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College Football expert Matt Hayes previews Saturday's clash between Toledo and Notre Dame - what are the best value plays for the game?

Toledo vs Notre Dame Prediction & Game Preview

Out of the tunnel

A critical thing happened in Notre Dame’s season opener against FSU, and it was more than just holding on for an overtime win at Florida State.

Jack Coan looks like a different quarterback.

After four years of sometimes brilliant, sometimes erratic play at Wisconsin, Coan transferred to Notre Dame and began his final season with a huge performance on the road in a tough environment – including two perfectly thrown deep ball touchdown passes on third and short when it would’ve been just as easy to run.

That shows two important things moving forward: Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly trusts Coan to make those throws in situations where it’s safer to run. And the Irish offense is more than just balanced, it has a motivated, fifth year senior playing better than he ever has at the most important position on the field.

Coan was injured all of last season at Wisconsin, and it was clear that Graham Mertz was the Badgers’ starter moving forward. That led to the decision to transfer for his final season.

Toledo returned every starter from last year’s 4-2 team, and began the season with a rout of FCS Norfolk State. The Rockets have a current streak of winning seasons at 11 years, and have consistently been one of the MAC’s best teams under coach Jason Candle.

They’ve been wide open on offense in his 12 seasons at the school, first as offensive coordinator under former coach Matt Campbell (Iowa State), and for the last five years as head coach. They want to spread the field to create space, and run the spread option to stress defenses.

Click here to see the latest Toledo vs Notre Dame betting odds.

When Notre Dame has the ball

Coan was a revelation against FSU if for no other reason that he kept making big plays when the Irish needed it. Frankly, that wasn’t always the case at Wisconsin.

But he’s clearly motivated with the move to Notre Dame, and he’s a calming influence on a young but talented offense. He set a Notre Dame school record for passing yards by a quarterback making his first start (366 yards) and threw four touchdown passes.

The Irish running game has been stout the previous two seasons, and Kyren Williams is coming off a 1,000-yard season in 2020. The more comfortable and confident the offensive line gets, the more dangerous this offense will become with elite weapons in TE Michael Mayer and WR Kevin Austin.

The offense has evolved under offensive coordinator (and former ND QB) Tommy Rees, who has been given more control of playcalling by coach Brian Kelly. The Irish use plenty of power isolation runs, and Coan’s ability to throw accurately off play fakes adds more stress on defenses.

When Toledo has the ball

Even when Candle was the offensive coordinator under Campbell, he wanted a dual threat at quarterback to give the offense more options. A majority of the defenses in the MAC play man under schemes to get pressure, but that doesn’t account for the quarterback run.

Candle had a quarterback competition throughout fall camp, and Carter Bradley is more of a thrower, and runs out with the first team. There is, however, an X-factor in redshirt freshman Dequan Finn, an electrifying runner who can stress defenses in the zone read run game.

No matter who plays, they’ll rely on the running of TB Bryant Koback, a 1,000-yard rusher in 2019 who would’ve reached 1,000 yards last year in a full, non-Covid season. Toledo has speed on the outside with WRs Bryce Mitchell, Isaiah Winstead and Devin Maddox, and like Florida State, can get behind the Irish secondary.

But can the undersized line, with all five starters returning, hold up against the exotic blitz packages brought by Irish defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman?

The bottom line

Notre Dame got much more than anyone expected from FSU in the season opener, needing overtime to finally finish off a completely different ‘Noles team from 2020.

More important, the Irish got a good look at the zone read option – and at times, it wasn’t pretty. ND gave up a handful of chunk plays on the option, including an 89-yard touchdown. That must be cleaned up, or this could be a fourth quarter game, too.

Toledo vs Notre Dame Betting Picks

Pick against the spread: Notre Dame -17.5

Total: Over 53.5

Score prediction: Notre Dame, 37-17


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