By Evan Meyer
The 2017 Marathon MAC Championship Game set for Saturday afternoon at Ford Field in Detroit is a matchup of two teams that have come to this title tilt in opposite directions.
The Toledo Rockets were just about the prohibitive favorite by the coaches and the media when the pre-season polls came out at Media Day at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton not only to win the Western Division but to win in the championship game as well. They did not disappoint with their high powered offense UT stumbled only once in MAC play, that being at Ohio going on to win the west for the first time since 2004
The Akron Zips came into this season a distant fourth in the Eastern Division but got off to their best start since joining the conference winning their first three games. Had a stretch in the middle of the season where they lost two of three, but finished the season strongly with two home straight wins including an upset of East favorite Ohio to win their first division crown since 2005
Here are my preview points for this 24th MAC Championship Game
ROCKETS – ZIPS PREVIEW POINTS
Saturday afternoon’s battle is the 20th lifetime meeting between the two schools with the Rockets holding an 11-9 edge including a 48-21 victory over UA on October 21st in Toledo….This is the first ever meeting in the MAC Championship Game…UT as won the last two and three of the last four in the series
MAC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME HISTORY
TOLEDO – This is the Rockets sixth trip to the MAC Championship game they have a 2-3 record (beating Marshall at home in 2001 & Miami in 2004 in Detroit) the three losses all coming to the Thundering Herd in Huntington
AKRON – This is the Zips second trip to the MAC title game their only other visit came in 2005 in Ford Field defeating Northern Illinois 31-30
TOLEDO ROCKETS (10-2, 7-1 MAC)
Toledo won their first outright MAC Western Division title since 1998 and 11th overall when they defeated Western Michigan in the regular season finale Friday at the Glass Bowl 37-10. It marked the ninth time a Toledo team has won at least 10 games in a season
In the regular season, UT offensively averaged 38.7 points and 505.7 yards per game. They were second and first respectively in those categories.
At the controls of the offense is senior Logan Woodside who completed 65.2 percent of his passes (225-of-345) fir 3451 yards with 24 touchdowns and just three interceptions
Woodside is Toledo’s all-time career leader in passing yards (10,083) touchdowns (89) and 300-yard games (16) and is 28-8 as the starting quarterback (second most in UT history).
Senior Terry Swanson leads the running game with 1,139 yards while scoring 12 touchdowns tied with freshman Shakif Seymour for the team lead. In his career, Swanson has rushed for 3,377 yards fifth on the Rockets all-time list.
The receivers are led by sophomore Dionte Johnson who stepped by since the injury to senior Cody Thompson in the MAC opener against Eastern Michigan on October 7th. He has 63 receptions for 1139 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also returned a kickoff for a score in the season opener against Elon.
The offensive line has been a banged up and patched up crew all season long they have given Woodson time to throw they have allowed 18 sacks on the season.
The Toledo Defense has given up 25.4 points and 378 yards in their 12 games of 2017 both stats in the middle of the conference. They have collected 18 sacks, have intercepted 14 passes and have a turnover margin of +8 tied with Central Michigan & Western Michigan for number one.
Junior LB Jack Linch led the defense with 62 total tackles (26 solo). Fellow junior, DL Olasunkan Adeniyi, leads with 6 ½ sacks for 43 yards and 16 ½ tackle for losses amounting to 74 yards. Sophomore DB Khalil Robinson has four interceptions.
UT has one of the best place kickers in the MAC in junior Jameson Vest who led the conference in kick scoring with 122 points going 24-of-28 on field goals and 50-of-52 on extra points
AKRON ZIPS (7-5, 6-2 MAC)
In their regular season finale, the Zips clinched their first East title since 2005 and their second in overall as they defeated their arch rivals the Kent State Golden Flashes 24-14 at InfoCision Stadium to retain the Wagon Wheel Trophy for a third consecutive season.
In the regular season UA averaged offensively 23.2 points and 323.5 yards per game.
For most of the season, senior Thomas Woodson was the quarterback. He was suspended before the Miami game and redshirt freshman Cato Nelson took over. Nelson led the Zips to their two biggest wins of the season against Ohio and KSU.
In 2017, Woodson completed 58.3 percent of his passes (154-of-264) for 1742 Yards with 14 touchdowns and right interceptions. Nelson in his eight games (three starts) completed 49.5 percent of his throws (53-of-107) for 732 yards with six touchdowns and to interceptions
In his career, Woodson has passed for 6,829 yards and 53 touchdowns second to Charlie Frye in both categories
The running game is devoid of two big keys. Graduate student Warren Ball who broke his leg in the MAC opener at Bowling Green and sophomore Deltron Sands also lost for the season with a lower body injury at Miami. Senior Manny Morgan leads with 342 yards and three touchdowns.
The receivers are led by converted QB Tra’Von Chapman who moved to the position in the spring when Jerome Lane left for the NFL Draft. Chapman has 48 receptions for 448 yards and two touchdowns.
The offensive line who had just nine combined starts at the start of the 2016 season has been a cohesive group in 2017. The line of five has given up 29 sacks however 12 of those came in two games (six each against Toledo & Kent State)
The Zips defense has allowed 24.8 points and 421.4 yards in their 12 games. They have sacked the quarterback 21 times and have come up with 17 interceptions (second to Central Michigan 19) returning three of them and has a turnover margin of +7
Junior Ulysses Gilbert is the leader. The reigning MAC Defensive Player of the Year had another solid season with 118 total tackles (57 solo) second to Buffalo’s Khalil Hodge. He also leads with five sacks. Has had 8 ½ tackles for losses and two interceptions (one for a touchdown against Arkansas-Pine Bluff and one of three off Toledo’s Logan Woodside). In the win over KSU hs returned a fumble 40 yards for a score
Redshirt junior DL Jamal Davis II leads with 10 ½ tackles for losses for 33 yards while junior CB Jordan George leads with four interceptions tied for fourth in the MAC including a pick in each of the last three games. Another junior CB, Kyron Brown, is tied for third in passes defended with 13.
The kicking game is in the hands of junior Nick Gasser who is averaging 41.8 yards per punt with 11 of them going 50 yards or more and has placed 22 of them inside the opposition’s 20-yard line.
Gasser took over the place kicking duties for the slumping Tom O’ Leary against Miami and has gone two-of-three on field goals including a career best 45-yarder against the Golden Flashes and 9-of-10 on extra points in those three games.
There you have it. A look at the 2017 MAC Championship Game as Midnight Blue and Gold meets Akron Blue and Gold. As the late Judge Mills Lane once said “LETS GET IT ON”
See you at the Stadium