Lineman Malcolm Riley has seen a gradual improvement with the University of Toledo's defensive line over the last two seasons, with some big steps mixed in along the way.
None seems bigger than the one taken in the second half of last weekend's 34-21 victory over Kent State.
Trailing 21-7 at halftime, the Rockets held the Golden Flashes to minus-24 yards of offense in third quarter and then forced two turnovers in the fourth quarter to seal the comeback win.
UT's defensive line sacked Kent State quarterback Spencer Keith twice in the third quarter, and didn't allow the Flashes to pick up a first down in the second half until less than five minutes remained in the fourth quarter.
"The defensive line rose to the occasion, especially in passing situations," UT coach Tim Beckman said.
The defensive line has been a harbinger of UT's turnaround on defense throughout the season.
The Rockets have 16 sacks through seven games this year, just four fewer than they had in all of 2009.
"I told the D-line it doesn't matter what happens behind us [because] if we handle what we need to do upfront and get pressure and stop the run, we should be successful," said Riley, who picked up one of those crucial sacks against Kent State and leads the team with 4.5 sacks this season. "I feel like we took a big step."
UT's coaching staff made one key adjustment to the defensive line at halftime against Kent State, and it paid huge dividends.
Riley, normally a defensive tackle, was moved to defensive end, while T.J. Fatinikun was at the other defensive end spot and Johnie Roberts and Jonathan Lamb manned the two tackle positions.
"We needed a little more beef in there," Beckman said.
"We called it our heavy personnel," Riley added. "It was like a dream come true. I always wanted to play defensive end."
Fatinikun also picked up a sack along with registering 2.5 tackles for a loss against Kent State, and he was named MAC West Division player of the week Monday to cap an impressive outing for the defensive line.
"They came up big," UT linebacker Archie Donald said. "We needed that big push upfront, and those guys got the job done."
PAGE WATCH: Sophomore wide receiver and Springfield graduate Eric Page moved into the top 10 in the UT record books in career receptions with his career-high 14 catches against Kent State.
Page is now ninth all-time with 136 catches, surpassing Brock Kreitzburg (134, 1995-98) and Rick Isaiah (126, 1987-90).
"It's just an honor that the coaches get me the ball and that they trust me," Page said. "[Quarterback] Austin [Dantin] played a great game, and he's the one that got me the ball in a lot of key situations. We just were vibing on offense."
INJURY UPDATES: Freshman wide receiver James Green is "doubtful" to play Saturday a, Beckman said, after suffering a concussion early in the third quarter against Kent State.
Green was taken off the field on a stretcher and later transported to the hospital as a precautionary measure.
"He took a good hit, and as soon as the game was over I was over in the hospital with him," Beckman said. "He was much better in the hospital than when I saw him on the field. But he's back and he'll probably be out there practicing [today], although I'm sure he'll be very limited."
The prognosis is much better for defensive end Alex Johnson, who has missed the last four games after suffering a facial fracture late in the fourth quarter of a Sept. 18 win at Western Michigan.
Beckman said Johnson has been cleared to play Saturday against Ball State.
"That's a good feeling for all of us," Beckman said.
- Zach Silka