Three games in, the pass defense numbers are quite shiny. Fresno State has allowed opponents to complete only 48.8 percent of their passes with a passing efficiency rating of 94.16. The Bulldogs have seven interceptions. But those numbers should rate high in the rankings in the Mountain West Conference and in the nation, because …
A, All seven starters at the linebacker spots (Jeff Allison, George Helmuth, James Bailey) and in the secondary (corners Jaron Bryant and Tank Kelly, safeties Mike Bell and Juju Hughes) return from a defense that last season led the conference in total defense.
B, The Bulldogs haven’t played anyone yet that presented a credible threat. Idaho is an FCS program, Minnesota is 103rd in the nation in passing offense, UCLA is 102nd.
But the spotlight on Saturday will be fixed on the Bulldogs’ pass defense and particularly a secondary charged with covering a big-play group of Toledo wideouts who have the Rockets averaging 10.5 yards per pass attempt and 17.5 yards per completion.
That’s tied for fifth and seventh, respectively, in the nation.
Toledo, 2-1 with a loss to No. 20 Miami, has three wideouts averaging more than 20 yards per reception in leading receiver Diontae Johnson (20.5 yards per catch), Rhett Blackman (24.5) and Jon’Vea Johnson (27.2) and a fourth in Cody Thompson (16.0) who is as tough a cover as the Bulldogs will face this season.
“Their receiving corps is great,” coach Jeff Tedford said, singling out Johnson: “I’ve watched the tape on him and he’s really good. He did a good job against Miami. He was shaking guys. Guys were pressing him and he was making guys miss and scoring touchdowns.”
Toledo has played some underwhelming opponents in VMI and Nevada, but Miami is leading the Atlantic Coast Conference and seventh in the nation in passing defense.
The Rockets in a 49-24 loss hit only 13 of 23 passes in that game, but racked up 222 yards and two touchdowns. They averaged 9.7 yards per pass attempt and 17.1 per completion against the Hurricanes and have the ability to hit a lot of home runs.
Quarterback Mitchell Guadagni has nine TD passes, seven of more than 20 yards, five of more than 30 yards, and is fourth in the nation with a passing efficiency rating of 205.46.
Here’s one more interesting statistic: Toledo is last in the Mid-American Conference in pass attempts per game (26.7) but second in passing yards (280.7).
Pass rush presumably would help, but Toledo has racked up those passing stats while absorbing 3.0 sacks per game, 107th in the nation.
“They’re explosive,” Tedford said. “They’re a very dangerous team. When you look at a team like that – it has 19 of 22 that are either juniors and seniors – they’re a very experienced team. They’ve had a lot of success in their program.
“They’re very well coached and they’re very explosive on offense with a corps of receivers that probably is as good as any and the quarterback is playing really well and is very dangerous when he pulls the ball down. He can make some big plays with his legs and he’s a very accurate passer.”