GAME NOTES: Rich Rodriguez will make his return to the college football
coaching ranks on Saturday when the Arizona Wildcats take on the Toledo
Rockets in a non-conference brawl at Arizona Stadium.
Toledo will also be breaking in a new head coach after Tim Beckman left for
Illinois last season. Beckman was only in Toledo for three seasons but
improved the squad each year including a 9-4 mark and a win in the Military
Bowl last season. Taking his place now will be Matt Campbell who coached the
team in its bowl game win last season.
Rodriguez is obviously a much more high-profile hire. The former West Virginia
and Michigan head coach will take the reins of an Arizona program that has had
potential in recent years but failed to live up to it. Last season, the eighth
under Mike Stoops, Arizona went 4-8 ending a three-year streak of winning
records. Stoops was fired after a 1-5 start to the season after bringing to
the team as high as ninth in the national rankings the previous season.
Arizona has never lost to Toledo in three previous meetings. The last meeting
came during the 2010 season when Arizona routed the Rockets 41-2 at Toledo.
Toledo is a unique team on offense in that it employs a platoon at
quarterback. That will again be the case this year with the team looking to
keep its high level of play. The Rockets were eighth in the nation in scoring
offense (42.6 ppg) last season and ninth in total offense (481.3).
Both senior Austin Dantin and junior Terrence Owens are the co-starters at
quarterback. The two combined to throw for 3,426 yards and 33 touchdowns
last season with only seven interceptions.
David Fluellen was the backup during the last few seasons for Toledo but in
his junior campaign will be called upon to carry the load in the running game.
Fluellen rushed for 493 yards and a 5.1 yards-per-carry average last season.
Even though the Rockets use two quarterbacks there still wasn't room for
Dwight Macon who has been moved to wide receiver where he will team with
returning starter Bernard Reed and James Green as starters. Reedy caught 39
passes for 762 yards and nine scores and is the best option to replace 1,000-
yard receiver Eric Page.
The line has two returning starters in center Zac Kerin and right guard Greg
The Rockets may have been able to put together even more wins if their defense
had more success last season. The team was not strong on that side of the
ball, especially against the pass allowing 268.8 yards per game through the
air which ranked 105th nationally.
Dan Molls and Robert Bell are both senior linebackers and two of the returning
starters. Bell had 78 tackles last season and Molls had 70, good enough for
second and third on the team.
Senior defensive end T.J. Fatinukun is the team's most experienced defensive
lineman. He is coming off a 2011 campaign when he recorded 7.5 tackles for
loss and 2.5 sacks.
The secondary also has one holdover in strong safety Jermaine Robinson. The
senior had 55 tackles last season and tied for the team lead with three
interceptions. Byron Best and Mark Singer are also seniors who add stability
to the unit.
After years in the spread offense Rodriguez will be instilling the read-option
offense at Arizona, the one he developed at Glenville State and then perfected
at West Virginia.
The key factor in Rodriguez's offensive gameplan is quarterback play. Filling
in at that spot will be Matt Scott. The redshirt senior is the type of dual
threat quarterback that can excel in Rodriguez's system, though with only five
career starts, he does not have a great deal of experience.
Also important to the scheme's success is the production out of the backfield.
Taimi Tutogi and Ka'Deem Carey will be the two backs with that responsibility.
Carey had the superior season last year, rushing for 425 yards on 92 carries
with a team-high six rushing touchdowns. Tutogi is more of a bruising back and
rushed for 73 yards on 25 carries but did score four touchdowns.
The Wildcats will have a number of young receivers vying to replace the
production of Juron Criner, David Douglas and Gino Crump. Dan Buckner is the
best option, after ranking fourth on the team with 42 receptions, 606 yards
and a pair of scores.
Rodriguez will also have four returning starters on the line. That experience
should help the team adjust to the blocking patterns of the read-option.
Just like when he was at West Virginia, Rodriguez will have Jeff Casteel at
defensive coordinator, which means a shift in scheme on defense as well.
Casteel employs a 3-3-5 stack strategy which needs skill in the secondary.
Luckily for Arizona they have plenty of that with three returning starters in
the secondary. Safety Marquis Flowers and cornerback Shaquille Richardson are
the headliner among the defensive backs. Flowers is the lead returning tackler
(68) and Richardson snagged a team-high four interceptions last season.
The rest of the defense is short on starting experience with defensive tackle
Sione Tuihalamaka the only returning starter. The addition of former Akron
standout Brian Wagner at linebacker should help.
This game promises to have no shortage of offensive fireworks. Toledo has much
of the team that scored at will last season back and Rodriguez has always been
able to pile on the points. Arizona might have some growing pains while
adjusting to Rodriguez's system this season, but Toledo doesn't have the
defense to exploit that.