BYU coach Kalani Sitake still remembers the first and only time the Cougars played Toledo. It was 2016 — Sitake’s first year at the helm of BYU football and Jason Candle’s first year leading the Rockets.
It was also a defensive nightmare.
Sitake compared it to the recent UCLA-Washington State game that ended 67-63 in favor of the Bruins.
But at the end of the day, there was a positive: the Cougars won, 55-53. It also turned out to be an offensive battle between BYU's Jamaal Williams and Toledo's Kareem Hunt. Williams broke the program's single-game rushing record with 286 yards and five touchdowns.
“Fortunately, we were able to get the win,” Sitake said. “That was a good game. It showed a lot of explosiveness, great athletes on the field.”
Now, the Cougars will make their first trip to Toledo’s Glass Bowl Saturday in what should be another competitive outing between both programs.
The Rockets, of the Mid-America Conference, don’t seem to have changed much since the last time they faced the Cougars — they still put up a lot of points. Toledo has averaged more than 36 points in its first three games. In comparison, BYU is averaging 22.5 in four games.
They also do a good job of running the ball, have a big, physical back, quarterback Mitchell Guadagni isn't afraid to run the ball and, when he does need to throw, he's efficient, Sitake said.
“We need to make sure that we're at our best to compete with these guys,” Sitake said.
BYU assistant head coach Ed Lamb said the defensive line hasn’t faced a lot of teams that use the design quarterback run. Utah could have, but they probably didn’t feel like they needed to risk it.
In three games, Guadagni has rushed for 199 yards on 30 carries and two touchdowns. He's also thrown 499 yards on 31-of-52 passing and four touchdowns without throwing an interception.
Along with Guadagni, Toledo also has one of the best tight ends in the country in Reggie Gilliam. The senior is a candidate for the 2019 Mackey Award, which honors the nation’s top tight end, and is also nominated for the Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year Award for leadership.
“They pull the ball out and throw the RPO, if you commit too much to the run,” Lamb said. “So, it's just going to have to be just good, solid, sound 11-man defense.”
In order for the linebackers to be able to able to read the offense quickly enough to make the necessary adjustments, Lamb said the group will need to read the action in the backfield and the level of the offensive line at the same time.
“If the offensive line is out low, then it's a little faster,” Lamb said. “If the offensive line is a little higher, chances are it's going to be an RPO play.”
On the other side of the ball, running back coach AJ Steward describes the Toledo defense as fast, playing to the ball every snap. He knows they're very well coached, disciplined, hard-nosed, tough players.
Trying to gain yards against the Rockets will be a challenge.
The Cougars will have to play physically, match their intensity and play confidently, Steward said.
“They've been a really good football program for a lot of years,” Steward said. “Us coming into town, it's not going to be a big shock to them. They're going to expect to win, so we need to match that intensity and match that mindset.
“It should be a good game on Saturday.”
BYU AT TOLEDO
At Glass Bowl, Toledo, Ohio
Kickoff » Saturday, 10 a.m. MT
Live stream » ESPN+
Radio » 1160 AM/102.7 FM
Records » BYU 2-2; Toledo 2-1
All-time series » BYU leads 1-0
Last meeting » BYU 55, Toledo 53 (Sept. 30, 2016)
About BYU » The Cougars are coming off a 45-19 loss to Washington, which snapped a two-game winning streak. … BYU lost Ty’Son Williams last week to a season-ending ACL tear. … This is the Cougars’ first trip to the Glass Bowl (capacity 26,248). … BYU is 1-0 against Toledo.
About Toledo » The Rockets have won their last two games after dropping their season opener. … Quarterback Mitchell Guadagni has thrown for 499 yards and four touchdowns without an interception and rushed for 199 yards on 30 carries and two touchdowns. … Toledo is averaging 36.7 points per game this season.