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Published: Friday, 9/2/2005

UT defense makes loud statement

It's not too early to make a prediction about the University of Toledo football team.

One game into the 2005 season, the Rockets are already a better defensive unit than a year ago.

UT's defense is vastly

improved. If UT's offense does its usual bang-up job, the Rockets will field their most complete squad under fifth-year coach Tom Amstutz.

Toledo 62, Western Illinois 14 in last night's season opener at the Glass Bowl spoke to the Rockets' total dominance in a game in which anything less than a blowout would have been considered a failure.

It was the type of one-sided mismatch that occurs between the defending Mid-American Conference champion and a I-AA opponent coming off a 4-7 campaign.

Every team should have a Western Illinois on its schedule.

The toughest thing about last night's opponent was its nickname. The Leathernecks were a pushover.

UT did whatever it wanted against Western Illinois, which was expected.

Winning the game wasn't an issue for UT. How the Rockets won was.

Last night's win was all about working out the kinks on offense and establishing a new identity on defense.

Defensively, the Rockets were flying around the ball, creating turnovers and wreaking havoc.

Quite a change from UT's swiss cheese defense from a year ago. It was a good change. A needed change.

Antonio Malone returned an interception 60 yards for a touchdown and an early 7-0 lead. In the second quarter, Nigel Morris scooped up a fumble and sprinted 37 yards for another touchdown and a 27-0 lead.

UT's defense never let up,

creating two more turnovers that led to an additional 14 first-

half points.

New defensive coordinator Tim Rose coaches aggressively. He's the defensive version of former UT offensive coordinator Rob Spence, aka, the Mad Scientist.

It's too early to nickname Rose, or his rebuilt defense. But the new look was a sight for sore eyes.

UT's defense didn't sit back and react. The Rockets delivered the first blow - along with the second, third and fourth blows - and grabbed control of the line of scrimmage.

UT's defensive backs were a threat to blitz all night. The strategy forced Western Illinois to account for more pass rushers than the Leathernecks could block.

UT's defensive intensity eventually carried over to the offense.

Maybe the Rockets were

being conservative because they didn't want to reveal all of their offensive secrets to next week's opponent, MAC foe Western Michigan. Or maybe the Rockets were scaling back and focusing more on the ground game in the early going.

Whatever, new Rockets

offensive coordinator John Shannon finally took off the wraps and turned senior quarterback Bruce Gradkowski loose.

Gradkowski was 5-of-9 for 95 yards and two touchdowns in the second quarter. He also scrambled four yards for a TD right before intermission.

Gradkowski didn't play in the second half. He wasn't needed.

Playing Gradkowski any longer would have been rubbing it in. The Rockets had already made their point. Their defense is back, and their offense never left. Look out.



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