I have to apologize to everyone. The X&O piece will not be coming out this week, class workload has been pretty rough. I will combine both this weekend's and last games into one big X&O piece next week or the Indiana week, in order to give a good primer into what we should expect for the Tiger's first road game of the season.
Now back to Toledo and the Q&A!
First off, I'll share the questions that LetsGoRockets asked about Mizzou this weekend, and my answers listed below.
1) What did you learn about your team from the Murray St. game?
We learned a lot about Mizzou, yet also not really anything at all. We learned that Henry Josey is back, and not only is he running the ball effectively, he seems to have the speed that made him an elite running back for the majority of the 2011 season. We also learned that our new Offensive Coordinator was true to his word, and we did see many more Tight End in tight formations, pistol sets, and a heavier reliance on the run game. But we also didn't learn some things about this team. Beating up an FCS team makes it hard to judge the team in general. The line struggled to get holes open at times (at least in the first half). Is that because of an above average D-Line for Murray State, or was it Mizzou keeping things vanilla and not giving up tape of how they alter their blocking scheme against certain fronts? We shall see. Was Murray State's QB and O Line really good or is our D Line also keeping things vanilla? But most importantly over all, we learned that this team was and has stayed healthy. And healthy is very, very good for Mizzou.
2) What aspect of the Missouri game plan concerns you the most?
The part of the game plan that concerns me most about this weeks game plan is the D-Line of Mizzou. Murray State's offense ran a lot of quick to the flat throws, and QB runs up the middle to negate our D End play. And it showed in the stat line, with most of our D Lineman having goose eggs or a very, very limited number of tackles. While it is easy to say Murray State planned it that way, it will be important for the Ends (Kony Ealy, Michael Sam and Shane Ray) to get some pressure this week, and for our D Tackles to plug up the middle and wreck some havoc. If we can get some hurries, sacks and collapse the pocket, Mizzou should be looking pretty on D, especially with Toledo's forte being the pass. Besides the D Line, the LB and Secondary corps played very well last week, and this game will be an excellent test of our pass defense and cover skills, especially with our somewhat young secondary.
3) What are three keys to Missouri’s success in this game?
As outlined above, one major key to success will be a general improvement in the play of our D Line. The second and third keys to victory will be on offense, with O Line play and Quarterback play being major factors in how Mizzou competes in this game and prepares for the rest of the season. Will the O Line fully dominate against an opponent they should dominate, unlike last game? If they can, the holes should be bigger for both Henry Josey and Russell Hansbrough, and that is a very, very good thing. And this will be Senior Quarterback James Franklin's second game in the Off. Coord. Josh Henson's system. He needs to continue to show the comfort and confidence in the system he displayed last game, and continue to lead the offense on efficient and successful possessions, as well as negating turnovers, we don't need to give Toledo any more chances to play catch and run. If we can meet these three goals, Mizzou should play very, very well on Saturday.
4) Toledo is very familiar with Gary Pinkel from his time with our program. Do you think that tie factors into this game at all and will help or hurt either team?
4. Pinkel himself has said this week that this weekends game isn't sentimental to him, that it is nothing more than football game. But I think, and I don't mean offense with this at all, that if the game goes as MU fans and odds makers think it will, Pinkel will call off the dogs earlier than he normally would, I don't think that he will want to run up the score against his old team. But otherwise, I think this game is business as usual for Mizzou.
5) Coach Pinkel is in his 13th season with the Tigers. He has experienced some successful years, and more recently, some sub-par performances along with off field issues. He is undoubtedly on the hot seat this season. What needs to happen for him to keep his job?
The answer is pretty easy, as it is the goal of most coaching staffs besides the perennial National Championship contenders, a winning season and a bowl appearance. That outcome ensures that Pinkel keeps his job. If he fails at that, I really don't see a way that he keeps his job, which is unfortunate. Pinkel has earned himself a pass for a sub par season. But the move to SEC made a sub par season unacceptable, and a second will likely bring in a coaching change. The good news for MU is that the team, unlike last year's, is healthy, the young offensive talent has gained a year of experience in SEC play, and we have a Senior QB in charge of the offense. A repeat of a losing season and no bowl berth is highly unlikely, and many fans have their sights set higher that .500.
And now, here are my questions and LetsGoRocket's answers..
1) How did Toledo fair against Florida? What were the positives and negatives from the game, and how do those project upon the Missouri game?
Toledo appeared mostly flat against Florida on their way to a 24-6 defeat. A major frustration was seeing the offense turn to short screens and dump passes which is reminiscent of our Amstutz-led days. While the positives were few, we were pleasantly surprised by seeing a better than expected defense. While there are still questions about the secondary, the defense was not as porous as expected and, though this was our first outing, we’re cautiously optimistic that they’ve taken a few steps forward in the off season. Special teams looked balanced and our only points of the game were thanks to Detmer, who was spot-on, as usual.
