Mar 1, 2024; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Toledo defensive back Quinyon Mitchell (DB27) works out during the 2024 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Quinyon Mitchell confident as top CB in 2024 NFL Draft

Toledo cornerback Quinyon Mitchell overcame every doubt with emphatic answers on his path to the 2024 NFL Draft.

Critics and doubters questioned almost every area of Mitchell’s game the past 12 months but he arrives on the doorstep of the 2024 draft as the top-ranked cornerback in this class by leaving no room for naysayers along the way.

Mitchell dominated in the MAC with six interceptions and 45 pass breakups the past two seasons with the Rockets. Some wondered if he could have the same impact against Power 5 prospects. Senior Bowl director Jim Nagy, who had other top-ranked draft prospects at the position turn down invitations to the annual pre-draft showcase in Mobile, was an early supporter of Mitchell and provided the stage Mitchell needed in January.

Mitchell said he went to the Senior Bowl to compete and with a point to prove.

“That I can hang with the big dawgs,” Mitchell said.

He rapidly rose from the “best non-Power 5 prospect” in the draft to perhaps the top defensive player in the draft. Mitchell is one of 13 prospects invited to sit in the draft green room in Detroit on Thursday.

Mitchell turned heads all week at the Senior Bowl and turned his attention to preparing for the 2024 NFL Scouting Combine. He knew his on-field production and lockdown skills displayed at the Senior Bowl would earn high marks. If he could break 4.35 in the 40-yard dash, Mitchell was sure his case for top billing among cornerbacks would be closed.

He ran 4.33.

But to Mitchell, his wheels were never a question mark.

At 193 pounds he ran the 40 in 4.39 seconds at a school timing day last spring. Mitchell said he has been timed even faster since and has a track background.

“I didn’t come here to be mediocre. I came here to break records,” he said before running the 40 at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Most major publications place Mitchell in the top 20 picks before the draft, with a few projecting him in the top 10 to the Las Vegas Raiders or Atlanta Falcons.

Those teams would likely need to be convinced Mitchell has everything it takes to be a No. 1 cornerback in the NFL.

Mitchell was GPS chip-timed at the same top speed as Miami Dolphins All-Pro Tyreek Hill — 23 miles per hour. NFL Next Gen Stats uses the same technology and tracked only three scoring plays over 22 mph in the 2023 regular season: Seahawks wide receiver DK Metcalf (22.23, Week 13), Bengals running back Chase Brown (22.05 mph, Week 14) and Hill (22.01 mph, Week 5).

Already strong with long arms, the 6-foot frame of a No. 1 cornerback in the NFL with physical and competitive gold stars on his scouting report, Toledo coaches praised Mitchell most for his professional approach to football. He applies the attention to detail expected from other coaches — not necessarily 20-something players outside of the Power 5.

Mitchell said he considers himself a student of the game, a film addict who likes to tell opponents what’s coming based on down and distance before running the route for them. His dedication and desire to be the best are evident in the results. He studies and charts the technique and winning traits of Trent McDuffie (Chiefs) and the Eagles’ Darius Slay to make sure he has more answers to doubters at the next level.

“The ball will get you paid,” Mitchell said. “At the Senior Bowl, I learned every ball that’s thrown in the air is worth $2.5 million. I’m just trying to get that money.”

–Field Level Media

Toledo Rockets cornerback Quinyon Mitchell (27) breaks up a pass intended for Miami (OH) Redhawks wide receiver Gage Larvadain (10) in the third quarter at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Lon Horwedel-USA TODAY Sports

Cue CB1: Toledo’s Quinyon Mitchell ‘can hang with big dawgs’

INDIANAPOLIS — Toledo cornerback Quinyon Mitchell might run out of boxes to check before the 2024 NFL Draft arrives.

Mitchell dominated in the MAC with six interceptions and 45 pass breakups the past two seasons with the Rockets. He caught the attention of Senior Bowl director Jim Nagy, who had other top-ranked draft prospects at the position turn down invitations to the annual pre-draft showcase in Mobile.

Mitchell said he went to the Senior Bowl to compete and with a point to prove.

