Rockets eager to start regular season, face Arizona Saturday
Published: Wednesday, August 29, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, August 29, 2012 04:08
After winter conditioning, spring ball, fall practice and nearly 250 days, it’s finally time for the Rockets to return to the football field Saturday night when they battle the Arizona Wildcats in the desert.
The last time Toledo stepped onto the gridiron, they emerged victorious in the 2011 Military Bowl with a thrilling 42-41 victory over Air Force in head coach Matt Campbell’s first game at the helm.
The Rockets hope to begin 2012 the way they finished 2011 — with a big win.
“I think there comes a point in time when the Rockets are sick of playing the Rockets and it seems like we’ve been doing that for the last six or seven months,” Campbell said. “I know our kids are really excited, I’m proud of how hard they’ve worked to get to this point and I think we’re looking forward to finding a little bit more about ourselves as we get into game week.”
Toledo is no stranger to the big stage and their track record shows they know how to handle it.
Since 2003, UT has beaten six schools from BCS conferences, ninth most among all non-BCS teams. Colorado, Kansas, Michigan, Purdue and ninth-ranked Pittsburgh have all fallen victim to the Rockets.
Syracuse and No. 15 Ohio State were close to being added to that list last season.
“It’s the tradition of Toledo and I think we always embrace what the tradition of this great university is in our program,” Campbell said. “I think the biggest focus for us and our kids is certainly one game at a time. I think that we’ve really tried to embrace that motto of ‘one day at a time’ through camp and spring practice.”
If UT makes Arizona its next victim, it won’t the first time they’ve gotten the best of the Cats’ new head coach.
Toledo's upset over Michigan at the Big House in 2008 occurred in Rich Rodriguez’s first year in charge of the Wolverine program. Rodriguez was given the Arizona job last November, 41 days after Mike Stoops was fired six games into the season.
2011 was a rough year for Arizona, who dropped five of their first six games. They finished the season 4-8 (2-7 Pacific-12 Conference) and found themselves in a last place tie in the South division.
The Wildcats do return some talented players, however, especially on the offensive side of the ball.
“They’ve got PAC-12 talent, and that’s the first thing I’ll say about their football team,” Campbell said. “When you look at them across the board, they’ve got five of their offensive lineman back from last year that played and started. So they’ve got great experience.”
Fifth-year senior Matt Scott has been given the nod at quarterback and fits
Rodriguez’s patented zone-read option perfectly. He possesses an adequate arm and can also run effectively.
Scott played sparingly during his time in Arizona, but put up solid numbers in his limited opportunities. From 2008-10, he completed 114-of-177 passes for 1,301 yards and six touchdowns. He added 632 rushing yards and two more scores on the ground.
Scott, who redshirted last year, has Nick Foles’ giant shoes to fill. Foles accounted for over 352 total yards per game in 2011, fourth best in the country.
“The quarterback, by all indications, is a man that’s got great athleticism and he can throw the football,” Campbell said. “I think they’ve got to feel really good about who they are offensively.”
Toledo’s spread offense is similar to what Rodriguez will use with the Wildcats, but the quarterback situation is slightly different.
Campbell said he will likely name a tarting quarterback after Wednesday’s practice, but both will play throughout the season, as was the case last year.
Both junior Terrance Owens and senior Austin Dantin will look to pick apart a defense that ranked second-to-last in college football against the pass last season.
Both signal callers had outstanding seasons in 2011. Owens set an all-time single season Mid-American Conference record by completing 72.2 percent of his passes while Dantin posted the
nation’s 21st-best QB efficiency rating with a 149.7.
“Offensively, we’ve got to do a great job of taking care of the football and when we have an opportunity to score points, we have to score points,” Campbell said.
Several Rockets will be out for revenge after seeing Arizona come into the Glass Bowl two years ago and walk away with a dominating 41-2 victory.
As if Toledo needed any more reason to be excited to take the field again, their first game of the year will be in front of a crowd of 51,811 people and nationally televised on ESPNU at 10:30 p.m.
“I think any time you get a chance to go into a great environment and you have a chance to play in front of a great crowd and a great, historic football program, then I think your kids get excited about those opportunities,” Campbell said. “I know we’re excited, but I think more than anything, we’re excited just to kickoff 2012 and find out a little more about us.”