As we approach game day, there is not a whole lot more we need to know about the Rockets. The more I read, the more I want to have a solid victory over them by around 4pm Saturday afternoon. Not only is the media predicting a rough season for Purdue, we are the consensus pick to be upset among all 11 Big Ten teams since everyone is favored. It makes sense for the Rocket Digest to predict an upset, but we are getting no respect even in our own conference.
- Maize N' Brew thinks we need to watch out for Toledo
- ESPN calls our game the most likely to be an upset in week 1 for a Big Ten favorite (negating an experienced Missouri team that is an underdog to Illinois)
- CFN gives us our land mine game against Toledo, giving our defense zero credit and saying it will be a shootout
- The Rivalry, Esq. predicts Toledo as our only consensus win with two of their three bloggers having us ending the season with a loss to Indiana.
This is going to sound cocky, but I am tired of having my team dragged through the mud. This was a 3-9 MAC team last team that had most of its wins come about not of their own recognizance. Yes, they are experienced, but that experience hasn't exactly produced a boatload of wins. They feature an offense that struggled to score and will be missing its leading rusher as well as a defense that struggled to stop anyone. That is all going against a defense that should be much improved and an offense that, while inexperienced, has played in a system known for moving the football. How is this not a win for us, especially considering Toledo is our weakest opponent and they will be missing three critical players?
I am not predicting a Big Ten championship. I am predicting that, at least for one week, Purdue can enjoy a relatively easier victory than people are expecting. What is the one thing Purdue has consistently done? Beat the MAC. Last year we took care of possibly the MAC's best team in Central Michigan. Yes, we were awful, but we beat the Chips, and the Chips were certainly a lot better than Toledo.
Here is a more formal preview, mostly taken from the Know thy Opponent feature on Toledo back in June since there has been no game action to change it yet.
2008 Record: 3-9 (2-6 MAC West)
Blog Representation: Midnight Blue and Gold
Series with Purdue: Tied 2-2
Last Purdue win: 9/1/2007 at Toledo 52-24
Last Toledo win: 9/6/1997 at Toledo 36-22
Come on guys, it was either this or i was going to subject you to the tortures of the Chick Flick "Failure to Launch"
Tim Beckman is a defensive-minded coach, having recently served as the defensive coordinator at Oklahoma State. The Toledo offense last year did a decent job of taking care of the football, but it often struggled to score points. It also didn't help the defense was borderline awful for most of the year. Many of the same players we saw in our win to start the 2007 season return, specifically senior quarterback Aaron Opelt.
Opelt was good, but not great a year ago. He threw for 2,176 yards while completing 225 of 376 passes. His 13 touchdown passes wasn't great, but he didn't give the ball away very often with only seven interceptions. He had all but five of the passing attempts for this team last season and is the unquestioned starter going into fall camp. He will be asked to run a spread attack that has some talented receivers. Some are even predicting that Toledo is one of the favorites in the MAC, though I tend to disagree since much of the experience they have returning hasn't delivered on the field.
The expected starter in the backfield is senior DeJuane Collins. He was solid, though often injured, last year with 700 yards rushing and five touchdowns. Opelt was a productive runner as well. Sacks limited him to negative yards rushing on the year, but he did manage five rushing touchdowns as the ground attack provided most of the team's offense. Against us in 2007, Collins went for 70 yards and a score, mostly while the game was still close in the first half. Half of those yards came on a 35 yard scoring run that gave Toledo its only lead at 7-0 in the first quarter.
Collins is far from the only talented back, as sophomore Morgan Williams had a 1,010 yard season with six touchdowns a year ago. He had a huge game against Miami (OH), going for 330 yards and three scores. Collins is the bigger back with Williams being more of a speed option. Both have enough talent to help Toledo open up its passing game. This rushing attack will struggle with the loss of Williams, but Collins and Jake Walker should split the carries.
The passing game should be very dangerous as 6'5" senior Stephen Williams will present a matchup problem with our cornerbacks. We have historically struggled against bigger receivers, mostly because Brock Spack never realized it was legal to make in-game adjustments against them. This game should give us a good idea of how new defensive coordinator Donn Landholm handles such a situation. Williams had 71 catches for 781 yards and 8 touchdowns a year ago. Along with the departed Nick Moore (78-779-1), those two accounted for more than two thirds of Toledo's receiving yards.
6'4" Kenny Stafford and 6'5" Danny Noble are expected to be the other two top targets for Opelt, but neither has a whole lot of in-game experience. Still, their size is reason for concern. Our experienced secondary cannot let them run wild all day.