2) What is the most important strength and most glaring weakness that Toledo brings to Columbia on Saturday? Also greatest strength and weakness you see in Missouri?
For sure, Toledo’s offense is it’s greatest strength. One year removed from a 2 QB system, Owens is a solid QB who has the reigns all to himself now. With a capable WR corp led by Reedy and Russell and a 1000+ yard rusher in Fluellen, TOL has a host of offensive playmakers and should be able to mix things up offensively.
Our greatest weakness is something we’ve been highlighting for the last few years, our defensive secondary. We’ll be the first to admit that after our week 1 game, we feel slightly more optimistic that this coaching staff has addressed the issues and now has the athletes in place to tighten the coverage up. In the past, a flimsy secondary has quickly been picked apart by QB-WRs combos without remorse. A season opener isn’t always an accurate account of a team, but the Missouri stat line from last week is dizzying (336 passing yards to 11 different receivers) and if this passing display is in full force again this week, Toledo will have to prove they’ve tightened up if they want to have any chance in this game.
Missouri had two backs with over 100 yards last week and certainly highlights the potency of their rushing attack. This is something the Rockets will have to remain vigilant against and the difference in whether Missouri is successful in running the ball may be the difference in the outcome of the game.
3) What are 3 keys to success for Toledo?
1. Toledo has to throw the ball down the field to keep the defense honest and open up the game for the run game to get established.
2. Fluellen needs to get the ball early and often. He has the strength and skills to capitalize on the opportunity and can really help move things along if the passing game gets bogged down. Combine Fluellen’s strength with speedy option plays to Reedy and the running game can really prolong drives.
3. Our final key to success to to continue to play Toledo football and not allow our play calling to suffer. We cannot fall into the trap of the plays not giving us every advantage in this game. We witnessed in the Florida game that being outmatched (or even the perception of this) altered our play calling to such an extent that we weren’t putting the ball in the hands of our playmakers and that is a death-sentence. If we approach this game like any typical game and call plays that give our athletes the best possible scenarios to operate, we have a greater chance at being successful than if we allow the perception of failure to dictate our play calling. For example, bubble screens against a swarming defense last week left our WRs/RBs in the backfield with the ball and without a leg to stand on. They had no chance to be successful because the play calling stacked the odds against them. We have to be confident, continue to run north and south, and take shots down the field where appropriate. Get the ball to the playmakers as we’ve done in the past and let the play calling follow our normal cadence. It is important to adapt to an opponent and learn from your mistakes and their tendencies, but it’s more important to play your style of ball and keep to familiar territory in the play calling.
4) How has Toledo fared in general after the departure of Coach Pinkel? How is he remembered among your fan base?
The Rockets have fared well since Coach Pinkel’s tenure. After his departure, defensive coordinator Tom Amstutz was promoted to head coach. The first few years were strong, with the Rockets finishing tied for first place in the West 4 out of 5 years but saw a decline in performance after that. Coach Tim Beckman was the next head coach and help build a resurgent Rocket program which was handed over to Matt Campbell who has in his second season as head coach.
Since Pinkel’s move to Missouri, the Rockets have defeated B1G opponents Minnesota, Michigan, and Purdue, Big XII Kansas, Colorado and Iowa State, as well as Navy, Cincinnati, UNLV, and #9 Pittsburgh. Since the departure of Pinkel, the Rockets are 89-62, 58.9% winning percentage.
In our experience, the Toledo fanbase seems to have favorable memories of Pinkel’s time at Toledo including the 2000 victory over Penn State and an undefeated season in 1995, capped by a victory over Nevada in the Las Vegas Bowl. While many of the older fans remember all that Pinkel had done for the program, we’ve noticed that the recent graduates really don’t know much about him as he is three coaches removed from the program.
5) Following the MU game, how do you see the rest of the season playing out? After last years successful season, do you anticipate another bowl berth and (even though short) another Top 25 ranking?
After two weeks of SEC opponents, Toledo has Eastern Washington as a home opener and then turns to the conference portion of our schedule (save for a Navy matchup on 10/19). After seeing Eastern Washington take out #25 Oregon State last weekend, we aren’t so sure they are going to be a typical FCS opponent. QB Adams threw for 411 yards and rushed for 107, so the young Toledo defense might have its work cut out for them. Following the MU game, the Rockets could win out the remainder of the season or possibly drop up to 4 games. It’s impossible to speculate on a bowl game at this point because the verdict still is out on whether this young Rocket defense can be consistent and if the offense can get back in a groove.
And there you have it! The guys from LetsGoRockets seem pretty confident. And according to Bill's numbers and my gut, they should be. This could be a scary game for the Tigers, but hopefully only scary for the first half or so until Steck and the D make adjustments and shuts down the high flying Rocket's offense.
And because they were great guys, go on over and see LetsGoRockets version of the Q&A over at their place.