played in a game televised by a national broadcast network. How big of a deal is that for Toledo and its fans?
Rowland: It’s a huge deal for the football program, the university and their brand. If Toledo can hang in there and not get completely blown out, it’s something that can help recruiting. Maybe they’ll try to wear cool uniforms to attract attention. You would think they’ll have some gadget plays on offense that could get people talking. The university will have a commercial during the broadcast that they’ve promoted. UT really tries to use athletics to draw interest from prospective students.
Which Toledo players are most capable of doing some damage against the Buckeyes?
Rowland: I don’t think Finn, wide receivers Jerjuan Newton and DeMeer Blankumsee, and running backs Willie Shaw, Jacquez Stuart and Peny Boone are going to have a field day. But each of those guys are capable of making some big plays.
Defensively, I do think UT can get after Stroud and maybe slow down the run game.
Ohio State is favored to win this game by more than four touchdowns. Do you think that spread is where it should be, or do the Rockets deserve more credit from the oddsmakers? And how do you see the game playing out?
Rowland: I thought it would be around 28, so it’s a little higher than expected, but I don’t view it as disrespectful to Toledo. Ohio State is just really good. The one thing Toledo has in its favor is that it almost always rises to the occasion in these games. Since 2000, the Rockets have beaten Michigan, Penn State, Arkansas, Pitt and Iowa State. And they should have won at Ohio State in 2011 and at Notre Dame last season. I can see them putting a scare into Ohio State for a half. But the Buckeyes are the best team in the country, in my opinion. The amount of firepower they possess on offense simply cannot be contained by a MAC school. I’m going to say OSU wins 49-21.