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Missouri at Toledo preview

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Toledo is experienced and deeper than a MAC team is supposed to be. The Rockets could find quite a bit of success against a Missouri team still working through its kinks. Hold on tight.

12 Sep 1998: Head coach Gary Pinkel of the Toledo Rockets looks on during the game against the Ohio State Buckeyes in Columbus, Ohio.
12 Sep 1998: Head coach Gary Pinkel of the Toledo Rockets looks on during the game against the Ohio State Buckeyes in Columbus, Ohio.
Rick Stewart / Getty Images

Since it's Friday, and I've managed to write neither of the Mizzou-Toledo previews I intended to write, we're going to merge them into one piece. Let's take a look at Toledo's depth chart and some relevant stats for tomorrow's game.

Offense

QB
Phillip Ely (6'1, 202, Jr.) (24-for-34, 337 yards, 4 TD, 0 INT, 0 sacks last week; 4 carries, 23 yards)
Logan Woodside (6'2, 210, So.)
Michael Julian (6'5, 215, RSFr.) (1-for-1, 23 yards)

RB
Kareem Hunt (5'11, 215, So.) (20 carries, 136 yards, 2 TD)
Damion Jones-Moore (5'7, 190, So.) (7 carries, 70 yards, 1 TD; 2 catches, 10 yards)
Marc Remy (6'0, 186, So.) (5 carries, 33 yards)

The good news is that the two players Missouri fans could absolutely name after last year's game -- quarterback Terrance Owens and running back David Fluellen -- are gone. Owens threw for 262 yards in Columbia last year (with three ill-timed picks), and Fluellen was a force, touching the ball 27 times (17 carries, 10 catches) and gaining 211 yards. Missouri was able to hold Toledo to field goals in the red zone and either turn turnovers into points (Markus Golden's pick six) or use them to prevent other scores (Matt White picked off a pass in the Missouri end zone as the first half expired, and Ian Simon picked on off as the Rockets were preparing to cross midfield). Still, Toledo was successful enough offensively to be pretty scary, and Mizzou fans should take at least a little bit of comfort in the fact that Owens and Fluellen are no longer in the backfield.

The bad news: their replacements could be pretty awesome. Alabama transfer Phillip Ely began last week's New Hampshire game 3-for-5 for 18 yards, then finished 21-for-29 for 319 yards and four touchdowns. Meanwhile, Kareem Hunt rushed 20 times for 136 yards and two touchdowns. Backups Damion Jones-Moore, Marc Remy, and Terry Swanson pitched in with 18 carries for 148 yards.

And no, New Hampshire's not that bad a team. Whereas South Dakota State currently ranks 79th in the Sagarin rankings (ahead of SMU, Illinois, Rutgers, Virginia and a lot of other teams Mizzou fans would be happier to beat by only 20 points), UNH comes in just 10 spots lower at 89th, ahead of teams like USF, North Texas, and Rice. The Wildcats aren't amazing, but they're not bad, and Toledo put 666 yards (8.3 per play) and 54 points on them, even after a slow first quarter. They're going to move the ball against Missouri, too.

WR-X
Alonzo Russell (6'4, 205, Jr.) (6 catches, 78 yards)
Zach Yousey (6'1, 195, So.) (1 catch, 23 yards)

WR-Z
Justin Olack (6'4, 220, Sr.) (3 catches, 24 yards, 2 TD)
Dwight Macon (6'0, 205, Sr.) (1 catch, 13 yards)

WR-M
Corey Jones (5'8, 165, So.) (4 catches, 78 yards, 1 TD)
Kishon Wilcher (5'7, 180, Jr.) (3 catches, 36 yards)

TE
Alex Zmolik (6'5, 245, Jr.) (4 catches, 58 yards)
Zac Rosenbauer (6'2, 255, Sr.)
Davi'on Riley (6'3, 215, Fr.)

Alonzo Russell caught seven passes for 101 yards against Missouri last year. Justin Olack proved effective in the red zone last week, catching just three passes for 24 yards but scoring twice. They are both 6'4, 205+, and for those worried about Missouri's struggles against bigger SDSU receivers last week, that's an obvious concern. Missouri has the athleticism to match this receiving corps -- that was evident last year, when players not named Russell or Fluellen combined for nine catches and just 61 yards -- but there is at least one matchup nightmare here. I'm curious how Missouri tries to adjust if Russell is able to take advantage of the smaller John Gibson or Aarion Penton. Does Dave Steckel go with the bigger, stronger (and potentially worse-tackling) Kenya Dennis instead?

