COLUMBIA, Mo. • We’re a couple days away from Missouri’s first game against an FBS opponent as Gary Pinkel’s old team, the Toledo Rockets, come to town Saturday as 17-point underdogs. Let’s take a closer look at the Rockets with a blog feature that will appear here each week:
• TOLEDO HAS A T.O.: The Rockets have a senior quarterback in Terrance Owens, a 6-4 lefty who’s appeared in 33 games over his career, starting 18 times. He was an injury replacement for Austin Dantin in 2010 and split the duties with Dantin in 2011. That season, he set school and conference records for passing accuracy, completing 72.2 percent of his throws.
In his career, Owens has played in five games against teams from BCS automatic qualifying conferences. The Rockets’ record in those games is 1-4 with losses to Ohio State, Syracuse, Arizona and Florida. The lone win came last year against Cincinnati, a team that won 10 games. (Toledo is also 0-2 against Boise State, which isn’t technically from a BCS-AQ conference but has been among the best non-AQs for years.)
In those five games against AQ teams, Owens has completed 49.1 percent of his passes for an average of 118.8 yards, with two touchdowns and two interceptions. His passer rating in those games is 96.8.
To no surprise, he’s fared much better against the non-AQs, completing 65.7 percent of his passes for an 197.6 yards, with 43 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. His passer rating against non-AQs is 151.7. Toledo’s record in those games: 19-9. Nine of those wins have come against MAC foes Bowling Green, Eastern Michigan and Central Michigan.
In games that Owens has appeared against FCS teams that finished with .500 or winning records, the Rockets are 7-9.
In games that Owens has appeared against FCS teams that finished with losing records, the Rockets are 11-3 — with those losses coming against Wyoming (2010), Ohio State (2011) and Syracuse (2011).
A couple more numbers on Owens from last season: His third-down passer rating (124.0) ranked 68th nationally … his red-zone rating (101.8) was 15th in the MAC … his road passer rating (130.9) ranked 44th nationally – better than a handful of high-profile QBs, including Florida State’s E.J. Manuel, Syracuse’s Ryan Nassib, Kansas State’s Collin Klein, Ohio State’s Braxton Miller and South Carolina’s Connor Shaw.
• GATOR BAIT: It’s a small sample size against a defense that ranked 16th last year against the pass, but Owens really struggled at Florida last week, especially on third down, completing just 3 of 10 attempts for 21 yards, only one of which picked up a first down. Among his 38 passes, only two of his 17 completions covered 15 yards.
The Gators got Toledo in third-and-long (10 yards or more to the sticks) eight times. Seven times, the Rockets passed, completing just a 4 and 13-yard pass. Owens was also sacked for a 2-yard loss on the game’s first third down. Toledo ran the ball once on third and long, a 9-yard gain by Owens.
Owens also misfired on a third-and-goal throw from the Florida 5 as Toledo settled for a field goal. Later, he threw a costly interception on third and 9.
• FIRST DOWN AND OUT: The Rockets relied heavily on the passing game on first down, throwing on 18 of 23 first downs, but averaged only 5.1 yards per first-down pass attempt. The Gators held their ground on first-down rush attempts, limiting Toledo to just 18 yards on five carries. Tailback David Fluellen, a Doak Walker Award semifinalist last year, was hardly a factor, carrying the ball just five times in the first half. One of those carries went for 28 yards; the other four covered just 8. In the second half, he got just four carries for 10 yards.
• ON THE ROAD: Since 2007, Toledo has played nine true road games against AQ teams, going 2-7 in those games. But the Rockets actually outgained four of those nine opponents in total yards: Michigan (2008), Purdue (2010), Syracuse (2011) and Ohio State (2011).
• PASSED OVER: If the Tigers can exploit anything about these Rockets it might be their pass defense. Toledo ranked last in the MAC last year in passing yards allowed per game, giving up 290.8 per game. That ranked 119th out of 124 FBS teams. Only Texas-San Antonio, Arizona, West Virginia, Baylor and Louisiana Tech gave up more. If you didn’t notice, those last four teams have something in common: Explosive up-tempo passing offenses that tend to score quickly and put the defense back on the field quickly. Toledo fits that category, too, which begs the question: Is the Toledo’s defense that bad defending the pass or are the numbers skewered by its offensive attack?
Toledo gave up a MAC-high 3,781 passing yards last year – but 2,413 of those yards (nearly 64 percent) came when the Rockets were ahead on the scoreboard. Opponents were generally playing catch up with the Rockets last year, though two of the teams that beat Toledo, Arizona and Northern Illinois, torched the Rockets for 387 and 407 passing yards, respectively.
Toledo gives up lots of big passing plays — 34 last season that covered at 25 yards or more.
No team in the MAC gave up more 10-yard passes than Toledo’s 157.
No team in the MAC gave up more 20-yard passes than Toledo’s 52.
No team in the MAC gave up more 30-yard passes than Toledo’s 27.
No team in the MAC gave up more 40-yard passes than Toledo’s 10.
Only six teams across the country gave up more 20-yard passes — including Tennessee, a team Missouri roasted last year in Knoxville for four passing touchdowns.
The Rockets defense was especially vulnerable away from home. Only Ball State and Baylor gave up more 20-yard passes away from home than Toledo’s 32.
The Rockets’ pass defensive efficiency was slightly better, 135.4, which ranked ninth in the 14-team MAC, though they gave up more pass attempts per game (38.5) than any team in the MAC. Toledo’s problem last year was despite a fairly potent offense, the defense didn’t get off the field on third down and gave up too many big passing plays.