Toledo's offensive line returns four players with starting experience and has plenty of size. This will allow the Rockets to both run block and give Opelt time to throw to his big receivers. This allows our own offensive line to have a nice tune-up before getting into the rest of the schedule. All five expected starters are around 300 pounds and they do have experience in opening holes for Williams and Collins. If their line is allowed to dominate our experience defensive line we will not only be in trouble for this game, we will struggle for the rest of the season because we will only see better units.
As much as Toledo's offense looks promising because of its returning talent, the defense was awful last year. It takes a particular strong brand of suck to lose a game in which your offense scores more than 50 points. I like to call it "Pulling a Colletto" in reference to our 59-56 loss at Minnesota in 1993. That is exactly what Toledo did in a 55-54 loss to Fresno State last year. You can't blame them for going for two early and trying to win the game on one play at the end of the second overtime. They had zero confidence in their defense's ability to stop the Bulldogs.
The Toledo defense gave up over 31 points and 381 yards per game. They were awful against the run, giving up 178 yards per game against teams that weren't exactly Navy or old-school Nebraska and Oklahoma. The pass defense was a little better, but who needs to pass when they can't stop the run. It really is a testament to how awful of a coaching job Rich Rodriguez did last year when his team managed a meager 10 points against them.
Toledo had very little pass rush, which is a good thing for us. This should be a good game for new starter Joey Elliott to get his feet wet behind what should be a much improved offensive line. Toledo managed just 10 sacks as a team all last year. That was actually an improvement, as statistically they had the worst pass rush in the country in 2007. CFN thinks the raw talent is there, but it has yet to produce.
At linebacker, Archie Donald was far and away the team leader in tackles a year ago with 119. Barry Church was second with 93. He is a promising safety prospect that has some decent prop potential. Church is actually moving up from the strong safety position as Toledo looks to go with a three linebacker look instead of two.
A year ago, Toledo's secondary had to make an awful lot of tackles because the run defense was so poor. It should be worse this year as Church moves from safety to linebacker and Tyrell Herbert is gone. Incoming freshman Jermaine Robinson looks to be a promising prospect, but this will be his first game at the division 1 level. He will have to be out of this world to dominate in his first game. The corners didn't do a great job as the team managed just 10 interceptions a year ago. Four of those came from Herbert, who had the 100 yard return against Michigan.
Toledo special teams:
Toledo features a solid kicker in senior Alex Steigerwald. He was 16 of 21 on field goal attempts last year with a long of 48 yards. That 48-yarder ended up being the game winner in the fourth quarter at Michigan, as it actually hit the crossbar before going over. He actually struggled mostly at a closer range, with three of his five misses coming from less than 30 yards.
Bill Claus will return as the punter, but he struggled last year averaging less than 40 yards per kick. His coverage teams did allow one return for a touchdown last year, but Claus was good in short field situations. He had 15 punts downed inside the 20 last season, so that is a positive testament to his coverage teams.
Toledo had very little of a return game to speak of in 2008. On punts Nick Moore averaged just 6.2 yards per return. On kickoffs Greg Harris was the most effective returner, but he averaged just 21.5 yards per return and had a long of only 41 yards. We should have some room in our own return game, as Toledo gave up more than 25 yards per kickoff return a season ago.
According to coach Hope yesterday, We will be without Colton McKey and Eric Hedstrom. Those are pretty much depth issues at this point, as both have been sidelined for awhile. Gabe Holmes at Tight End appears to be going the Dwayne Beckford route of getting into school, while Al-Terek McBurse will likely miss his freshman opener. The news on ATM is most troubling. He's been nicked up with injuries and hasn't had the development we hoped. Fortunately, Frank Halliburton has greatly improved to take his place.
The other big injury is Antwon Higgs, as we could really use this game to give him some experience at linebacker.
What Purdue needs to do:
•1. Run the Ball - We're a Big Ten team with a solid offensive line and a wealth of running back. Toledo was terrible against the run by MAC standards last season, let alone Big Ten standards. Run it until they stop us. This keeps the defense off the field and wears down the team with less depth.
•2. Stop the Run - This goes without saying, but our run defense is supposed to be vastly improved. It had better be. If we can't stop a MAC team that is missing its #1 running threat we have no business winning games this season. This is especially true with Oregon coming up the following week.
•3. When throwing, spread it around - The more receivers we can get involved now, the better. I don't think we should throw it nearly as much as in years past, but we need to show that the passing game will be a threat.
•4. Win the turnover battle - The way MAC teams beat Big Ten teams is by creating more turnovers. The biggest play in last year's Toledo-Michigan game was a 100 yard interception return for a touchdown. Donn Landholm makes creating turnovers a priority, so it has to be here. As long as we do that and hold on to the ball ourselves it will be very hard for Toledo to win.