LT
Josh Hendershot (6'4, 295, Sr.) (26 career starts)
Storm Norton (6'8, 310, So.)

LG
Jeff Myers (6'3, 290, Sr.) (26 career starts)
Mike Ebert (6'6, 285, So.)

C
Greg Mancz (6'5, 300, Sr.) (39 career starts, 2013 All-MAC)
Elijah Nkansah (6'6, 295, RSFr.)

RG
Robert Lisowski (6'4, 292, Sr.) (4 career starts)
Nate Jeppesen (6'4, 292, RSFr.)

RT
Chase Nelson (6'8, 315, Sr.) (10 career starts)
Paul Perschon (6'6, 310, So.)

I'm comfortable giving Missouri's defensive line the advantage in most games this season. The starting ends and the full two-deep at tackle are top-notch. But this bears mentioning:

One thing we know: the line shouldn't be a problem. Toledo was one of only six teams to place in the top 20 of both Adj. Line Yards and Adj. Sack Rates; obviously both of these measures evaluate more than simply line play, but when you rank highly in both, that's a good sign that either your line is great or your scheme and tactics are solid. Or both.

Zac Kerin is gone, but another three-year starter (and all-conference performer) returns in guard Greg Mancz. Toledo returns 100 career starts overall on the offensive line and will start 2014 with one of the most experienced units in the country. Depth might be a concern -- after the top five, it's nothing but sophomores and redshirt freshmen -- but the starters, all seniors, are outstanding.

Toledo has acceptable size and 105 career starts. That's a pretty tough combination to beat.

Defense

DE
Allen Covington (6'2, 275, Jr.) (1.5 tackles, 1 TFL)
Keenen Gibbs (6'3, 265, Jr.) (1.5 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 sack)
John Stepec (6'3, 260, So.)

NT
Orion Jones (6'2, 285, Jr.) (1.0 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 sack)
Chris Collins (6'4, 290, Jr.) (1.0 tackles, 1 FF)

DT
Marquise Moore (6'1, 300, So.) (1.5 tackles)
Treyvon Hester (6'3, 300, So.) (1.0 tackles)

DE
Trent Voss (6'3, 220, Jr.) (7.5 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 sack, 1 QB hurry)
Tre James (6'1, 250, Jr.) (1.0 tackles, 1 TFL)
Victor Cave (6'2, 245, RSFr.) (1.0 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 sack)

Toledo basically does one thing well on defense: pressure you. If you only get to choose one thing, that's a pretty good one. The Rockets ranked just 72nd in Adj. Line Yards and 69th in Rushing S&P+ last year (and must replace last year's top two ends) but ranked first in the country in Adj. Sack Rate. They get after you. They got after James Franklin and Maty Mauk last year (four sacks in 29 pass attempts), and they got after UNH quarterback Sean Goldrich last week, too (four sacks in 43 pass attempts).

All four sacks came from linemen, too. Toledo doesn't have to blitz to generate pressure, which is pretty scary. It's also necessary, as the secondary needs as much help as it can get.

SAM
Zach Quinn (6'3, 225, RSFr.)
Justin Cummings-Morrow (6'2, 225, Jr.)

MIKE
Ray Bush (6'3, 235, Sr.) (1.5 tackles, 0.5 TFL, 1 PBU, 1 QB hurry)
Chase Murdock (6'0, 225, Jr.) (3.0 tackles)

WILL
Junior Sylvestre (6'0, 222, Sr.) (7.5 tackles, 1 TFL)
Jaylen Coleman (6'0, 235, So.) (1.5 tackles)

If you're a Toledo fan, perhaps the most encouraging stat from last week came in the rushing totals. Even if you remove sacks from the rushing totals (and you always should), UNH still rushed 27 times for only 67 yards, 2.5 per carry. Rushing success rate: 26%. Now, Russell Hansbrough and Marcus Murphy are far more proven than Nico Steriti and Jimmy Owens (16 carries for 20 yards last week), but that at least hints at potential improvement up front and in run defense.

Junior Sylvestre seems to be the key here. Of his eight non-special teams tackles last week, six came within five yards of the line of scrimmage. He was Toledo's leading tackler last year against Missouri, too, with seven solo stops, six assists, and 0.5 tackles for loss. He isn't the defense's biggest play-maker, but he might be its best play-preventer.