“That I can hang with the big dawgs,” Mitchell said.

He’s rocketing up draft boards based on his dominance in practices and drills at the Senior Bowl, where Mitchell wanted to show his level of competition in college wasn’t a cap on his ability or potential as a prospect.

Mitchell, who said he watches Chiefs corner Trent McDuffie and the Eagles’ Darius Slay, brought the same mindset to Indianapolis.

“The ball will get you paid,” Mitchell said of what he learned in Mobile. “At the Senior Bowl, I learned every ball that’s thrown in the air is worth $2.5 million. I’m just trying to get that money.”

Speed testing won’t be a problem. Mitchell was GPS chip-timed at the same top speed as Miami Dolphins All-Pro Tyreek Hill, 23 miles per hour. NFL Next Gen Stats uses the same technology and tracked only three scoring plays over 22 mph in the 2023 regular season: Seahawks wide receiver DK Metcalf (22.23, Week 13), Bengals running back Chase Brown (22.05 mph, Week 14) and Hill (22.01 mph, Week 5).

The cornerback draft board is stacked with big names, headlined by Alabama’s starting tandem of Kool-Aid McKinstry and Terrion Arnold. But recruiting rankings are meaningless at the moment.

Toledo played primarily off-man coverage, freeing Mitchell to let his ball-hawk ability fly.

By the middle of the 2023 season, prominent media draft analysts began surfacing Mitchell’s name as a potential second-round cornerback. As of the start of the Scouting Combine this week, The Athletic and NFL Network rated Mitchell as a top-15 pick.

At 193 pounds he ran the 40 in 4.39 seconds at a school timing day last spring. Mitchell said he has been timed even faster since and has a track background.

“I didn’t come here to be mediocre. I came here to break records,” he said Thursday.

–Field Level Media

Dec 30, 2023; Tucson, AZ, USA; Wyoming Cowboys place kicker John Hoyland (46) celebrates with offensive MVP trophy after the Wyoming Cowboys beat the Toledo Rockets in the Arizona Bowl at Arizona Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

John Hoyland’s FG lifts Wyoming over Toledo in Arizona Bowl

John Hoyland kicked a 24-yard field goal with one second remaining to lift Wyoming to a 16-15 comeback win over Toledo in the Arizona Bowl on Saturday evening in Tucson, Ariz.

Hoyland’s kick capped a game-winning, 12-play, 87-yard drive for Wyoming (9-4). Andrew Peasley completed 20 of 25 passes for 168 yards for the Cowboys, who won their final game under coach Craig Bohl before his retirement.

Tucker Gleason completed 14 of 34 passes for 184 yards and one interception for Toledo (11-3). Jacquez Stuart led the team with 99 rushing yards and a touchdown.

Wyoming trailed 15-13 when it got the ball on its own 6-yard line with 4:11 to play. Peasley set the tone with a 26-yard completion to Ayir Asante on the first play of the drive.

A 13-yard run by Evan Svoboda put the Cowboys in the red zone at the Toledo 10-yard line with 1:05 to go. Wyoming called one more running play before setting the stage for Hoyland’s short kick.

Wyoming was first on the scoreboard with a field goal, which proved to be the only scoring play for either team in the first quarter. Hoyland made a 34-yard kick to give the Cowboys a 3-0 lead.

Hoyland struck again, this time from 52 yards, to make it 6-0 with 11:20 remaining in the first half.

Toledo pulled within 6-3 on a 33-yard field goal by Luke Pawlak on the next possession.

The Rockets grabbed a 10-6 lead on the biggest play of the game less than four minutes later. Stuart darted through the left side of the line, evaded a diving defender and outraced the rest of the Cowboys defense to the end zone for an 80-yard touchdown.

A safety by Toledo’s defense made it 12-6 with 6:31 to go in the third quarter. On third-and-7, Peasley dropped back to pass, and Esean Carter sacked him from the blind side in the end zone.

Pawlak made a 33-yard field goal to boost Toledo’s lead to 15-6 with 2:04 left in the third quarter.

Wyoming cut the deficit to 15-13 with 8:37 to go in the fourth quarter. Svoboda barreled into the end zone for a 1-yard rushing touchdown.

