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Published: Tuesday, 9/14/2010

UT Defense making some believers

BY ZACH SILKA
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

Danny Molls said he first made the discovery in training camp that the University of Toledo's defense would be much improved this season.

Now, the sophomore linebacker and the Rockets are making believers out of everyone.

A much maligned unit in 2009, the UT defense allowed 533 yards of offense and 41 points in the opening loss to Arizona. But last Saturday, yielded just 13 points and 183 yards of offense in the Mid-American Conference opener at Ohio on Saturday.

"It's definitely a matter of trying to prove we can be a top defense, especially in this conference," Molls said Monday after being named the MAC West Division player of the week following his 11-tackle, two-interception performance against the Bobcats.

"Going into camp, we knew we had something special. We knew we had a lot of guys that could make plays, and it was just a matter of getting everyone together and believing in one another that we could actually do it."

Conversely, the UT offense has stumbled out of the gates and still has a lot of prove.

The Rockets (1-1, 1-0 MAC) are averaging just 197.5 yards per game, which puts them 119th out of 120 teams nationally in total offense. Additionally, they are ranked 114th in the country with 106.5 passing yards per game and

106th with 91 rushing yards per game.

UT is also averaging just 11 points per game, which puts them 115th nationally in terms of scoring. Contributing to that issue, the Rockets have converted on just two of five opportunities inside the red zone.

With the way UT came out firing offensively last season, it's been frustrating for some to see the group struggle. But keep in mind, three key ingredients involved in the offense's success early in 2009 - quarterback Aaron Opelt, running back DaJuane Collins and wide receiver Stephen Williams - have graduated.

"We have a bunch of young people touching the football," UT coach Tim Beckman said. "We've had four or fives years of [experience] taken from our offense."

Sophomore quarterback Austin Dantin, who started three games and appeared in four more in place of an injured Opelt last year, doesn't buy the "youth" excuse.

"I think it's easy for people to say it's youth, but I don't necessarily think that's what it is," Dantin said. "I mean, maybe it's just because I'm a young guy, but I don't believe that's what it is.

"We've had good drives at times but then we've shot ourselves in the foot with stupid penalties. Doing things on a more consistent basis has been our big point of emphasis."

Dantin added that he and the rest of the offense got a huge boost of confidence from the game-deciding 14-play scoring drive in the second half against Ohio.

"I know what we're capable of doing as an offense," Dantin said. "I know once we open it up the things that we can do and how many points we can put up. We've done it in practice and did it all through fall [camp].

"It's a little frustrating at times, but as long as we're winning, I could care less how many points we put up or how many yards we put up."

Beckman cautioned, however, that the offense will eventually need to kick into gear for the Rockets to be competitive in another MAC road contest this weekend against Western Michigan and as the season progresses.

"We've got to play better on the offensive line and we've got to play better at the running back position," Beckman said. "Those are the two positions that we must be able to carry this football team on offensively, because they're the veterans."

So far, the Rockets' defense has been doing the heavy lifting

"We've rather not have it like that," senior linebacker Archie Donald said. "We want to see the offense do well, but [the defense] has stepped up to the challenge and gotten the job done."

Contact Zach Silka at:

zsilka@theblade.com

or 419-724-6084.



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