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Miami Hurricanes Matchup Preview: Toledo Rockets

UM looks to contain the Rockets’ offensive fire power when they travel to the Glass Bowl.

NCAA Football: Toledo at Miami Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Reigning Mid-American Conference champions, the Toledo Rockets, don’t appear to be much different from the 2017 version UM fans watched last year — at least on paper. The Hurricanes ultimately pulled out a 52-30 win over a resilient Rockets squad. With Miami well aware of Toledo’s offensive capabilities, the rematch could pose the ultimate game of chess between Toledo’s HC Jason Candle and Miami’s HC Mark Richt. Will those Rockets continue to be a thorn in the side of the Canes or does UM have a better idea of Candle’s modus operandi?

Iron Sharpens Iron (One vs. One)

Diontae Johnson vs. Trajan Bandy

NCAA Football: Toledo at Miami Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Junior wide receiver Diontae Johnson has been a staple for the Rockets’ passing game dating back to 2015. In his first meeting with Miami, Johnson tallied eight receptions for 66 receiving yards and two touchdowns. The Ruskin, Florida, native would finish the 2017 season with 74 reeceptions, 1,278 receiving yards, 13 TDs and a 17.2 yard-per-catch average. The 5’11, 181 pound speedster is a threat on slants and deep routes down the sideline. Look for the Johnson to occasional mix in a double move in an effort to freeze the defensive back, allowing him to create separation as he continues his route downfield.

The Hurricanes don’t let their cornerbacks travel with a particular receiver. This means that both of Miami’s outside corners will see plenty of Diontae Johnson Saturday afternoon. A year ago, CB Michael Jackson and CB Malek Young split duties, with the Rockets opting to work out of spread formations. This time around, Trajan Bandy will likely receive a feature role against Toledo’s receivers. This will be the first true test of Bandy as an outside corner as opposed to working out of the slot a majority of his freshman year. At 5’9”, 188 pounds, the former Columbus High standout has all the intangibles to stay in stride with the Rockets’ receivers. With Mike Jackson locking down the opposite side of the field, Bandy will be be counted on to close up shop on the other side of the field.

Position Matchup of the Week

Miami’s Offensive Line Line vs. Toledo’s Defensive Line

After steamrolling Savannah State last Saturday, you’d think that the Hurricanes were rocking on all cylinders. Yet, there’s was one aspect of the 77-0 win that stuck with us from the thrashing laid upon SSU.

The run-blocking needs to get better.

One thing that is clear with the Mark Richt Hurricanes is that the team is notoriously a slow starter. The Canes finished with 239 rushing yards against SSU, but the holes were not the biggest, nor was the team imposing their will in the trenches at the start of the game. It’s a small sample size, yet in the two games this season, Miami has rushed for 105 rushing yards on 32 attempts, averaging 3.2 yards-per-carry in the first half of games. UM did improve on their rushing numbers as the night went along, in the second half versus SSU they piled on 217 rushing yards on 39 attempts with a YPC average of 5.5.

The push up front from the offensive line leaves something to be desired, but this is still a starting unit trying to work together. UM has rotated their offensive guards on a series-by-series basis, something that can be concerning if the struggles in the run game continue.

Toledo returns with eight players from a 2017 Mid-American Conference championship team. Senior DE Tuzar Skipper, junior DT Nate Childress and junior DT Willie Ross lead a Rocket defensive line that picked up four sacks in their season opening win against VMI. Last year, Toledo even managed to sack UM QB Malik Rosier twice.

Caneseye Players of the Game

QB Mitchell Gaudagni

The biggest anomaly from last year’s game against Toledo to this weekend’s, aside from Miami travelling to Ohio, is the quarterback. Former QB Logan Woodside graduated Toledo along with most of the Rockets’ passing records. Woodside passed for 3,882 yards, 28 touchdowns and 8 interceptions on his way to winning the 2017 MAC Player of the Year. In the rematch this weekend, it will be QB Mitchell Guadagni lining up under center for Toledo. A former three-star prospect out of Hudson, Ohio, Guadagni lacks game experience, yet possess traits that could have Miami’s defensive coordinator Manny Diaz fuming on the sideline.

With a flick of the wrist, Guadagni’s release jumps out of his hand, with decent velocity and accuracy. What is most notable about Guadagni’s game is his composure while on the move. The sophomore QB will extend the play for his receivers by rolling out of the pocket, either launching a pass to a wide open target or taking off for some easy yards on the ground. For a UM defense that prides itself in attacking gaps with multiple defenders to force pressure, it’ll be intriguing to see how the young QB holds up to the Canes’ pass rush.

S Jaquan Johnson

Despite the hype of the preseason, Jaquan ‘The Franchise’ Johnson has merely gone about 2018 in his usual manner. Flying down from his safety position to make tackles, Johnson continues to be a pillar of the Canes’ defense. This week should test both Johnson and fellow safety Sheldrick Redwine. The Rockets tend to take deep shots on vertical routes down the field. Look for No. 4 to be flying around on Saturday as the Canes hope to limit the Rockets’ passing game.

CB Kahlil Robinson

The 6’0”, 175 pound free safety led all Rockets with four interceptions a season ago. Pair his penchant for the pick with an ability to wrap up on tackles, and the Rockets have themselves an all-conference player in the making. Against Miami’s young TEs and even younger receivers, the battle in the middle of the field will be fascinating to watch. In last year’s contest, Robinson had a one-tackle performance against the Canes. In the comforts of the Glass Bowl, the safety will surely look to make a bigger statement.

RB Travis Homer

NCAA Football: Toledo at Miami Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

For most running backs, 20 carries resulting in 100 rushing yards is considered an exceptional performance. However, when you’re a running back for Miami, the expectations are higher. After getting just two carries before halftime in the season opening loss to LSU, UM’s starting RB begun to find some traction against SSU on his way to 13 carries for 70 yards with a 5.3 yards-per-carry average. This should be a game where Homer and the Canes’ rushing game continue to make strides forward. The Rockets allowed an average of 4.81 yards-per-carry on defense, and their 177.8 rushing yards allowed average had them ranked 81st out of 130 teams in the country in 2017.

One Last Thing

Kent State v Toledo
The may not be a player more dangerous on Toledo’s roster than No. 25 WR Cody Thompson.
Photo by Andrew Weber/Getty Images

The entire wide receiver corp of Cody Thompson, Diontae Johnson and Jon’Vea Johnson are back for 2018 after amassing 2,504 receiving yards and 22 touchdowns combined in 2017. However, Toledo’s running game often goes underappreciated. Toledo returns RB Shakif Seymour and RB Art Thompkins who combined to rush for 1,331 yards in 2017. The duo now find themselves part of a three-headed platoon with freshman RB Bryant Koback in the mix. Koback led the Rockets with 67 rushing yards, two TDs and 7.4 YPC in the Rockets’ opener against VMI. The Hurricanes will want to neutralize the Rocket running game down somewhere under five yards per carry to avoid play-action and boot extensions from the run game.