–Field Level Media

Toledo running back Peny Boone, second in the nation in yards per carry, powers the Rockets into the MAC title game. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Streaking Toledo optimistic MAC title means much more

Mid-American Conference
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Toledo hunts consecutive MAC titles and much more Saturday, where the Rockets’ 11-game win streak and coveted bowl game bids are on the line against 10-win Miami.

Beating the RedHawks for a second time in 42 days stands in the way of the Rockets reaching their stated season goals.

The Rockets (11-1) are unbeaten since dropping a 30-28 heartbreaker at Illinois – Toledo surrendered a 19-7 third-quarter lead — to start the 2023 season. They’re propelled by the No. 1 scoring offense in the MAC (35.3 points per game) and had 10 players on the All-MAC first team.

Toledo running back Peny Boone has 1,359 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns, including eight 100-yard games this season.

The College Football Playoff committee listed Toledo as one of the teams in the running for a New Year’s Six bowl game entering the weekend. Hitting the bowl game jackpot would likely require other Group of 5 teams – No. 22 Tulane and No. 24 Liberty – to bust in their conference championship settings.

“We’ve done a lot of things here that no other team in the history of the school has done and we want to continue to add to that legacy,” Tulane coach Jason Candle said.

The RedHawks (10-2) led the conference in scoring defense (16.3 points per game) and feature linebacker Matt Salopek, the conference defensive player of the year.

Miami fell behind Toledo 21-3 at halftime in the first meeting between the teams this season.

The RedHawks lost fifth-year quarterback Brett Gabbert to a season-ending leg injury in the fourth quarter.

Miami shut out Toledo in the second half, forcing punts on five of eight drives, and narrowly lost the Oct. 21 matchup, 21-17.

A 10-win team for the first time since 2010, the RedHawks survived a rough road to reach Detroit. They are one of only two teams in the FBS (James Madison) with six road wins in the regular season. Injuries, and overcoming them, was a theme Miami coach Chuck Martin has embraced.

“You look back and say you beat a Power 5 second year in a row, beat Cincinnati, get the Victory Bell, you lose Brett … wasn’t easy,” Martin said. “Now you’ve got a chance to go play for a MAC championship. Not a lot to complain about.”

Miami lost to Toledo in the only meeting between the teams in the MAC championship game in 2004.

–Field Level Media

Sep 2, 2023; Champaign, Illinois, USA;  Toledo Rockets safety Nate Bauer (6) tries to tackle Illinois Fighting Illini wide receiver Casey Washington (14) during the first half at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Illinois overtakes Toledo on late field goal

Caleb Griffin kicked a game-winning 29-yard field goal with five seconds left and Luke Altmyer passed for 211 yards and two touchdowns to boost host Illinois to a season-opening 30-28 victory against Toledo on Saturday in Champaign, Ill.

A 12-play, 64-yard drive gave Illinois the victory against a Rockets team that led by as many as 12 but never trailed by more than one possession.

Toledo quarterback Dequan Finn scored on a go-ahead, 1-yard touchdown run with 2:59 remaining while passing for 230 yards and two scores.

Illinois responded, however. Altmyer, a Mississippi transfer making his first start with the program, connected with Casey Washington for a 33-yard gain on 4th and 4 to move the ball to the Rockets’ 31-yard line with just over two minutes left.

Toledo (0-1) surrendered three straight Illinois touchdowns in the third and fourth quarters. Luke Pawlak kicked a 44-yard field goal with 9:38 left to draw the Rockets within 27-22 before Finn’s scoring run, which was set up after a roughing the passer penalty on third down that extended the drive for the Rockets.

Altmyer was 18-for-26 passing for 211 yards, two touchdowns and an interception, and was Illinois’ leading rusher with 69 yards on nine carries. Pat Bryant had six catches for 64 yards and two scores.

Finn was 20-for-36 passing with an interception. Junio Vandeross III had six catches for 80 yards, while Jacquez Stuart rushed 12 times for 82 yards.

Toledo outgained Illinois 215-177 in the first half en route to a 12-7 lead. The Rockets had 17 first downs, 10 more than the Illini.

