The Toledo Rockets have started this season with a pair of wins, shutting out Long Island University 37-0 in their opener and then outpacing Massachusetts 55-10. This Saturday night, however, they face an entirely different animal as they head to Ohio State and the unfriendly confines of Ohio Stadium.
Toledo head coach Jason Candle has been pleased with his team’s preparation and performance to this point, but he knows his team is about to move up a bunch of levels against the Buckeyes.
“Now the challenge is to take the jump from week two to three here, and obviously this weekend is a monster one,” Candle told reporters on Monday. “One that’s a tremendous challenge for us. We have a lot of respect for the coaching staff. We have a lot of respect for and know the talent and the history and the tradition that that place has, and I think it’ll be a great opportunity for our guys to go out and compete in a great environment, so we look forward to that.”
Candle and his team have been preparing for this game for a while, but preparation can only do so much because the Rockets haven’t seen anything like what they’ll be seeing on Saturday.
That being said, Toledo is preparing for a “60-minute fight.”
“This is a tremendous football team,” Candle said of the Buckeyes. “This is three preseason All-Americans on offense. This is a coaching staff that does as good as anybody does in the country. I think there’s a lot of things here that are in play, and lots of different variables here that you have to bring into focus. You’ve got to bring your ‘A’ game. You’ve got to play really well, play really sound. You’ve got to get a couple of breaks to go your way and you’ve got to hang in there for a full 60-minute fight. That’s what we’re expected to try to do and I’m sure that that’s what they prepare each and every week for too as well, a 60-minute fight no matter who you’re playing.”
The Trouble With The Buckeyes Offense
When Jason Candle mentions the three preseason All-Americans on offense, that doesn’t actually tell the whole tale. In fact, he is actually shortchanging somebody, as quarterback CJ Stroud, running back TreVeyon Henderson, wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba, and left tackle Paris Johnson have all appeared on various All-American teams this summer.
Smith-Njigba’s status notwithstanding, the Buckeyes still have receivers Marvin Harrison and Emeka Egbuka who are each averaging over 100 yard receiving per game. Running backs TreVeyon Henderson and Miyan Williams are averaging over 6.5 yards per carry together. And, oh yeah, quarterback CJ Stroud is arguably the best quarterback in the nation.
“I think there’s a playmaker at every position,” Candle said. “Obviously very great depth at running back. An elite guy I think is the bell-cow running back, and then they bring in Miyan Williams. Those guys are a great one-two punch. There’s elite receivers there. There’s solid play at tight end. Very well coached all the way across the board. So, it’s definitely a hard deal to prepare for, for sure.”
A Familiar Face
When the Buckeyes and Rockets warm up on the field together on Saturday, the Ohio State players will be seeing a familiar face across the way in former Buckeye linebacker Dallas Gant.
Gant entered the portal last year during the season and ended transferring to his hometown school.
So far this season, Gant has two starts at linebacker for the Rockets and is leading the team with 20 tackles.
When speaking of his time in Columbus with reporters on Monday, Gant had nothing but good things to say about his time at OSU.
“I don’t think I would be half the man that I am if I didn’t go there,” he said. “I am grateful for them. I am grateful for the people I met there and the relationships I built there. I have nothing negative to say about the experience.”
Gant has obviously been happy with his decision. He’s on the field more than ever and able to have the kind of impact he’s always believed he could. His head coach is also happy that Gant is now on his side.
“I think he’s a very instinctive player,” Candle said. “I think he’s been a very accountable player. A guy that is where he’s supposed to be. He’s got great physical traits. Length and size and his ability to run has showed up numerous times here the first couple football games. I think the number one thing is him being a great teammate and really understanding that he was coming into a situation where we had a good defense returning and how he could fit into that and how he can help us become a better defense, and he’s done a good job of that so far.”
[Header photo courtesy of the University of Toledo Dept. of Athletics.]