Behind Enemy Lines: Toledo football beat writer Kyle Rowland discusses CMU game


Central Michigan wide reciever Kalil Pimpleton catches a pass and runs up the sideline against Toledo Nov. 29 at Kelly/Shorts Stadium.

Central Michigan Life's Christian Booher spoke with Toledo football beat writer Kyle Rowland of the Toledo Blade to preview CMU's game against the Rockets at Kelly/Shorts Stadium. Toledo is 3-3 overall, posting a 1-1 record in Mid-American Conference play. The Rockets are coming off a 22-20 loss to Northern Illinois. 

It's the 50th all-time meeting between these two schools, with Toledo holding a 27-19-3 advantage. 

Rowland discusses Toledo's two-quarterback system, the defensive success, where Jason Candle stands as head coach and more in this exclusive Q&A. 

Toledo, much like CMU's last two opponents, features two quarterbacks who play roles in the offense. Do you have a sense that one is running away at the position or will both continue to split snaps? 

It's hard to tell, because I thought two weeks ago (Dequan) Finn had separated himself. So, it's just kind of odd that they continue to go back to (Carter) Bradley. Finn is an improved passer and Carter, it's not like he's got a 75 percent completion percentage and is leading them downfield all the time. Finn's big thing before this season was he wasn't an accurate passer. Well, he's just as accurate as Bradley and has the added element of his legs, so it just seems so obvious that he should be the guy. 

If you look, statistically, at any sort of metrics or analytics, the offense is clearly better when Finn is in the game. They score more when he's in the game, there's more explosive plays when he's in the game. The offensive line is not great this year and they really need a mobile quarterback in there with the personnel that they have. I think everything points to Finn should be the guy. It's not to say that Bradley is bad, but circumstances dictate that Finn is better suited for the offense. 

Who are some of Toledo's other offensive playmakers? 

(Running back) Bryant Koback for sure. He's one of the better running backs in the MAC, and he can also catch the ball out of the backfield and make guys miss. I think they're trying to get him a little more in space just with the offensive line issues Toledo's had. Devin Maddox, a wide receiver who's a former walk-on, has developed into maybe their best big play threat. He's had several catches over 50 yards this year, he had the touchdown at the end of the Northern Illinois game that looked to be the game winner. I think he's kind of a key guy. 

Micah Kelly, the backup running back, is also pretty solid and then Jacquez Stuart, who's kind of an H-back, can run the ball or catch the ball. He had some pretty solid games before the NIU game and then wasn't a factor last week. At wide receiver, it's a pretty-deep position for Toledo. They just haven't been able to get anything going in the passing game this year.

It's weird, like they lead the league in yards per play, but they're also last in time of possession. It's kind of a fascinating thing. There are certain stats that lead you to believe that offense really isn't a problem, while others show that yeah, it kind of is a problem. They just haven't got into a rhythm in a lot of these games and I think a lot of it is due to switching quarterbacks pretty consistently throughout the game. 

Defensively, what have you seen from the Rockets and what are some of your takeaways from that side of the ball?

The defense has been outstanding. It's been a remarkable turnabout if you've watched Toledo football the past decade. It's always been offense galore and no defense and just outscoring teams, you know, 49-35, or something like that. This year, the defense is by far the strength of the team. They're in the top 30 nationally in total defense and basically have no weaknesses. The defensive line is tremendous, the linebackers are really good. They've got shutdown corners, it's just kind of the total package. It's a good enough defense to almost carry them through the MAC championship if their offense would just be average and its kind of been below average, I would say. 

Against NIU and Colorado State, both losses, those teams had a combined 10 field goals and Toledo still lost both games, basically because the offense couldn't do its part. Getting to the end zone against Toledo is not an easy task, they had an 11 quarter streak without giving up a touchdown earlier in the year. Just really can't say enough about them. Vince Kehres, the defensive coordinator, is really good, the co-defensive coordinator Craig Kuligowski, they've made a tremendous difference these last couple of years. 

What about on the coaching side? Where does the fan base side on head coach Jason Candle? 

The fan base is definitely not happy with Candle. I get it, you have a program that has a lot of advantages over the rest of the conference and they've had the number one recruiting class five straight years. The win-loss record does not indicate those things. So I get why fans are frustrated. It feels like there's a little bit of a plateau right now with the program, just if you look at their MAC record. Just numbers, Toledo should be better than that. That's the bottom line.

And I think these next two weeks, it's kind of a crossroads. These are two huge games. Central Michigan, Western Michigan. They could win both of them, they could lose both of them. And I think anything short of winning both of them, people are going to be furious. They're just games that you have to win if you want to win the MAC now. Their back is against the wall.

I don't know if 6-2 will do it, winning the West (Division). NIU's got a pretty tough schedule left so maybe they'll lose three games and if Toledo wins these next two they can get away with it, but it's definitely a very interesting time in terms of the health of the program under Jason Candle.