Illinois drove for a touchdown on the game’s first possession, covering 75 yards in 10 plays over 5:13. A Josh McCray 1-yard scoring run punctuated the drive.

Toledo tightened up defensively after that, forcing two punts and a turnover on downs for the remainder of the first half. Meanwhile, the Rockets’ attack started to click. After punting following the first Illinois score, Toledo scored on each of its next four drives bridging the second and third quarters.

Pawlak kicked field goals of 27 and 25 yards before Finn connected with Jerjuan Newton for a 15-yard touchdown pass with four seconds remaining before halftime.

Illinois overcame 10 penalties for 100 yards.

–Field Level Media

Luke Altmyer (7), pictured last season at Ole Miss, won the starting QB job at Illinois. Mandatory Credit: Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

Illinois intros new QB, wary of tested Toledo

Illinois quarterback Luke Altmyer may seem long on seasoning, but Saturday’s season opener against visiting Toledo will mark merely his first start with the program and second overall.

“Sometimes I have to step back and look through that (lens) and remind myself that even though he presents himself as a very experienced, mature player, he’s experienced in every facet of the sense except for actually playing,” Illinois offensive coordinator Barry Lunney Jr. said.

The Mississippi transfer’s nine career appearances and four touchdowns — three through the air — still beat the alternative as the Fighting Illini face the reigning Mid-American Conference champions.

Sixteen starters return for the Rockets, including seven all-conference players. That total includes quarterback Dequan Finn, a second-team all-MAC selection after passing for 23 touchdowns and adding 631 yards on the ground. Cornerback Quinyon Mitchell, an all-MAC first-teamer a season ago, anchors a defense that helped Toledo finish 9-5 with a win over Liberty in the Boca Raton Bowl.

Illinois went 8-5 in 2022 but lost four of its last five games, including a 19-10 defeat to Mississippi State in the ReliaQuest Bowl. The defense, which finished No. 1 in opponents’ scoring in the nation, got a jolt when defensive lineman Jer’Zhan “Johnny” Newton decided to return for his junior season.

Several key players must be replaced behind Newton, including cornerback Devon Witherspoon, who was selected No. 5 overall in this year’s draft by the Seattle Seahawks. Illinois is also without running back Chase Brown, who compiled 1,883 total yards in 2022 before being drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals.

A Walter Camp All-American second-team selection, Newton paced Illinois with 5.5 sacks, 14 tackles for loss, 11 quarterback hurries and two fumble recoveries.

Toledo coach Jason Candle stressed the importance of making the Illini “earn whatever they get” on Saturday.

“Whether it’s Toledo playing whoever or it’s any game you would have on Saturday on TV, more games are lost than they are won, you know,” Candle said. “Teams self-inflict. They turn the ball over. They have a ton of penalties. They make costly errors in tough spots.

We’ve got to protect the ball. We’ve got to make smart plays. We’ve got to communicate great on defense and not give up easy touchdowns.”

The Saturday contest will mark the first meeting between the programs.

–Field Level Media

Nov 5, 2022; Fayetteville, Arkansas, USA; Liberty Flames defensive tackle Dre Butler (5) and defensive end Durrell Johnson (11) tackle Arkansas Razorbacks quarterback KJ Jefferson (1) in the second half at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Liberty won 21-19. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Liberty, Toledo look to end on high note in Boca Raton Bowl

Liberty was sailing along with an impressive season in early November but hasn’t prevailed since and lost coach Hugh Freeze to Auburn.

The Flames (8-4) will try to recapture their magic and end the season on an impressive note when they face Toledo (8-5) on Tuesday night in the Boca Raton Bowl in Florida.

Co-defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Jason Aldridge is serving as interim coach as Liberty aims to move to 4-0 in bowl games as an FBS program.

The Flames recorded wins over Arkansas and BYU but are carrying a three-game slide into the matchup with the Rockets.

“It’s been somewhat of an emotional roller-coaster this season — some of the biggest moments in school history and then your head coach leaves, which is part of this game,” Aldridge said in a press conference on Wednesday. “So, just trying to make sure these guys enjoy this week and hopefully go get a win.”

