MUNCIE, Ind. — The University of Toledo football team took a little time to get going Thursday night at Ball State. But once the Rockets did, it was big play after big play in a 58-17 rout of the Cardinals.
In the third quarter alone, Toledo (7-1, 4-0 Mid-American Conference) ran seven plays but had 279 yards and four touchdowns as the Rockets distanced themselves from the Cardinals (2-6, 0-4 MAC).
“We hit a bunch of explosive plays, and our defense was outstanding and was really great in situational football,” UT coach Jason Candle said. “So they were getting off the field on third down, and we hit a few big plays and our playmakers got loose. That kind of pushed the score out of reach a little bit there.”
The third quarter might as well have been renamed the “Diontae Johnson Show,” as the sophomore receiver electrified with an 88-yard touchdown catch and an 87-yard punt return for a score. That didn’t even include his 67-yard touchdown catch in the second.
Johnson’s playmaking ability was on full display with a back-shoulder fade for the 67-yard score, a spectacular one-handed tip to himself on the 88-yard touchdown, and a bobbled punt he recovered and then took the rest of the way.
“He made a couple great plays on 50-50 balls that were competitive catches,” Candle said. “That’s good see. His quarterback [Logan Woodside] trusted him and was putting it out there for him. We have to win our one-on-one battles no matter who we are playing, and he was able to do that tonight.”
When Johnson’s day was done, he finished with four catches for a career-high 170 yards and two touchdowns.
“I think Diontae has made plays for us all year, and he is going to have to continue to make big plays for us down the stretch,” Woodside said. “But give a lot of credit to that guy tonight.”
Woodside needed just eight completions to tally 267 passing yards and three touchdowns. UT senior running back Terry Swanson added 105 rushing yards and a 71-yard touchdown. Redshirt freshman Shakif Seymour added 72 rushing yards and two scores.
In the third quarter, Seymour had touchdown runs of 1 and 63 yards, as the Rockets recorded 27 points.
“I think we had some good play calls to start the third quarter and we executed,” Woodside said. “In the first half, we kind of shot ourselves in the foot. In the second half, we really got rolling.”
After Ball State quarterback Zack Blair went out with an injury in the first quarter, the Cardinals turned to redshirt freshman Drew Plitt.
Junior defensive end Olasunkanmi Adeniyi harassed Plitt all game long, recording two sacks and three tackles for loss.
“Having guys like Zach Quinn and Marquise Moore, and Nate Childress, playing with guys like that kind of frees you up to get back there and do what you have to do,” Adeniyi said. “I think we are doing a good job right now as a defense. I know we can stop the run a little bit better and do a few things better, but we just have to come back next week with a good week of practice.”
The third touchdown pass for Woodside came on a 35-yard strike to Desmond Phillips. Senior quarterback Michael Julian added a late 2-yard touchdown run, the first of his career, and Jameson Vest connected on a 32-yard field goal to open Toledo’s scoring in the first quarter.
Toledo finished with 602 yards of total offense and four touchdowns of 65 or more yards.
“We have fast guys that can make good coaches out of people,” Candle said. “They can score the ball a lot of different ways and from wherever they touch it on the field. When you have a senior quarterback that is a fifth-year guy that is really comfortable in the offense and really knows the scheme, he has the ability to help guys be in position to be successful and make those plays. Once you get it in your hands, it’s about what you can do with it. I’d love to say I taught them all that, but that is just raw, natural ability.”
In what could have been viewed as a proverbial trap game between games against Akron and Northern Illinois, the Rockets instead provided a explosive and dominant performance.
“I think we are playing really well,” Woodside said. “We have to continue to clean up some of the penalties and mistakes and just try to continue to get better each day.”
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