By John Agovino, Associate College Football Editor
2009 SEASON IN REVIEW: Coach Tim Beckman took over a Toledo squad that posted just three wins in 2008, and while his first season was nothing special, Beckman did a solid job leading the Rockets to a more respectable showing.
It was a roller coaster beginning to the season for Toledo, which opened the
year with a 52-31 loss to Purdue. That was followed by a thrilling, 54-38
victory over Colorado. After a 38-0 setback to a clearly better Ohio State
squad, the Rockets rebounded with back-to-back wins over FIU and Ball State.
The following week Toledo surrendered 58 points in a shellacking against
Western Michigan, but once again recovered with a thrilling win, defeating
Northern Illinois 20-19. However, it was downhill from there for coach
Beckman's squad, as Toledo dropped three of its last four matchups. The lone
win came against the winless Eastern Michigan Eagles, while the three losses
all came by double-digit margins. Even though it was another sub .500 season
for Toledo, the team improved on the previous season, giving the fans hope for
OFFENSE: Even though the Rockets finished below .500 last season the team
possessed one of the top offenses in the MAC, mostly because Toledo had
the veteran Aaron Opelt under center. With Opelt now gone, Austin Dantin will
likely have to lead the Rockets in 2010. The sophomore signal caller saw
some time under center last year, but was inconsistent, throwing four
touchdowns and four interceptions. However, any experience is good experience
for a quarterback, and it also helped him build a rapport with Eric Page, who
will likely be his go-to receiver this year. Page, who led all freshmen in the
country with 82 receptions and 1,159 yards, is a dangerous deep threat that
will cause plenty of defensive coaches to lose sleep at night.
The ground game will have to replace the loss of DaJuane Collins, who was the
team's top back a year ago. However, Morgan Williams is definitely capable of
filling in as the full time starter. Although the Rockets are clearly a pass
first offense, they still performed well on the ground and should do so again
this season with Williams and junior Adonis Thomas.
What will help not only the ground game, but also Dantin and the passing
attack, is the return of a very experienced offensive line. Four starters are
back for coach Beckman, including big time tackles Mike VanDerMeulen and John
DEFENSE: No matter how many points the offense scored last season, the defense
for Toledo found a way to give up more, which was why the Rockets suffered
through seven losses. Toledo surrendered an atrocious 37.7 ppg and 407.4 total
ypg, which ranked the team 11th in the nation. Only five starters return for
this unit, which could spell more trouble for coach Beckman's defense in '10.
The strength of this unit will likely be up front where defensive ends Alex
Johnson and Douglas Westbrook return. The sparkplug for the defense is without
question linebacker Archie Donald. Donald, who is an All-MAC senior, has led
the Rockets in tackles the last two campaigns, including 116 stops a year ago.
With the new blood up front it is possible for Donald to have his best
year in his final season.
"I feel that the defensive line will improve," said Donald. "We got a couple
of young guys that can play that came in and helped us a lot during the
Considering how poorly the Rockets performed against the pass last season,
there is no job safe in the secondary, regardless of who returns this year.
Byron Best was clearly overmatched as a freshman and will likely have to
battle junior college transfer Taikwon Paige for his spot. Senior Desmond
Morrow will likely earn the other corner spot, while Jermaine Robinson will
return to his free safety position. Even though there are not many starters
back in the mix this season, look for the Rockets to put forth a better
overall effort defensively.
SPECIAL TEAMS: As a freshman Page not only tortured defensive backs, he also
scared opposing coverage teams. The receiver did a tremendous job returning
punts and kicks and will likely blossom into one of the top return men in the
conference this season. Replacing Alex Steigerwald at kicker will be a tough
task for coach Beckman, but at the present moment look for either Ryan Casano
or Andrew Weber to take over as the team's primary kicker.
OUTLOOK: The Rockets have a few question marks offensively, but if Dantin can
instantly produce for coach Beckman, Toledo might be just as dangerous as it
was in 2009. However, for this team to break the .500 plateau, the defense
will need to improve drastically. Consistent on both sides of the football is
always a must for any team, but the Rockets time and time again this past
season seemed to hurt themselves.
"We got to be a consistent team," said coach Beckman. "What I mean by that is
we can not beat ourselves cause we did in many of the football games.
Turnovers, takeaways, penalties, blocked punts, all those things that are all
things that we can control, we must control."
Toledo's road schedule is daunting, especially early on when the team will
compete in three straight contests away from home after its season opener
against Arizona. After that grueling set of games, the Rockets will also have
to battle Boise State and Northern Illinois on their home fields. If the
Rockets want to crack .500 and push for a bowl berth however, they must
perform better at home where the team has posted a miserable 4-7 mark over the
past two seasons.