Jamey Chadwell, most recently of Coastal Carolina, will take over the Liberty program following the bowl game.

Toledo is 3-0 all-time against the Flames with all the wins coming during Liberty’s time in the FCS ranks.

The Rockets defeated Ohio 17-7 in the Mid-American Conference title game to earn this invitation to the South Florida bowl for the second time.

The first was in 2015 when Toledo defeated Temple 32-17 in Jason Candle’s first game as coach after Matt Campbell took the Iowa State job. Candle since is 0-4 in bowl trips.

Quarterback Dequan Finn leads the Rockets’ offense and has passed for 2,127 yards, 22 touchdowns and 12 interceptions while adding 608 yards and eight scores on the ground.

Cornerback Quinyon Mitchell has five interceptions and earned multiple All-American honors. He rocketed his way onto the national radar when he tied the school record with four interceptions and set a program mark by returning two of them for touchdowns in a 52-32 road win over Northern Illinois on Oct. 8.

“He’s not a guy that says a lot but he’s a guy that shows competitive spirit each day at practice,” Candle said during a press conference earlier this week. “He’s very gifted as an athlete and he produced. He had four interceptions in one game. That’s going to get anybody’s attention. That’s like a quarterback throwing six or seven touchdown passes.”

Liberty also has a defender receiving All-American honors in defensive end Durrell Johnson, who leads the nation with 22.5 tackles for loss. Johnson has eight sacks and three forced fumbles.

–Field Level Media

Sep 10, 2022; Columbus, Ohio, USA;  Ohio State Buckeyes wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. (18) makes the touchdown catch over Arkansas State Red Wolves cornerback Leon Jones (2) during the second half at Ohio Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Toledo brings offensive firepower into game vs. No. 3 Ohio State

In this battle of Ohio, one team has one of the top offenses in the country, averaging 46 points through two games.

No, it’s not Ohio State. Instead, it’s Toledo, the No. 3 Buckeyes’ opponent in Columbus on Saturday night.

Granted, Toledo (2-0) hasn’t played teams the caliber of Ohio State (2-0), but 37-0 and 55-10 victories over Long Island University and UMass, respectively, have catapulted the Rockets into a tie for 16th with Oklahoma State in scoring. Plus, the Rockets are tied for second (with Minnesota and Tulane) behind Georgia in scoring defense at 5.0 points.

Given the spate of upsets nationally during the first two weeks of the season, the Rockets can envision being next in line to knock off a Power Five program.

“College football is college football,” Toledo coach Jason Candle said Monday. “There are challenges each and every week that you need to handle. We’re going to do everything we can to put our best foot forward this Saturday.”

The Buckeyes, who led FBS last season with an average of 45.7 points per game, are scoring at a 33-point clip this year following wins over Notre Dame, 21-10, and Arkansas State, 45-12, but that isn’t enough to satisfy the fans or coach Ryan Day.

“I wouldn’t say I’m pleased because we have to have that edge and know where we need to be,” Day said Tuesday. “(Toledo is) not going to come into Ohio Stadium and be intimidated at all.”

An injury to star receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba has prevented the Buckeyes from operating at full strength. He has not played since the first half of the Notre Dame game after a hamstring injury, but Day said he should be available Saturday.

Smith-Njigba led Ohio State with 1,606 receiving yards in 2021.

“He’s further along than he was at this point last week,” Day said. “We’re a different team when Jaxon’s in there, there’s no question.”

Day said he also expects wide receiver Julian Fleming to play on Saturday. Fleming, who had 12 receptions last season, had an undisclosed injury late in training camp and has not played this season.

Marvin Harrison Jr. stepped up against Arkansas State by catching three of the four touchdown passes thrown by C.J. Stroud.

Toledo will counter with dual-threat QB Dequan Finn, who rushed for 74 yards on seven carries with two touchdowns and passed for 177 yards and a score.

“He can run whenever he wants to,” Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Knowles said. “Makes a lot of plays with his feet in scrambling situations.”

With all of the offensive firepower on the field Saturday, the defenses will draw attention. Ohio State has allowed one touchdown this season, and the rush defense is 11th nationally, giving up 129 yards. However, the Buckeyes have yet to force a turnover.

