Toledo Vs. Air Force, Military Bowl 2011: Falcons Will Struggle

COLUMBUS, OH - SEPTEMBER 10: Eric Page #12 of the Toledo Rockets is tackled by Storm Klein #32 of the Ohio State Buckeyes during the third quarter on September 10, 2011 at Ohio Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. Ohio State defeated Toledo 27-22. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)

Only turnovers and lack of discipline can prevent Toledo from recording the MAC's second big win over the Mountain West. The Rockets have potentially the deepest skill position unit of any mid-major team; now is one of your final opportunities in 2011 to get your MACtion on.

NOTE: Confused? See the quick glossary at the bottom.

Defense will come to the forefront when Texas and California match wits tonight in San Diego. As a natural counter-balance, then, we present the Military Bowl, where two incredibly different offenses will try to keep pace with each other. At first glance, Toledo has far too many weapons for the Falcons, but a coaching change and Air Force's unique offense could negate a good portion of their advantage.

Team Record AP Rank 2011 F/+ Rk 2011 Off.
F/+ Rk
2011 Def.
F/+ Rk
2011 S.T.
F/+ Rk
Toledo 8-4 NR 30 27 40 74
Air Force 7-5 NR 79 58 104 76
Team Pace Rk Covariance Rk MACtion Rk Schizophrenia Rk
Toledo 8 90 69 56
Air Force 25 92 113 111

It is quite difficult, in general, for a MAC team to rank in the F/+ Top 30 without some huge, 12-0 or 11-1 season. In 2011, two different MAC teams managed this feat: Temple (No. 23) and Toledo (No. 30). Temple looked the part in a massacre of Wyoming; now it's Toledo's turn to attempt to make the case that, after the Top Two, the MAC may have actually been a deeper conference than the Mountain West in 2011. The Rockets were both efficient and explosive on offense and had at least a few interesting moments on defense; their season could have been much different if they had managed to close the deal in tough, tight losses to Ohio State (27-22), Syracuse (33-30) and Northern Illinois (63-60).

Air Force, meanwhile, managed to reach bowl eligibility thanks mostly to the aforementioned weak Mountain West. The best team they beat, according to F/+ rankings? No. 84 Navy. Five of their seven wins came against either FCS teams or teams ranked 105th or worse. The average score of their three games versus Top 30 teams? Opponent 44, Air Force 26.

When Toledo Has The Ball…

Team F/+
Rk
S&P+
Rk
FEI
Rk
Success
Rt+ Rk
PPP+
Rk
Rushing
S&P+ Rk
Passing
S&P+ Rk
Toledo Offense 27 16 36 13 23 18 23
Air Force Defense 104 98 84 114 91 86 116
Team Std. Downs
Run %
S.D.
S&P+ Rk
Pass. Downs
Run %
P.D.
S&P+ Rk
Toledo Offense 64.0% 14 35.6% 30
Air Force Defense 71.7% 103 45.4% 118
National Average 69.1% 30.9%

Tim Beckman may not have had a true, breakthrough season at Toledo before leaving for Illinois, but he did put one fantastic offense on the field in 2011. If state-mate Ohio State had this offense this season, they would have been a Top 10 team.

Quarterbacks Terrance Owens and Austin Dantin managed to pull off the rare, fantastic two-QB system -- each completed at least 65 percent of their passes and averaged at least seven yards per pass attempt (including sacks), and each produced a stellar 15-to-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio; granted, they had plenty of help around them. Running backs Adonis Thomas and Morgan Williams combined to rush for 1,625 yards (5.8 per carry) and catch 45 passes at 9.1 yards per target (a phenomenal average for running backs ... hell, a good total for No. 1 receivers). They were each frequent targets, especially on passing downs, as was third-stringer David Fluellen (473 rushing yards, 16 receptions). Throw in go-to possession receiver Eric Page (1,099 yards, 7.7 per target) and explosive No. 2 Bernard Reedy (647 yards, 10.8 per target), and you've potentially got more skill position talent than any other mid-major program, including Boise State and TCU.

Toledo's efficiency is going to cause fits for an Air Force bend-don't-break defense that broke quite a bit in 2011. Only two defenses were worse than Air Force's on passing downs, and only six were less efficient overall. If the Falcons make a play, it is likely coming from a linebacker in their 3-4 set -- either Brady Amack (five tackles for loss, four forced fumbles), Alex Means (nine tackles for loss, three forced fumbles), Patrick Hennessey (5.5 tackles for loss) or Jamil Cooks (six tackles for loss) -- but this defense was overwhelmed against good offenses, and Toledo's is a very good offense.