CB
Christian Dukes (5'9, 185, Jr.) (4.0 tackles, 1 PBU)
Trevon Mathis (5'11, 170, Fr.) (3.5 tackles, 2 PBU)

CB
Juwan Haynes (6'0, 190, Jr.) (1.0 tackles)
Jordan Martin (6'2, 205, So.) (1.0 tackles)

S
Jordan Haden (5'11, 210, Sr.) (4.0 tackles, 1 TFL)
DeJuan Rogers (6'1, 185, RSFr.) (2.0 tackles, 0.5 TFL)

S
Chaz Whittaker (6'2, 200, Jr.) (0.5 tackles)
Connery Swift (5'9, 207, So.) (4.0 tackles, 1 QB hurry)

When New Hampshire's Sean Goldrich was able to get a pass away, he tended to do some damage. He completed 27 of 39 passes (69 percent) for 291 yards (10.8 per completion) and no interceptions. Jimmie Hunt-sized UNH receiver R.J. Harris (6'0, 200) caught nine of 13 passes for 149 yards and a score, and if you take out running back Nico Steriti's five catches for 27 yards, UNH averaged a healthy 12.0 yards per completion. There should be open receivers for Maty Mauk to find as long as he has time to find them. And there should be running lanes for Hansbrough and Murphy to find as well.

Special Teams

K
Jeremiah Detmer (5'8, 180, Sr.) (2-for-2 FG under 40, 10 kickoffs, 6 touchbacks)

P
Nick Ellis (5'11, 170, So.) (2 punts, 37.5 average, 1 inside 20)

KR
Kishon Wilcher (5'7, 180, Jr.)
Corey Jones (5'8, 165, So.) (2 returns, 17.0 average)

PR
Corey Jones (5'8, 165, So.) (1 return, 0 yards)
Alonzo Russell (6'4, 205, Jr.)

If this becomes a field goal battle, Toledo wins. Detmer (3-for-3 last year against Mizzou, 19-for-20 overall) is still there and still good.

***

Perhaps the biggest concern for me here is the droughts. Missouri's full-game offensive stats will probably look pretty good, with Hansbrough and Murphy averaging over 5.0 yards per carry and Mauk finding [insert receiver here, probably Darius White] for a couple of big plays. But last week's SDSU game was reminiscent of last year's Toledo game in one specific way: an offensive drought and sudden possession problem allowed SDSU to stay in the game longer than we expected.

Last year against Toledo, after opening the game with 131 yards and 10 points in the first two possessions, Missouri went 3-and-out, interception, 3-and-out over the course of three possessions. In that span, Toledo took the ball at its 48, the 50, and Missouri's 26, and Missouri was VERY lucky to allow only six points in those three possessions. Without Mizzou's trademark strong red zone defense, the Tigers not only wouldn't have been leading at halftime (17-9), they would have been trailing.

Last week against SDSU, Missouri scored touchdowns on three of its first four possessions, then slowed down with back-to-back missed field goals, then punted on three consecutive possessions (including two three-and-outs). Marcus Murphy bought Mizzou time with his kick return touchdown, and eventually the Tigers began to both stop SDSU and move the ball themselves. But whatever the cause of the drought -- Maty Mauk's all-or-nothing tendencies (he was sacked twice on one of Mizzou's 3-and-outs against Toledo last year), a less-than-amazing receiving corps, line problems, play-calling, problems dealing with obscenely excessive heat -- it was a drought, and it reduced Missouri's margin for error considerably. Mizzou should be able to run reasonably well, but if Toledo gets a read on the run game, even for just a little while, the Tigers will have to prove they can handle the Rockets' pass rush and find open receivers (I'm more worried about the former than the latter). Otherwise, there will be a drought. And against a potentially devastating Toledo offense, a Mizzou drought could mean a 14-point (or more) swing.

Spread: Mizzou -4
F/+ Projection: Mizzou 38, Toledo 33 (65.5% chance of winning overall)
Bill's Pick: Mizzou 30, Toledo 27

Both good and bad Missouri teams have been prone to slow starts in Gary Pinkel's tenure; Pinkel teams grow into themselves (usually), and in all, that's been a very good thing for this program. But Toledo is grown up already; if this game is in November, I pick Missouri by seven to 10 points at least. But right now, in their current states, Toledo is nearly Mizzou's equal. That's a pretty scary thought. Turnovers and red zone finishing will be of epic importance. I think Missouri wins, and so do the numbers, but this will be one hell of a test.