Here is the latest installment of the weekly Q&A with a beat writer for the opposing team.
Q: Former Alabama quarterback Phillip Ely had an impressive debut. How much of that had to do with playing New Hampshire or do the Rockets believe he can light up any opponent, even one from the SEC?
Piotrowicz: “Some from Column A, some from Column B. I was not particularly impressed with New Hampshire’s secondary, but Ely really made some excellent throws. Aside from two bad ones on the first series, he was nearly flawless — both in decisions and execution. I think Toledo believes it can score 30 on almost anybody, and Ely certainly is a reason why. He’s a really good decision-maker, whose pre-snap ability is pretty rare. Even against an SEC school, I think Toledo expects to be able to move the ball.”
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Q: With four starters returning on an offensive line that allowed only six sacks last season, just how good is this group and does it match up favorably with Missouri’s stout defensive line?
Piotrowicz: “That’s the matchup that I’m most excited to see. I think Toledo probably has the best offensive line of any school not in a major conference, but Mizzou consistently has had great defensive lines. The Tigers’ beauty is in their simplicity but also their skill; they can create pressure with a four-man rush on just about everybody. Toledo has a really veteran group with some talent, so I don’t think they’ll be overwhelmed by any means. It’ll be a slim margin of victory for whichever team wins the matchup, but it’ll be significant either way.”
Q: Missouri’s run defense has been fairly good, but David Fluellen lit up the Tigers for 111 yards rushing on 17 carries and 100 yards receiving on seven catches. Without him, can the Rockets duplicate that success?
Piotrowicz: “It’s definitely concerning for the Rockets, who ran for 6.4 yards per carry last season. I don’t think they expect success quite like that against Missouri, but they need to be able to run a little bit. If it’s not working, Toledo might have a way around it, though. As fans who watched last year’s game recall, Toledo was very effective in the short passing game, particularly with screens. Kareem Hunt isn’t the pass-catcher that David Fluellen was, but Toledo still can be dangerous in that area.”
Q: Finally, do you get a sense, around the program or in the community, that former Rockets coach Gary Pinkel’s return is a big deal?
Piotrowicz: “It’s a nice storyline, but I think the game itself is the bigger cause for excitement. Toledo fans look fondly on Pinkel’s years as coach, to be sure, but ranked SEC teams just don’t come around here very often. The theme of this week has been opportunity. With a national stage and a good opponent, I think most Toledo fans think this is a big deal even if one doesn’t consider Pinkel’s ties.”