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Behind Enemy Lines: Toledo football beat writer Brian Buckey discusses CMU game

Toledo quarterback Eli Peters (Photo: Toledo Athletics)

Central Michigan Life's Evan Petzold spoke with Toledo beat writer Brian Buckey from The Toledo Blade to preview Central Michigan's noon Nov. 29 game against the Rockets at Kelly/Shorts Stadium in Mount Pleasant.

Toledo is 6-5 overall and 3-4 in the Mid-American Conference, losing to Bowling Green (20-7), Ball State (52-14), Northern Illinois (31-28) and Buffalo (49-30). 

In 2018, the Rockets finished 7-6 overall and 5-3 in the MAC. Toledo took down Central Michigan, 51-13, on Nov. 23 at the Glass Bowl in Ohio.

The Chippewas have not beaten the Rockets since 2009.

Buckey discussed Toledo's struggles in 2019, the ability to run the football with authority, strengths, weaknesses and much more on both sides of the ball in this exclusive Q&A.

What is there to know about Toledo entering this week's game?

Brian Buckey: Toledo is looking to help its bowl prospects by winning its seventh game. The Rockets have beaten Central Michigan nine straight times in the series. However, this season, Toledo has struggled, especially on the road and after two straight losses is desperate to get back in the win column.

What happened since last season that has caused Toledo to struggle this year?

Toledo is coming off a 7-6 season last year and is 6-5 coming into the game at Central Michigan. The Rockets have a young roster that has been forced into action. Injuries, at the quarterback position especially, have hurt the Rockets. Key performers in QB Mitch Guadagni, OL Bryce Harris, and CB Justin Clark are out for the year. On the field, Toledo's defense has taken a step back recently. Early in the season, Toledo was able to do just enough defensively to have a good scoring defense, but they are allowing a lot of big plays recently and are having trouble getting off the field in key situations.

What are the strengths and weaknesses of the Rockets?

Toledo's biggest strength is running the football with Bryant Koback and Shakif Seymour. The Rockets are the top rushing team in the MAC at 237.4 yards per game. Koback has 1,165 rushing yards on the season and is a dynamic runner. The main weakness ironically is stopping the run. In seven MAC games, Toledo is giving up an average of 233.3 rushing yards per game which is next to last in the conference. They are coming off a game in which they allowed two 100+ yard rushers at Buffalo when Jaret Patterson had 192 rushing yards and five total touchdowns. 

Brian Buckey

Is there anything specific to note about the defense? How about the offense?

Toledo is starting a true freshman at cornerback in Chris McDonald. He's done a good job overall considering he was pressed into that role so early in his career. It will be interesting to see how he holds up against Central Michigan's good receiver group. 

On offense, Eli Peters has started the last four games at quarterback, but he left the game against Buffalo at halftime. His status for Friday is uncertain and if he can't go, then Toledo will likely turn to redshirt freshman Carter Bradley. 

If there's an underrated aspect of Toledo, what would it be?

If you look at Toledo's production at tight end from a statistical standpoint it doesn't jump off the page. But they have a senior in Reggie Gilliam who is one of the better blocking tight ends in the conference and is often used to set the edge on running plays. He is an unsung player that is a big part of the offense even if he rarely is used as a pass-catcher.

If Central Michigan wants to pull off a win, how are the Chippewas going to beat Toledo?

I think Central Michigan wins if they contain the run on defense and control the ball on offense with the running game. Jonathan Ward is an explosive running back that could cause problems for Toledo. Then if the Chippewas can mix in a few big plays in the passing game with receivers like Kalil Pimpleton, they will be in good shape.