When No. 21 Miami visited the Glass Bowl on Saturday, University of Toledo coach Jason Candle knew he would learn about the makeup of his football team.
The Rockets hung in the game into the third quarter, but talent won out as the Hurricanes escaped with a 49-24 win in front of an amped-up, sold-out crowd.
With a win against FCS foe Virginia Military Institute in the Sept. 1 season opener, and a week off before the Miami game, Candle said it was almost like this game was the start of the season.
“In a lot of ways, this felt like our first football game,” Candle said. “We had two weeks off and had to get in the routine of getting ready for a noon kickoff. There was a lot of newness and things that our young guys haven’t experienced before. It’s not like we didn’t prepare for these moments, but you never know how guys are going to respond. Lots of guys responded in a positive way, but some guys didn’t.”
Toledo fell behind 21-0 before scoring on its final possession of the first half, when junior quarterback Mitch Guadagni found junior receiver Diontae Johnson on a 7-yard touchdown pass.
The Rockets were in danger of losing control of the game, but that score settled them down before halftime.
“We needed to score there, especially with them up 21-0,” Guadagni said. “We were just able to capitalize on some throws, our receivers got open and our line gave me great protection, and that led to us getting in the end zone.”
Toledo came out strong in the second half and cut the lead to 21-14 after a 5-yard scoring run by Art Thompkins.
The Rockets again cut the lead to seven at 28-21 on a 40-yard touchdown connection between Guadagni and Diontae Johnson. But Miami outscored Toledo 21-3 in the final 16 minutes of the game.
Toledo was overmatched on the lines, with the Miami offensive line creating space for a rushing attack that accumulated 268 yards and protected quarterback Malik Rosier with no sacks allowed.
The Hurricanes defensive line helped Miami record four sacks and limit the Toledo running game to 112 yards rushing.
“There were a few things in the protection,” Candle said of the offensive line play. “I don’t think we handled some of Miami’s twists or movements as well as we anticipated we would. The difference between a top-10 program and another program is a really good defensive line.”
UT defensive end Tuzer Skipper said the defense made too many mistakes, including allowing Miami to convert 7-of-15 on third down. The Hurricanes went 4-of-6 in the third quarter, and also converted a fourth down when a stop would have meant giving the Rockets the ball back with a chance to tie the game.
“They’re a good team and we’re a good team as well,” Skipper said. “We just had too many self-inflicted wounds. They didn’t do anything too spectacular or anything outside of what we normally see. We just made a few too many mistakes.”
Miami coach Mark Richt said he knew it was going to be tough to come away with the win.
“We beat a really good team,” Richt said. “Toledo is outstanding and well-coached. They are used to winning and it was a good battle until it got a little out of hand at the end. I have a lot of respect for coach Candle and his team and how they go about their business. I know they’re going to [make] a run at the MAC championship again.”
Despite some of the shortcomings Miami was able to exploit, Candle said there were plenty of positives to take away from the game. Toledo faces two more nonconference foes in Nevada and Fresno State before beginning its defense of the MAC title.
“The score isn’t what we wanted,” Candle said. “It’s obviously not what we planned, but there were some moments where we were taking some punches from a heavyweight opponent and staring them back right in the eyes. If we can continue to do that, then we have plenty of reasons to be optimistic this season.”
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