University of Toledo coach Jason Candle knows his team is relying on a lot of young and inexperienced players this season, including a first-time starting quarterback in junior Mitch Guadagni.
Guadagni passed his first test of the season with an impressive performance in a rout of Virginia Military Institute on Sept. 1.
But Candle really didn’t know what he would see from Guadagni facing a much stingier Miami Hurricanes defense at the Glass Bowl on Saturday.
After a bit of a slow start, Guadagni found a rhythm, leaving Candle impressed with his performance despite the 49-24 loss.
“I’m not sure I knew what to expect from some of those guys,” Candle said. “But that’s what’s really cool about playing these games and playing these types of opponents. When the chips are down and stacked against you, you find out who is ready for that moment and who’s not. I thought Mitch was ready to roll today. Maybe he didn’t get off to the kind of start he wanted in a perfect world, but in adverse situations he really rallied.”
Guadagni finished the game completing 13-of-21 passes for 222 yards and two touchdowns to go with a fourth-quarter interception.
On a day when Toledo struggled to get a consistent rushing attack against Miami’s talented defensive front, Guadagni improvised with his feet and ended up leading the team in rushing with 15 carries for 47 yards and had five carries of 10 or more yards.
“He moved the sticks with his feet a bunch of times when we didn’t have good protection and made things happen, broke the pocket and extended drives,” Candle said. “We haven’t had a quarterback like that here for a quite a while. That’s a different ballgame now when it comes to trying to defend us.”
Guadagni knows he will have to watch the film and see areas where he can improve, but a performance like the one he had against Miami gives him an idea of what he and this offense are capable of. Starting with an eight-play, 65-yard touchdown drive that got Toledo on the board near the end of the first half, Guadagni led four consecutive scoring drives to pull the Rockets back into the game.
“I think when you play well with your team and your offensive side of the ball plays well, it gives you some confidence,” Guadagni said. “The chemistry can kind of build and you see some stuff going on that makes you optimistic.”
There were times in the game where Guadagni, rather than force the ball, was able to extend plays outside the pocket or pick up positive yards on the ground.
“Sometimes they were playing a pretty good coverage to what we had called,” Guadagni said. “I think with some pressure in my face I got out of the pocket a little bit and tried to do what I could picking up some first downs. Overall, my offensive line gave me time back there and if they played a good coverage, I tried to use my legs.”
Guadagni got off to a relatively slow start with just 30 passing yards in the opening quarter. Candle said the Rockets were trying to get Guadagni going early, but Miami’s tight man-to-man defense on Toledo’s receivers made it difficult.
“When you are playing a good team that can play your skill and match up in tight coverage man-to-man, some of those vertical balls, you either hit them or you don’t hit them,” Candle said. “If you hit them, it’s like ‘Oh, what a start’. If you don’t it’s second-and-10. Once we were able to hit a couple vertical balls and get a couple of guys off of us, things opened up for us.”
Despite the loss, Candle said he thought Guadagni showed improvement from game one to game two.
“Mitch made some plays with his legs and he didn’t make stupid mistakes and throw the ball to the other team when he got out of the pocket,” Candle said. “He did some really good things out there. I think there was a lot of growth from his perspective moving forward.”
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