After University of Toledo star receiver Cody Thompson was lost for the season because of a broken leg, it was difficult initially to see what the Rockets’ passing game might look like without him.
In the first full game without Thompson, Toledo quarterback Logan Woodside threw just 18 passes for 89 yards in the driving rain at Central Michigan, a game the Rockets dominated with their rushing attack.
Saturday against Akron, a clearer picture of the new-look passing game emerged, and it appears it is going to be all hands on deck moving forward. Woodside spread the ball around to 10 different players, and four different receivers caught touchdown passes as he shredded the Zips defense to the tune of 304 passing yards and five touchdowns.
“In a lot of programs you can see everyone picking out that one guy and saying ‘Oh yeah, he is going to get the ball,’ ” sophomore receiver Danzel McKinley-Lewis said. “But with us it’s not like that. Ten people got the ball last game, and Logan can disperse the ball to anybody.”
Against Akron, junior Jon’Vea Johnson was Woodside’s main target with five catches for 102 yards and two touchdowns.
Johnson is coming off a sophomore season in which he was a second-team All-Mid-American Conference performer. His pace has slowed a bit statistically after he turned in 40 catches for 874 yards, and 10 touchdown last year. But UT coach Jason Candle said his statistics this season — 23 catches for 346 yards and three touchdowns — don’t accurately show the value he has provided the team.
“He’s had a good year so far this year,” Candle said. “There are only so many footballs, that’s the best way to put it. If a player leaves the field and he gets five or six catches for over 100 yards, he is going to think he played really good, whether he is in middle school or the NFL. The reality is that there are 65 or 70 snaps that that person played. So did he play well the other 64 or 65 snaps in the game?
“That’s what you are really looking for. I think he’s played really well all year long. People get caught up in statistics, but that doesn’t tell the story. He plays hard, he practices hard, and he’s done a really good job. He’s a big reason why we are where we are.”
Against Akron, sophomore Diontae Johnson added two catches for 31 yards and a touchdown, sophomore Desmond Phillips had one catch for 40 yards and a score, and McKinley-Lewis caught one pass for 13 yards and a score.
“It all starts with the quarterback,” Candle said. “He’s a senior quarterback, and he sees the field. He’s going to take what the defense gives him, and he’s not going to play out of who he is or be somebody he’s not. He’s been coached for five years to make great decisions and be accurate with the football. … If you find the open guy a lot of people can benefit from that.
“That’s what you saw on Saturday. It provides more opportunities for guys like Danzel, like Desmond, like Jon’Vea, like Diontae. When Cody got hurt people were thinking, ‘Well Cody got hurt, pack it in, Toledo is done.’ No, we’re fine. We’ve got players that when they do get the ball in their hands, can go do something with it. I think you saw that Saturday.”
Added to the performance of the top four receivers for Toledo were the first two career catches for true freshman receiver Bryce Mitchell. McKinley-Lewis said he is doing everything he can to bring Mitchell along.
“There is a lot of stress in on him, because with Cody going down he has to step up the game plan, and he’s put in a new package where he has to learn,” McKinley-Lewis said. “A lot of freshmen don’t have to be put in that situation. They have that year where they are able to soak it all in and watch the games and relax. With him, he has to learn everything that we learn. That’s extra stress for him, but he is picking it up very well.”
Phillips caught his first career touchdown pass on Saturday, a 40-yarder he took down the sideline on a short, quick pass. He knows that more is expected of him with Thompson out.
“I feel like with Cody down, all of us need to step up more now,” Phillips said. “Cody had that leadership and he is still there for us, but it is still next man up. Our season is not over, so we are just going to go on this way.”
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