Toledo hasn’t started this well or been ranked this high in 18 years, but that’s about where the comparisons end between this and the 1997 team.
The 19th-ranked Rockets knocked off a pair of Power 5 squads to open the season and have dominated every opponent since. The only adversity they’ve faced is the loss of leading tackler Jaylen Coleman, who will sit out his first game when they face Massachusetts on Saturday at Gillette Stadium.
Toledo is 6-0 for the first time since winning eight straight to open the ’97 season, when they reached No. 18 in the AP poll. That squad dropped three of their last four, but these Rockets haven’t showed any signs of slowing down.
They beat then-No. 18 Arkansas 16-12 on Sept. 12 before beating Iowa State 30-23 at home the following week. Toledo has outscored opponents 162-44 over the last four and set a season high with 611 total yards in Saturday’s 63-20 win over Eastern Michigan to go 3-0 in MAC play.
Phillip Ely threw for 327 yards and tied a career high with four touchdowns, while Terry Swanson, Kareem Hunt and Damion Jones-Moore added scores on the ground.
Toledo quarterbacks haven’t been sacked in 206 pass attempts to join Air Force as the only FBS teams not to give up a sack. Still, coach Matt Campbell is staying humble about the early success.
"We’re not a finished product. We’ve got a lot of work to do," Campbell said. "I think our kids know that. For us, it’s been nothing more than how we get ourselves better and get prepared for the next football game.
"We’ve gotten better every week, and that’s what I love about our football team."
The Rockets are allowing just 13.2 points per game – seventh in the FBS – but they’ve also allowed at least 458 yards of total offense three times. That unit will be without Coleman for the rest of the season after the junior linebacker broke his leg against Eastern Michigan.
Toledo hopes his absence won’t hinder the defense, especially after it had trouble stopping UMass (1-5, 0-2) in last year’s meeting. Blake Frohnapfel threw for 438 yards and a career high-tying five touchdowns for the Minutemen, but Hunt ran for 198 yards and a touchdown before Swanson scored his second TD with 34 seconds left to give Toledo a 42-35 win.
Frohnapfel and the rest of the UMass offense struggled in last week’s 15-10 loss to Kent State, though. The Minutemen finished with a season-low 257 total yards as Frohnapfel went 17 of 33 for 171 yards with no TDs and an interception.
The senior had thrown three touchdowns in each of the previous two.
"I’m not worried about (getting over a tough loss) at all," Frohnapfel said. "We have strong guys in that locker room. We’ve had tough losses here over the past years, and we’ve always bounced back and kept the spirits up in the locker room. We have resilient guys and we should be good."
UMass’ defense forced its sixth turnover of the season and held its opponent to fewer than 400 yards for the second time in three weeks. The problem is that the Minutemen still rank 114th of 127 FBS teams in scoring defense (37.7) and 115th in yards allowed per game (489.5).
Toledo’s average of 446.2 yards per contest is second in the MAC and includes a conference-best 204.5 per game on the ground. Swanson is averaging 7.9 yards on 60 carries and broke free for a 90-yard run last week.