Know thy Opponent 2010: Toledo Rockets

Our final non-conference contest of 2010 may be a precursor to how we will schedule MAC teams in the future. The days of getting a home game without a return road game are slowly coming to an end with several MAC schools. Toledo is one of those that is ahead of the game. They regularly get BCS conference schools to come to the Glass Bowl. Colorado, Pittsburgh, Boise State (Yes, I consider them BCS worthy), Arizona, Kansas, and Indiana are all BCS conference schools that have either come to Toledo or are scheduled to in the future. Our visit to begin the 2007 was part of a new scheduling model where a BCS school agrees to two home games in return for one road game. Last season was game one at Ross-Ade, while game two is this year.

2009 Record: 5-7 (3-5 MAC West)

Bowl Result: None

Blog Representation: Midnight Blue & Gold

Series with Purdue: Purdue leads 3-2

Last Purdue win 9/5/09 at Purdue 52-31

Last Toledo win: 9/6/1997 at Toledo 36-22

Last Season for the Rockets


Purdue dominated three years ago

As you can tell, Toledo does not like playing defense against us. They were expected to have a good season behind senior quarterback Aaron Opelt, but on the third play from scrimmage for the year Ralph Bolden busted a 72 yard scoring run. That set the stage for an abysmal defensive performance in which the Rockets gave up almost 38 points per game. It is hard to win games that way. Only one team, Northern Illinois, failed to score at least 20 in a 20-19 Rockets win. Purdue, Western Michigan, and Central Michigan each topped 50 points with ease.

There were some positive moments. The Rockets grabbed another home win over a BCS team in their 54-38 win over Colorado. Their only road win was over Florida International 41-31. That may not seem like much, but it was a pretty long road trip for a MAC team to go down to Miami and win. Ultimately the defense couldn't do enough to help what was a pretty good offense.

This season looks to be interesting. The non-conference schedule is brutal with home games against Arizona and Wyoming. They travel to Purdue and Boise State, with the trip to Purdue coming as a third straight road game. We could catch them napping a bit, as the previous two road games are against conference opponents in Ohio and Western Michigan. With a likely loss in the season opener against the Wildcats they will be 2-1 at best heading to West Lafayette.

Toledo Offense

This was a major strong point last year. Opelt shredded Purdue over the middle for 423 yards and three touchdowns. They had no running game to speak of in that game, but their strategy of short, quick passes over the middle was very effective. Opelt has graduated, but Austin Dantin is expected to step in. Dantin played in six games last year and eventually took over the starting job for Opelt. He finished with a 66.4% completion percentage and 962 yards. He also added four scores against four picks. Alex Pettee also saw some time going 37 of 58 for 380 yards and a score against two picks, but Dantin is the more experienced guy.

DaJuane Collins had a great senior year at running back with 992 yards rushing and 14 touchdowns, but he has graduated. That leaves a hole in the backfield that will be difficult to fill. Morgan Williams is the leading candidate to be the featured back in his junior season. He ran for only 444 yards and two scores in 2009, but he was a 1,000 yard back in 2008.

Opelt and Dantin had success thanks to a pair of 1,000 yard receivers that made the offense very dangerous. Eric Page torched us for 12 catches and 128 yards as well as a touchdown. He finished the year with 82 grabs for 1,159 yards and seven scores. He is back for his sophomore season, but Stephen Williams (79-1,065-5) has graduated. We're glad to see Williams go since he had 15 catches for 185 yards and two scores in last year's opener. Page is a first team all-MAC preseason pick and 2nd team as a kickoff returner. After those two the receptions and yards drop off considerably. No one else had more than 300 yards receiving or 26 catches. They still have options though. Tight End Danny Noble is experienced and could be a goal line threat.

One of Toledo's strengths will be its offensive line, where four starters return. Kevin Kowalski has started 32 consecutive games and made the move from right guard to center last season. Mike VanDerMeulen returns at left tackle with 23 consecutive starts under his belt. Nate Cole is in a similar boat with 19 consecutive starts at right guard, while John Morookian has 22 starts at right tackle. This is the same unit that gave Opelt plenty of protection last year, as we had no sacks in that game. Only Phillip Manley is a new starter for a line that gave up 18 sacks and allowed for 3,300 total yards passing.

