The questions were numerous and the answers were few entering the 2010 season regarding the University of Toledo's defense, which ranked near the bottom in most statistical categories in the Mid-American Conference last year.
But no matter how the defense fared, the Rockets' offense was expected to pick up where it left off at the end of 2009, even with a new starter behind center. To that point, sophomore quarterback Austin Dantin said earlier this week that the offense was “extremely, extremely close to being great.”
The Rockets were far from great Friday night in a 41-2 season-opening loss to Arizona at the Glass Bowl with an announced crowd of 25,907 on hand, although only a couple thousand remained at the final whistle. UT's offense saw several drives stall near midfield, and the defense did all it could before wilting under the Wildcats' offensive firepower.
“Of course we're very, very disappointed, but we played a good football team,” UT coach Tim Beckman said. “[Arizona coach] Mike Stoops has done a great job with that program. That team beat [Southern Cal] last year.”
The Wildcats amassed 518 yards of total offense, the fourth time UT has surrendered at least 500 yards in the last 11 games dating back to last season, while the Rockets finished with 183 yards.
Dantin was 14-of-23 passing for 103 yards, while junior running back Adonis Thomas was UT's leading rusher with 52 yards on 10 carries.
“I don't feel any different about our offense. I think we could have one of the best offenses in the nation,” Dantin said. “I'm extremely confident about our offense and the players around it.”
After allowing Arizona to march 68 yards on their opening drive, capped by Nick Foles' 9-yard touchdown pass to David Douglas on a fade route in the back left corner of the end zone, the Rockets held firm.
The Wildcats amassed just 11 more yards for the remainder of the first quarter, but UT still found itself down 7-0 as the offense sputtered.
Following another stalled drive near midfield to start the second quarter, UT redshirt freshman punter Vince Penza boomed a 55-yarder — his first career kick — that pinned Arizona on its own 4-yard line.
In a curious move that later backfired, Stoops called for a changeup — taking Foles out of the game and putting in backup Matt Scott. Two plays that went nowhere and a timeout later, Arizona left guard Conan Amituanai was called for holding in the end zone while keeping junior defensive tackle Johnie Roberts away from Scott. By rule, the play resulted in a safety, making the score 7-2 with 9:19 left in the first half.
UT couldn't capitalize on the huge momentum shift, going three-and-out after the ensuing free kick.
“We shot ourselves in the foot with penalties and negative yardage plays,” Dantin said.
Arizona took advantage, plowing 91 yards down the field thanks in part to a pair of UT offsides penalties, and took a 14-2 lead with 3:03 left on Nic Grigsby's spectacular 36-yard dash, which saw him run left and then cut back across the field before evading UT cornerback Byron Best and waltzing across the goal line.
Dantin was then picked off on the first play of UT's next possession when linebacker Derek Earls stepped in front of a pass intended for tight end Jerome Jones, giving Arizona prime field position at UT's 38-yard line.
Foles and the Wildcats didn't take long to add to their lead when he called his own number on the sixth play of the drive for a 1-yard QB sneak through the right side to make it 21-2 with 17 seconds left in the first half.
The Wildcats continued to pile on from there with Grigsby's 1-yard touchdown run on their first possession of the second half.
The Rockets mustered 70 yards of offense in the third quarter after totaling just 27 yards in the second quarter.
Arizona added another touchdown on Juron Criner's 32-yard touchdown catch from Foles with 13:02 remaining in the contest but botched the ensuing PAT, making it 34-2.
Foles finished 32-of-37 passing for 360 yards and an 86.5 completion percentage, the highest ever by a Rocket opponent. The previous best effort was 83.3 percent by Western Michigan's Jay McDonagh on Sept. 14, 1995.
Criner totaled 11 catches for 187 yards. Scott was 5-of-7 passing for 53 yards, including a 5-yard touchdown pass to Keola Antolin with 5:51 left.