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  • Writer's pictureBlake Holzgrafe

2021 Game 2: Notre Dame Fighting Irish v. Toledo Rockets

Updated: Nov 5, 2022


SEPTEMBER 11, 2021

The Season Continues:

Notre Dame Fighting Irish


Toledo Rockets

“Rocketing to a location near you.”

The Toledo Rockets, adorned in their colors of Midnight Blue and Gold, visit Notre Dame Stadium for the first ever football encounter with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish adorned in their colors of Blue and Gold. The Rockets play in the Mid America Conference (“MAC”).

The Rockets began their 2021 season against the Norfolk State University Spartans blasting off with a 49-10 win. Not only were the Rockets far from spartan in their scoring total, they also owned a 442-272 total yardage advantage and blocked not just one but two punts, both of which were returned for a touchdown.

While not a Toledo Rocket, you will recall Elton John has “for a long, long, time” been a Rocketman singing

“♫ And I think it’s going to be a long, long time,

T’il touchdown brings me round again . . . . .♫”

The Rockets are averaging 7 touchdowns per game during the 2021 season. (Queary? Can there be an average consisting of only one number? Regardless, the Rockets have scored 7 touchdowns in every game this year!) This week against the Irish, after the first Rocket touchdown, . . . it’s going to be a long, long time, t’il the next touchdown comes around again.”

Well, perhaps not such “a long, long time”. Marcus Freeman’s debut as the Irish Defensive Co-ordinator was not as advertised. Despite holding Florida State to 1.5 points less than Coach Norvell’s average points per game as Head Coach at Memphis and now Florida State, he did not “hold a candle” to Clark Lea’s debut as Irish Defensive Co-ordinator in 2018 when the Irish held the Michigan Wolverines to 17 points. Coaches repeatedly intone that a team’s most improvement occurs between games 1 and 2. It will have to prove true for the Irish defense.

To that end, reminding the Irish defenders that they are playing “tackle” football rather than “two-hand touch” must occur and “Free man” must be “the man” to do so. Expect him to be “burning the candle at both ends” during the short week of preparation. While he just might now feel like a “candle in the wind”, this week’s preparation will show it is “better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness”. Even more so, expect Marcus to light a fire under the Irish defense much hotter than the heat of that “single candle” and it will be needed since the Rockets not only laid 49 points on the Norfolk State Spartans in week 1, they have averaged 35.3 points per game in the 60 games under the top Rocketman, Head Coach Jason Candle.

Twenty-one starters return for the Rockets, including former Irish Linebacker Jonathan Jones. One new offensive lineman has been inserted, thus, creating the obverse of the Irish O-line, with 4 returnees and 1 “newbie” while the Irish are 1 returnee and 4 “newbies”. The Rocket “newbie” is Vitaliy Gurman a graduate transfer from Pennsylvania’s Edinboro University, a school not traditionally known as a football “hotbed”. A second transfer starter for the Rockets is also from another Pennsylvania school with just a wee bit more of a football reputation. This Rocket transfer is former Penn State Nittany Lion defensive end, Judge Culpepper. With true Freshman, Blake Fisher, out for 8 weeks with surgery to repair a torn meniscus, it will fall to Josh Lugg and Michael Carmody, from their tackle positions, to keep Culpepper at bay so Kyreen Williams and Chris Tyree will avoid having to warn Jack Coan, “Here comes the Judge!”

The sports editor for The Toledo Blade newpaper has high hopes for the 2021 Rockets projecting a 10-2 season, with one projected loss being to Notre Dame with the comment that the Rockets “should be within striking distance deep into the second half”.

It has been more than 30 years since the last Rocket was launched in Notre Dame Stadium. Remember this guy?

He, indeed, was a “Rocket” on the gridiron. Toledo may bring a teamful of Rockets, and even bring as mascots, “Rocky the Rocket” and possibly “Rocksy the Rocket”, but none will be able to “blast off” with the moves or velocity of the Irish “Rocket”.

