This year, I’m choosing to be pessimistic about the Toledo Rockets. Given the state of the current team + roster, and how much talent it’s lost (including WR Isaiah Winstead, to portal), it’s hard to see the growth of this team on paper. I’m not worried about the talent of the roster, what’s been worrisome is how this group, which includes 20 starters from last year, performed in close games.

Here’s a quick rundown of Toledo in one-score games over the past few years:

  • 0-2 in 2018; L at EMU 26-28, L vs. FIU 32-35 in Bahamas Bowl.
  • 4-1 in 2019; W 41-35 at Col. St., W vs. BYU 28-21, W vs. WMU 31-24, W vs. EMU 37-34, L vs. NIU 28-31.
  • 1-2 in 2020; L at WMU 38-41, L vs. Ball State 24-27, W vs. CMU 24-23.
  • 0-5 in 2021; L at Notre Dame 29-32, L vs. NIU 20-22, L at CMU 23-26, L vs. EMU 49-52, L vs. Middle Tennessee 24-31 in Bahamas Bowl.

It’s no secret that fans of Toledo have been pounding their fists at the table for better results out of Jason Candle, and every year it seems like this program’s always taking one step forward, then two steps back. At Notre Dame, the Rockets led at halftime 16-14, failed to score in the third quarter, then blew a late, 29-24 lead to spoil the upset. Nobody wants to advocate against scoring go-ahead touchdowns, but maybe Toledo should? Especially after 2020’s stinker in Kalamazoo, one would think that Toldedo would’ve learned from its late-game errors with the ball in the end zone. If Bryant Koback would’ve dribbled the clock out instead of scoring a forfeited touchdown (by WMU’s defense), maybe Toledo games the clock with its timeouts and WMU might’ve never touched the ball again. In South Bound, Dequan Finn turned a 3rd & 1 opportunity into a 26-yard touchdown with 1:35 still on the clock. At the time, Toledo had three timeouts, Notre Dame had one. The opportunity to score a life-changing moment at Notre Dame might be too good to pass up, but the smarter thing to do would’ve been to down yourself after the first down pickup, and try to burn more clock before closing on a game-winning score. Toledo was only down 22-24 during the drive, so field goal would’ve won the game.

After which, Toledo came home to take on Colorado State. This should’ve been an easy win for Toledo, but the Rockets failed to score a TD and lost 22-6. Toledo’s next home game would be against Northern Illinois. The Huskies this time would be the ones to fail a TD, but the NIU offense still out-gained Toledo’s (396-364) and kicker John Richardson nailed seven field goals to defeat Toledo.

The Rockets lost in OT at Central Michigan after UT out-scored CMU 20-6 in the second half to keep the game going. CMU’s Marshall Meeder hit an easy 38-yard kick to re-take the lead. Toledo’s Thomas Cluckey was sent out to match it after Finn was sacked on 3rd & 12. Cluckey’s kick was blocked, and Toledo found its third way to lose a close game in 2021.

The fourth way Toledo found a way to lose close was to get into a rootin-tootin shootout with Eastern Michigan of all teams. And in the Bahamas Bowl, Toledo’s close loss was probably the least-embarrassing. A blown lead by Toledo, yes, but there were some decent plays scattered throughout, but UT missed a 43-yard FG attempt, and Finn’s late interception led to a gap-widening score for the Blue Raiders.

The offense might’ve led the MAC in scoring last year (33.4 per game), but that’s only true because it got the benefit of playing the three worst teams in the East for its crossover games: Akron (49-14), BGSU (49-17), and Ohio (35-23). Toledo’s ulitmately going to be judged on its 2021 season by the way it played in close games (in league play), and if we want to think about ways Toledo can improve in 2022, then figuring out how to mentally prepare on offense for crunch-time thinking instead of trying to out-talent the field into double-digit victories might be the area to focus on.


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