When Air Force Has The Ball…

Team F/+
Rk
S&P+
Rk
FEI
Rk
Success
Rt+ Rk
PPP+
Rk
Rushing
S&P+ Rk
Passing
S&P+ Rk
Air Force Offense 58 39 43 37 67 46 38
Toledo Defense 40 43 60 37 42 19 52
Team Std. Downs
Run %
S.D.
S&P+ Rk
Pass. Downs
Run %
P.D.
S&P+ Rk
Air Force Offense 82.4% 30 61.7% 101
Toledo Defense 52.3% 85 24.7% 51
National Average 69.1% 30.9%

Air Force's best hope for victory comes in their ability to control the ball. The Falcons run as much as the other service academies -- you will get your triple option fix -- but a) they ran it better than the other academies in 2011, and b) they do it without a lot of flexbone. You will see a lot of I-formation, and even some shotgun, from the Falcons, but make no mistake: if they are passing a lot, that probably isn't good. It probably means they are losing by quite a bit. If Toledo maintains discipline (often a tough assignment when you, like Toledo, haven't faced much of this since high school), this game could be a rout. But you never really know ahead of time how a defense will handle this.

Quarterback Tim Jefferson starts his fourth bowl game for the Falcons; he has long provided a nice combination of efficient option execution and occasional passing proficiency. He rushed for 547 yards and passed for 1,478 in 2011; he has nice option partners in Asher Clark (1,096 yards, plus-9.9 Adj. POE) and Mike DeWitt (543 yards, plus-2.2 Adj. POE), and Jonathan Warzeka is a solid run-catch threat (392 receiving yards, 149 rushing yards). On a per-target basis, Zack Kauth (543 receiving yards, 12.6 per target) was one of the best No. 1 receivers in the country, but obviously that has a lot to do with defenses always expecting the run, even on second- and third-and-long. When Air Force does go to the air on standard downs (a rarity), it is effective.

Toledo's defense got torched by a few teams but was still effective enough to rank in the F/+ Top 40. They were particularly stout against the run -- the defensive line ranked 25th in Adj. Line Yards, and linebackers Robert Bell and Terrell Anderson were both great close to the line of scrimmage -- but as we've learned countless times over the years, "defending the run" and "defending the triple option" are two completely different things. Still, one has to figure a strong front seven gives the Rockets a fighting chance.

The Verdict

Toledo by 12.8.

Like the last MAC-vs-MWC contest (Temple/Wyoming), this one is projected to skew heavily in favor of the MAC team. Toledo has a chance to roll up serious yardage and make a nice statement overall, but they will have to be disciplined. Air Force only stays in this game if they are winning the turnover battle and staying in second- and third-and-short situations. Not likely, but certainly not impossible.

--------------------

A Quick Glossary

Covariance: This tells us whether a team tends to play up or down to their level of competition. A higher ranking means a team was more likely to play well against bad teams while struggling (relatively speaking) against good ones. (So in a way, lower rankings are better.) For more, go here.

F/+ Rankings: The official rankings for the college portion of Football Outsiders. They combine my own S&P+ rankings (based on play-by-play data) with Brian Fremeau's drives-based FEI rankings.

Pace: This is calculated by going beyond simply who runs the most plays. Teams that pass more are naturally inclined to run more plays (since there are more clock stoppages involved), so what we do here is project how many plays a team would typically be expected to run given their run-pass ratio, then compare their actual plays to expectations. Teams, then, are ranked in order from the most plays above the expected pace, to the least.

Passing Downs: Second-and-7 or more, third-and-5 or more.

PPP: An explosiveness measure derived from determining the point value of every yard line (based on the expected number of points an offense could expect to score from that yard line) and, therefore, every play of a given game.

S&P+: Think of this as an OPS (the "On-Base Plus Slugging" baseball measure) for football. The 'S' stands for success rates, a common Football Outsiders efficiency measure that basically serves as on-base percentage. The 'P' stands for PPP+, an explosiveness measure that stands for EqPts Per Play. The "+" means it has been adjusted for the level of opponent, obviously a key to any good measure in college football. S&P+ is measured for all non-garbage time plays in a given college football game. Plays are counted within the following criteria: when the score is within 28 points in the first quarter, within 24 points in the second quarter, within 21 points in the third quarter, and within 16 points (i.e. two possession) in the fourth quarter. For more about this measure, visit the main S&P+ page at Football Outsiders.

Schizophrenia: This measures how steady a team's performances are throughout the course of a full season. Teams with a higher ranking tend to be extremely unpredictable from week to week. For more, go here.

Standard Downs: First downs, second-and-6 or less, third-and-4 or less.

Success Rate: A common Football Outsiders tool used to measure efficiency by determining whether every play of a given game was successful or not. The terms of success in college football: 50 percent of necessary yardage on first down, 70 percent on second down, and 100 percent on third and fourth down.

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