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Published: Saturday, 9/4/2010

Punting Toledo's lone bright spot against Arizona

Well, if nothing else, the University of Toledo found another punter.

Oh, forget the "if." There was nothing else in a 41-2 loss to Arizona Friday night at the Glass Bowl.

Bill Claus, a Perrysburg product, was UT's punter the past two seasons and was the starter last night, but the junior got a face full of coach Tim Beckman late in the first quarter after lining a 39-yard punt straight into the hands of the Wildcats' William Wright, who quickly worked up a full head of steam and returned it 35 yards to near midfield.

The next time the Rockets faced fourth down the punter was one John Vincent Penza. We give you the full name because he is John on the UT roster and Vince on the two-deep position list available to media members in the press box. When you are a redshirt freshman walk-on, they can call you anything they want.

Penza's first punt got a friendly home-field turf bounce and was downed 55 yards later at the Arizona 4. Three plays later, an Arizona blocker was called for holding in the end zone, giving UT a safety and narrowing the Wildcats' lead to 7-2.

Penza's next punt was deep and angled perfectly so that Arizona's receiver caught it while turned sort of backwards-sideways. It was a 51-yard punt that forced the 'Cats to start at their own 9 yard line.

It was then and there that the game turned, and not in the Rockets' favor.

Toledo's defense, which itself had settled down and forced a couple punts after allowing the Wildcats an easy opening touchdown drive of 68 yards, let Arizona off the hook after Penza had again dictated field position that favored UT. The Wildcats ripped off 91 yards in nine plays to make it 14-2, then Toledo quarterback Austin Dantin complicated matters by throwing a bad interception on the first play of the ensuing drive, setting up Arizona for a TD and a 21-2 lead with just 17 seconds left in the first half.

The Rockets had some major defensive issues last season (and the season before, and the season before that) so it would be easy to comment disparagingly after a poor start to a season that has no scheduled breathers during the first six weeks.

But the opponent was a Pac-10 team and a pretty good one. Arizona is shooting for a third straight season of at least eight wins and a bowl berth, so there's no good reason to dump on the Toledo defense … when we can dump on a Toledo offense that was shut down and shut out.

The Rockets had 80 total yards at halftime, including 16 yards on 12 rushes, and never put any pressure on the Wildcats until driving to the Arizona 8 after falling behind 28-2 early in the third. But UT eventually turned that possession over on downs and then did nothing with the ball a few minutes later after a nice interception by strong safety Diauntae Morrow.

When that drive ended at three-and-out, Penza got the call for a third time and boomed a 58-yard punt.

He finished with five kicks for a 48.4-yard average. It's not a good thing when your backup punter, by whatever name he goes, is the game's MVP.

The stadium was close to packed at kickoff. UT announced a record of 11,000-plus season tickets sold and the student turnout was strong, leading to a noisy and excited crowd of 25,907. By the middle of the fourth quarter, the 1,200 or so Arizona fans in the east stands had the joint pretty much to themselves.

The Rockets don't play at home again for a month and if the turnout on Oct. 2 against Wyoming is to be closer to last night's start than its finish, the Rockets will have to show vast improvement on both offense and defense.

The punting game, though, looked really good.

Contact Blade sports columnist

Dave Hackenberg at:

dhack@theblade.com

or 419-724-6398.



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