When University of Toledo coach Jason Candle was evaluating the play of junior quarterback Mitch Guadagni in his first career start, a 66-3 thrashing of Virginia Military Institute on Saturday at the Glass Bowl, he pointed to one play as an embodiment of the qualities Guadagni brings to the position.
Late in the second quarter, Guadagni rolled right in the pocket to escape pressure up the middle. Always a threat to run, Guadagni surveyed the defense as he escaped. Senior receiver Cody Thompson broke off his out route and improvised by running up the sideline into open space. Guadagni set his feet and found Thompson down the sideline for a 38-yard touchdown.
“He can extend plays, which really showed and was a sign of maturity on Cody’s touchdown,” Candle said. “He extended the play and scrambled and went lateral instead of north and south. He got his feet set and threw a really good ball to Cody for that touchdown.
“That shows poise, that shows understanding, and that shows confidence. You can take a lot from just a single play like that and for his first start you saw a lot of positive things.”
Guadagni was impressive, as he completed 11 of 16 passes for 265 yards and three touchdowns. He also rushed four times for 20 yards.
“We’ve missed that the last few years,” Candle said of Guadagni’s running ability. “It’s been a long time since we had a quarterback who can run like he can run. And he can really run. That’s not just scramble and everybody gasps for air and hopes he doesn’t get hurt. This guy’s a real threat.”
Guadagni said he didn’t feel any pregame jitters, but rather was just looking forward to getting out on the field with his teammates.
“I think more than anything I just felt anticipation and was anxious to get out there and get the game under my belt,” Guadagni said. “I’m not really nervous to play. I think I started a little slow and then I picked it up as the game went on. That’s kind of normal with the first time starting. But I was able to get a rhythm going.”
Aside from the Thompson scoring pass, Guadagni hit Jon’Vea Johnson on a 57-yard touchdown pass and Diontae Johnson on a 48-yard scoring strike. Guadagni was focused on getting the ball out efficiently to his big-play receivers on the outside.
“That first one Diontae took to the house, he just made an incredible move after he caught the ball,” Guadagni said. “It feels great to have those guys out there and just making some plays. Even on short-yardage throws they are able to get like 20-plus yards. Hopefully, they keep that up and I keep getting them the ball.”
Guadagni battled all offseason with sophomore Eli Peters for the starting job heading into the season. It was easy to see in this game why the Toledo coaching staff handed the keys to the offense to the junior from Hudson High School.
“I thought he was very good,” Candle said. “There will be a couple things we’ll have to fix, but for the most part he did what we asked him to do. He made great decisions, took care of the football, showed accuracy, and made guys around him better. He did a good job controlling and dictating the pace of the game.”
Thompson, who had developed a lethal connection with previous UT quarterback Logan Woodside, was looking forward to seeing what Guadagni could do in his first big opportunity.
“I think he did a great job out there for his first time going out there in live action,” Thompson said. “I was anxious to see how he’d perform and I think he handled it calm, cool, and collected kind of like you would expect from the leader of your team back there. He was able to command the offense. I don’t think he’s going to slow down anytime soon and the more reps he gets, the more comfortable he is going to get.”
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