Toledo Defense

Make no mistake, this was a bad unit last year that actually had a bit of experience. Linebacker Archie Donald had a great year with 116 tackles and two fumble recoveries, but he is just one player. Gone is Barry Church at safety with his 98 tackles and ability to get into the backfield with 2.5 sacks. Toledo's struggles were surprising considering that Tim Beckman is known as a defensive coach, but year two could yield better results.

The defensive line is a bit of a mess. Toledo managed to get 20 sacks last year, a big improvement over only 10 in 2008. Alex Johnson has the most proven talent at defensive end with three sacks. He started all 12 games and recovered a fumble for a touchdown against Eastern Michigan. T.J. Fatinikun had a respectable freshman year with two sacks, but he would be a first-time starter.  He had the sack that led to Johnson's touchdown. The defensive tackle spots are still up in the air with Malcolm Riley, Johnathan Lamb, Phil Lewis, Johnnie Roberts, Danny Farr and Ben Pike fighting for the two spots in the 4-3 scheme.

At linebacker Donald is obviously the key player. He will be assisted by Dan Molls, Robert Bell, and Terrell Willis. Willis has moved back from defensive end in his career. Unfortunately, Donald had more tackles than all three of these players combined in a reserve role.

The secondary had a respectable season with 12 interceptions in 2009. Unfortunately, they also gave up almost 2,900 yards and 26 touchdowns. This was with an excellent safety in Barry Church. Drey'Lon Pree could be the top candidate to replace Church as a JuCo transfer. Jermaine Robinson, Mark Singer, and Charles Rancifer are starting candidates as well. Robinson played in all 12 games with three sacks and 58 tackles, making him the most experienced man at the position. Byron Best and Daxton Swanson return at both cornerback positions after playing as true freshmen a year ago. Neither one had an interception.

Finally, Toledo has a defensive back by the name of Richard Steele. I am not kidding. Today is even Dick Steele's birthday. If football doesn't work out he can always go into porn.

Toledo Special Teams


Carson Wiggs should give us a massive advantage in Special Teams

Toledo must break in a new kicker with the departure of Alex Steigerwald. He was a respectable kicker hitting 12 of 16 placements with a long of 50. Juniors Andrew Weber, Ryan Casano and senior Brett Brodbeck are listed as kickers on the roster, but none have attempted so much as an extra point. Broadbeck and Casano have been kickoff specialists in the past.

Bill Claus will likely be back as the punter, but he only had a 37 yard per kick average. That helped opponents rack up a 12 yard average per return on punts.

Speaking of the return game, Toledo is dangerous. Page had a 25 yard per kick average last year while Morgan Williams did return one all the way. Page is also a very effective punt return with a near 10 yard average. Considering how bad our coverage was on Special Teams last season we need to be careful.

Intangibles

Having played in two of the past three seasons we know the Rockets better than we know some of the teams within our own conference like Illinois, Penn State, Iowa, and Wisconsin. Both sides have plenty of players that were involved in both games. Purdue won convincingly in each and threw up 52 points each time. That gives us reason to believe that if the offense is running smoothly there should be few problems.

Honestly, we should be confident of a win here. Much like last year's loss to Northern Illinois, this needs to be a game that Purdue must win in order to reach a bowl game again. Outside of Notre Dame we have just about the easiest non-conference schedule in the Big Ten. Only Indiana's is weaker.

Game Outlook

They have yet to stop our offense. In 2007 we scored through the air a lot and in 2009 we scored on the ground a lot. I think you'll see a combination of both in this game. I want to see what our secondary does against their short, quick passing game. We effectively stopped the run last year, but we need to be able to cover the middle of the field. That has been a glaring weakness for years and this is a team that will test that weakness. I can see this being a game a lot like last year's where Toledo moves the ball, but they won't be able to stop us enough on defense to get a win.

Prediction

Robert Marve throws for 350 yards, we have a running back go for 100 yards rushing at least as we cruise to a semi-easy win. The only way I see us losing is if we beat ourselves. As long as we avoid a Northern Illinois-like let down this is a win that should be at least our third straight. If we beat Notre Dame there is no reason not to demand a 4-0 start. Purdue 45, Toledo 24

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