SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — While No. 8 Notre Dame was finishing off a 41-38 overtime victory at Florida State over the weekend, Toledo coach Jason Candle and his Rockets were very interested viewers.
Despite his team being more than two touchdown underdogs heading to Notre Dame Stadium where the Fighting Irish have the nation’s second-longest home win streak of 24 games, Candle is embracing the challenge of Saturday's game.
“We’re playing a great football team – they are talented across the board (and) very well coached in all three phases,” Candle said. “We’re looking forward to going out and playing a great football team and giving it our best shot.”
The Rockets (1-0) will have had an extra day of rest since they played Saturday and beat Norfolk State 49-10. That’s something Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly isn’t taking lightly after his team (1-0) arrived home at 4:30 a.m. Monday after Sunday night's win in Tallahassee.
“We’re really going to have to rely on getting the right preparation and rest to play our best," he said. "We’re playing a really good football team in Toledo. In my estimation after watching some of their film, this is probably the finest MAC team that we’ve brought into the stadium since I’ve been here.”
The Rockets allowed just 272 yards and returned two blocked punts for touchdowns while their offense got 236 yards passing and 205 yards rushing using two quarterbacks, Carter Bradley and Dequan Finn.
The duo have the full attention of Kelly and new Irish defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman, whose Irish struggled against Florida State’s quarterback duo of Jordan Travis and McKenzie Milton and a Seminoles running game that totaled 264 yards.
The Irish got an impressive starting debut from grad transfer quarterback Jack Coan (26 of 35 passing for 366 yards and four touchdowns), but Notre Dame struggled running the football behind its revamped offensive line. Preseason AP All-American Kyren Williams had 42 yards on 18 carries and Chris Tyree mustered just 31 on seven.
BACK IN A GROOVE
Notre Dame placekicker Jonathan Doerer struggled late in the 2020 season, blaming too much preseason kicking for a tired leg at season’s end when he made just four of his last nine field-goal attempts. At Florida State, the grad student made field goals of 48 and 41 yards, the last one in overtime after the Seminoles took a timeout to ice him.
“I was pretty comfortable, pretty calm,” said Doerer, who received the game ball.
TWICE IS NICE
Maxen Hook, a Toledo safety who plays on special teams, returns to his home state after factoring in both touchdowns scored by the Rockets after blocked punts. Hook returned the first blocked punt 25 yards to put Toledo up 14-0 midway through the first quarter. A few minutes later, Hook blocked a punt that Jacquez Stuart returned 14 yards to make it 21-7.
“It couldn’t have gone better for us on special teams,” Hook said after the victory.
AN IRISH HYBRID
Just as opposing teams need to account for Notre Dame All-America safety Kyle Hamilton, they may have to do the same with 6-foot-5, 260-pound junior Isaiah Foskey, who lines up at defensive end in four-lineman looks and moves inside to linebacker when the Irish use three linemen.
“At defensive end, my eyes are on the tackle and then transitioning to the quarterback and the guards pulling and everything,” said Foskey, who had two of Notre Dame’s five sacks against Florida State. “I can outrun a lineman. In the middle of the field, you have to see everything. It opens up your eyes.”
Kelly said senior WR Lawrence Keys III has decided to leave the team and finish his degree. Kelly also announced surgeries for freshman OT Blake Fisher (meniscus repair, 8 weeks), LB Paul Moala (torn Achilles tendon, season), LB Shayne Simon (torn labrum, season) and TE Keith Bauman (fibula fracture, 6 weeks). DE Jordan Botelho and RB C’Bo Flemister will sit out for a second straight week.
Th game will mark the sixth time that Notre Dame has hosted a Mid-American Conference team (5-0). All have been played during the 12-year tenure of Kelly, who spent three seasons (2004-06) as Central Michigan’s head coach.
Not all of the Rockets will be making their first visit to Notre Dame Stadium. Linebacker Jonathan Jones, in his second year at Toledo, transferred after receiving his degree and after playing 38 games for the Irish from 2017-19, making 17 tackles. Last season at Toledo, Jones totaled 19 tackles and a fumble recovery in six games. Saturday against Norfolk State, Jones had six tackles, one for loss.
“We’re already locked in,” Jones replied when asked about playing Notre Dame. “We’re ready to go.”
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