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Offensive playmakers need the ball in their hands to make plays, and so excuse Eric Page for being absent from the highlight reel from the University of Toledo's 41-2 season-opening loss to Arizona last Friday.
The sophomore wide receiver had just four catches for 43 yards against the Wildcats, along with five kick and punt returns for a combined 16 yards.
All told, Page totaled just 59 all-purpose yards — a number that will likely need to be much higher for the Rockets to have a fighting chance in their Mid-American Conference opener at Ohio on Saturday.
“We're definitely going to get Eric much more involved,” said UT sophomore quarterback Austin Dantin, who was 14-of-23 passing for 103 yards and an interception against Arizona.
“We had a big gameplan for him last week, but Arizona did a great job taking that away. There were times when really the whole secondary was spying on him, looking at him to see where he'd go.”
It was a new experience for Page, who snuck onto the scene last year as a small but fleet-footed slot receiver and piled up a UT freshman-record 12 catches for 128 yards in his debut at Purdue.
The Rockets often had Page line up on the same side of the field as Stephen Williams, who is now with the Arizona Cardinals, last season to prevent double teams. Now, Page has become the focal point on the opposition scouting reports.
“Arizona had a great secondary,” Page said. “They just came really prepared. We studied a lot of film, but they threw a lot of different coverages at us. I mean, I thought we played alright, but there's a lot of room for improvement.”
In the offseason, UT coach Tim Beckman said the Rockets planned to utilize Page similar to how the Florida Gators used Percy Harvin, who is now with the Minnesota Vikings, as a receiver, returner, running back, and wildcat QB.
Page only lined up as a receiver on offense in addition to fielding kicks and punts against Arizona, but that doesn't mean he won't be given additional roles down the road.
“Eric is our guy on offense,” Dantin said. “He's our big playmaker. We're definitely going to be getting the ball in his hands as much as we can.”
Getting Page more touches is a definite priority for the Rockets, but unless another consistent threat in the passing game emerges, life could prove difficult for Page.
Dantin pointed to junior tight end Danny Noble, along with junior receiver Kenny Stafford and sophomore receiver Julian Bellinger, as the guys who should form a supporting cast for Page as the season progresses.
“Danny Noble is going to be a big threat,” Dantin said. “He's a great talent. With his height and size [6-foot-5, 233 pounds] playing tight end, he's going to create a lot of mismatches for teams. Julian Bellinger and Kenny Stafford have also done a great job on the outside, which I think is really going to start to open up things for Eric.”
After they totaled just 183 yards of offense against Arizona, it's no secret that the Rockets need a spark offensively.
“Of course we're trying to get the playmakers the ball as much as we can,” Beckman said. “With Eric's situation, he was getting double-covered quite a bit and he had four eyes on him instead of just two.
“[But] that's going to be the situation for Eric until Julian and Kenny and the rest of the those guys step up, which they are and they will. Eric Page is a heck of a football player, and we will get the ball to Eric Page any way we possibly can.”
Contact Zach Silka at:firstname.lastname@example.org 419-724-6084.