Lou West has coached defense at 11 colleges since 1977.
But the second-year University of Toledo defensive coordinator can't remember working with a more inexperienced starting lineup than the one that the Rockets employed for Thursday night's 44-16 season-opening victory over Cal Poly.
Six Toledo defenders made their first starts - junior tackles Chaz Williams and Robert Menefee, sophomore end Phil Alexander, sophomore whip Patrick Body, junior rover Paul Dye and senior free safety Demetris Simms, from Fremont Ross.
“We've still got some things to work on, but for as inexperienced as we are, I think we got off to a good start,” West said. “I think [the Cal Poly] game was good for us because we understand we've got to go up another notch to get to where we want to be.”
A seventh UT starter, junior defensive end Frank Ofili, was making just his seventh start. He injured his left elbow in the second quarter and did not return. Ofili, who dislocated the same elbow in high school, is expected to miss the Mid-American Conference opener at Eastern Michigan.
“He'll probably be out next week, but he will be back sometime this season,” UT coach Tom Amstutz said. “We'll get him back as fast as possible. Until then, we'll go with the players we have.”
Against undersized Cal Poly, a Division I-AA opponent that averaged just 262 pounds per man on the offensive line, Toledo's defense controlled the play. The Rockets held the Mustangs to 13 first downs, 64 yards rushing and 173 total yards. Cal Poly averaged just 3.3 yards on 52 plays.
Toledo's defense also produced three sacks and one interception.
West and Amstutz, a long-time defensive coordinator, praised the play of the defensive line, which lost seven of its top eight players from last season.
Alexander and senior backup end Brian King had one sack each for the Rockets, who also had eight tackles for losses.
“We stood up and gave [the defensive line] a little ovation after the game,” Amstutz said. “These guys have been pushed by coach [Jimmy] Williams. We rotated a bunch of guys in there and their performance was solid. I think they'll continue to improve throughout the season.”
“[Junior-college transfer] Robert Menefee and Chaz Williams did a pretty good job inside at the tackle spots,” West said. “They were pretty steady.”
West also praised the play of Simms, a former walk-on filling the spot at free safety vacated by four-year starter Andy Boyd.
“Demetris Simms has been a pleasant surprise,” West said. “He did some things in practice and in the game that opened some eyes.”
Freshman defensive backs Jamar Landrum and Antonio Malone also opened some eyes, combining for 10 tackles.
A year ago UT ranked second in the MAC in rushing yards allowed per game (105.6) and total defense (321.8 yards per game), and third in scoring defense (25.5).
Four starters from that unit who have made 93 career starts anchor this year's defense - senior inside linebackers David Gardner and Tom Ward, senior cornerback Jehu Anderson and junior cornerback Brandon Hefflin.