“I got a feeling those things are going to happen for us,” Day said.

Toledo is led by former Ohio State linebacker Dallas Gant, who has a team-high 20 tackles. He was in his fourth season for the Buckeyes when he entered the transfer portal last September and eventually returned to his hometown, where his father played for the Rockets and his mother was a cheerleader at the school.

Gant told Eleven Warriors he can use his time with the Buckeyes as an advantage.

“I’ve got endless reps against a lot of the players there, most of the players there, and I think it’s going to translate to the game on Saturday with me being comfortable and seeing a lot of familiar looks and stuff like that,” he said.

— Field Level Media

Ball State faces off against Toledo at Scheumann Stadium Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021.

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Turnovers will be front of mind as Toledo battles Middle Tennessee in Bahamas Bowl

Toledo guards the football better than any team in the country, while nobody unearths the pigskin better than Middle Tennessee.

Football protection will be a key component on Friday afternoon when the Rockets (7-5) battle Middle Tennessee (6-6) in the Bahamas Bowl at Nassau, Bahamas.

Toledo leads the nation by committing just six turnovers (two interceptions, four fumbles), while the Blue Raiders have forced a nation-best 31 (16 interceptions, 15 fumbles).

Even while being stingy with the football, the Rockets of the Mid-American Conference had to win three straight games and four of their past five to reach a bowl game for the first time since 2018. The destination was the Bahamas Bowl that time too, with the Rockets falling 35-32 to Florida International.

Toledo averaged 43.2 points over the five-game run with star running back Bryant Koback topping 100 rushing yards in each contest. Koback ranks 11th nationally with 1,274 yards and is exactly 100 yards away from becoming the fourth Toledo player to reach 4,000 career rushing yards.

“We would be crazy after going through the last year and a half and taking anything for granted,” Rockets coach Jason Candle said, referencing the COVID-19 situation. “We aren’t taking this opportunity lightly. We’re going to respect this opportunity with great detail and put our best foot forward and try to win a football game.”

Toledo’s top effort of the season may have come in a loss on Sept. 11. The Rockets were winning late at then-No. 7 Notre Dame before the Fighting Irish scored with 1:09 left to pull out a 32-29 victory.

That close call didn’t spur on the Rockets, who were sitting at a disappointing 4-5 prior to the three-game winning streak to conclude the regular season.

“Three conference losses by a total of eight points, I think when those things happen, you have a couple of choices,” Candle said. “You can fold and go one way or you rally together and go a totally different direction.”

The November push earned Toledo the date with Middle Tennessee, a Conference USA program that has been above .500 just once all season — when it won its opener against FCS program Monmouth.

The Blue Raiders went 4-2 over the second half of the season and qualified for bowl consideration with a 27-17 victory over Florida Atlantic on Nov. 27.

Middle Tennessee also had to throw freshman quarterback Nick Vattiato into the mix after previous starter Chase Cunningham suffered a season-ending leg injury against Southern Miss on Oct. 30.

“This team went through so much adversity throughout the course of the year,” Blue Raiders coach Rick Stockstill said. “We went through four quarterbacks. We never really found a rhythm offensively. Games 3 and 4 after the Virginia Tech game (a 35-14 loss), we had 13 players out those two weeks because of injuries and other health issues.

“It sounds like an excuse. It’s not, it’s a fact. We just played more consistently (in the second half). We had more continuity. I feel like we’re close to breaking loose offensively.”

Middle Tennessee has a standout punt returner in Jaylin Lane, who led the nation with a 16.9 average. He also returned one for a touchdown.

Standout safety Reed Blankenship led the Blue Raiders with 100 tackles and three fumble recoveries and cornerback Quincy Riley had a team-best five interceptions.

Now the defensive task is to try to force the Rockets to cough up the ball or throw an errant pass.

“They’re very efficient offensively,” Stockstill said of Toledo. “It’s a very balanced team.”

Middle Tennessee is playing in its first bowl game since losing 45-13 to Appalachian State in the 2018 New Orleans Bowl.

–Field Level Media