The returning Rocket starters are enough to establish a sound “launching pad’ for this game. The Irish are likey to see two Rocket Quarterbacks in the game. Both were high school Quarterbacks with 3-Star ratings (just like Ian Book). Carter Bradley (#2) is 6’3’ and 215 lbs. He knows the game of football as his Father, Gus Bradley, is the former Head Coach of the Jacksonville Jaquars and current Cefensive Co-ordiantoor for the Los Angeles Chargers. Dequan Finn (#7) is 6’2” and 207 lbs. The Irish defense needs to be prepared for the passing of Carter and the running of Dequan in order to “scrub” the Rockets’ launch. The Rockets’ primary running back is Bryant Kopack (#22) a 3- star recruit (just like Kyreen Williams) who signed with Kentucky but did not play there. Bryant has more than 2,625 rushing yards as a Rocket in three seasons of play that included a shortened 6-game 2020 season.

The Irish should be pleased the game will be in Notre Dame Stadium rather than at the Rockets’ home field. Their home games are played in the Glass Bowl, and based on the Irish’s meager 65 rushing yards gained on 35 carries against the Seminoles, the Irish may need to rely on the passing game. But it is important to remember that “people who play in Glass Bowls should not throw passes”, so the work of the Irish O-line must improve to permit Kyreen Williams and Chris Tyree to reach more respectable numbers, particulalry against the Toledo defense which allowed an average of only 129 rushing yards per game in 2020.

So, Jack Coan may need to keep finding Mayer (can we get him a little “stickem”), Austin, Wilkins, Lenzy, Williams and Tyree. Else the Irsh may find the Rockets’ nose cone hitting a vulnerable Irish team.

Coan at the ignition of the Irish offense.

In addtion to the injury to Blake Fisher that will likely sideline him for 8 weeks, the Irish/FSU game saw Linebacker Shayne Simon and Rover Paul Moala suffer season ending injuries. Paul tore an Achilles Tendon, the same injury he suffered one year ago, except in a different leg.

Moving up on the depth chart are Prince Kollie (#32), a true Freshman at linebacker, Deon Colzie (#16), another true Freshamn at wide receiver, and Xavier Watts (#26), a redshirt Freshman and former wide receiver moved to Rover.

With two Rovers now lost for the season in Marist Liufau and Paul Moala, will Xavier may be the Savior?

The countdown has started for the ignition of the Irish/Rocket matchup. Will there be a successful “lift-off” for the Rockets putting the Rockets and their fan base in “orbit” with an upset win, or will the Irish “scrub the lift-off” and “blow out the candle”? It says here that even if this were a Birthday Cake festooned with one candle for each of the 40 Toledo wins since Jason Candle became the Head Coach enlightening the Rockets with significant “Candle Power” to light the way, the Irish should be successful in avoiding an ignomious defeat and encounter minimal trouble in “blowing out the candles”.

Thus, when the scoreboard clock reads 00:00, it will be Midnight for the Rockets’ Midnight Blue and Gold as the Irish Blue and Gold will, after the sun has set and the candle power of the Notre Dame Stadium Lights has taken hold, “turn out the lights” for the Rockets. And if that does not happen, head on down to the Grotto and light a candle.

The final score:

Notre Dame 44

Toledo 13


Here is your Irish Trivia Question for this week. 1997 saw Notre Dame Stadium expanded from 59,075 capactiy to over 80,000 capacity. In what year did Notre Dame Stadium open?

Here are your Irish Trivia Answers to the questions from last week. Two of the Irish/Seminole matchups were played in post-season bowl games. Can you name the two bowl games (and year)? And for extra credit can you name the Head Coaches for both teams in those games?

Orange Bowl 1996 —Bobby Bowden and Lou Holtz

Champ Sports Bowl 2014 - Jimbo Fisher and Brian Kelly

And now time for a little “editorializing”. It is hard to believe anyone would have taken issue with Coach Kelly’s post-FSU game comment to the ABC field person who asked him about the Irish execution in that game. Kelly responded that he thought execution would be in order for the entire team. What has the world come to when someone cannot even make a joke involving word usage. Let us pray!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

And speaking of word usage, you might not know the derivation of the phrase “Holy Toledo”. Well, there are various some possibilities that I will leave to your own inquiry. But, I must point out that the City of Toledo, Ohio is graced with a donut shop called “Holey Toledough”. I kid you not and the donuts are supposed to be fantastic.

And, our hearts forever,. . .

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