Last week's series with EA Sports was a lot of fun, especially with the all the fan responses out there. While it is fun to talk about the past, we still need to look ahead to the future. There are two more EA Sports posts concerning the future this coming week. Part of that future includes the Toledo Rockets though, who are on the schedule for the third time in four years. Midnight Blue & Gold, the excellent Toledo blog, was kind enough to answer some of my questions about the Rockets after the preview went up a few weeks ago.
Hammer & Rails: What was the story with Aaron Opelt losing the starting job last year? How will that help coming into this season?
Midnight Blue & Gold: Opelt was sidelined with a shoulder injury last season. Austin Dantin and Alex Pettee were asked to step in and split QB duties to finish the season. Both did a commendable job considering the circumstances, but after starting the season 4-3, the Rockets went 1-4 to end the year. Taking snaps down the stretch should greatly help Dantin and Pettee's confidence heading into the 2010 season. Real game experience is the key to getting a QB accustomed to directing an offense and last year's issues helped get both these QBs into the pool quickly and ready to fill the spot vacated by Opelt.
H&R: Toledo was very successful with the short passing game against Purdue last year. Was that by design? Should we expect more of it with Page as a main target?
MBG: The short passing game was the game plan for the Rockets throughout much of last season because it worked. There were situations where, much to the fan's chagrin, the Rockets shied away from throwing deep passes and, at times, abandoned the running game in favor of the short pass. With Page being so effective and having such a tremendous freshmen season, he was the player to go to. He shows no indication of slowing down anytime soon and we expect defenses to be chasing him all over the field for years to come. Thankfully, Page will have more help at all positions this year which should allow the offense to move the ball around a little more and try some other tactics to get the ball in the endzone.
H&R: Having given up 104 points in the last two games against Purdue, what defensive improvements should we expect?
MBG: The 2010 defense for Toledo should be much improved over the past few seasons. Now in his second season, Coach Beckman will see more of "his" players on the defensive side of the ball and that should help solidify some of the holes from last year, especially in the secondary. With the fast paced spread offense that Toledo runs, we allow our opponents many opportunities with the football - which was obviously a problem for our porous defense in 2009. The Rockets need to work on wrapping up opponents instead of trying to arm tackle and making good clean tackles on short runs when they get the opportunity.
H&R: What is your outlook for the Toledo season given that a lot of holes must be filled?
MBG: We see the Rockets improving their record from 2009 and breaking .500 for the first time in several seasons. Coming off the performances from the last few seasons, finishing 6-6 or 7-5 (especially with a strong MAC showing) would make this a successful season in many people's eyes. Getting back to the MAC Championship game and back into bowl contention is something Toledo is obviously striving to do, but it may take another season before we are ready for that step. Last year's recruiting class was strong and we will have a chance to see some of those faces on the field filling gaps left by upperclassmen. This year's recruiting class (ranked #1 in the MAC) is even more talented than last year's and that should bolster our chances of performing well in the next few seasons too. Toledo is getting it's stride back under Coach Beckman and should take another big step this season.
H&R: How would you view the program improving in year #2 under Coach Beckman?
MBG: Coach Beckman has brought excitement and vitality back to the Toledo football program. The football players are excited to compete and play for him, the fans are excited to come to the games and see what Coach Beckman is able to get the team to do, and the University and program are benefiting from this renewed interest and energy. I know 5-7 is not a record that most fans would be happy with, but in his first year in Toledo, Coach Beckman made major strides to returning the program to one the players, fans and University can be proud of and proud to support. One key sign of change in the future is the ability to recruit by Coach Beckman and his staff. Bringing in talented players is a great foundation for building a Championship caliber football program and, in the short time Coach Beckman has been in Toledo, he has brought in two strong classes. Of course, this alone will not account for success on the field, but starting with good stock certainly gives a leg up on the competition. Coach Beckman is amassing a program full of talented athletes and talented coaches by stressing integrity, sportsmanship, and a major helping of fundamentals and it appears to be turning our program around.
Thanks a lot guys. It sounds like Toledo is in a very similar position to Purdue in relation to their respective conferences. It should make for an interesting contest in September.