Arizona's Austin Hill (29) tries to break the tackle of Toledo's Cheatham Norrils, left, during the first half of Saturday night's game.
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TUCSON — A coin flip let quarterback Austin Dantin start the game. A coach’s instinct let him finish it.
Neither the beginning nor the end to University of Toledo’s 24-17 loss Saturday produced much offensive firepower.
An overtime drive authored by Dantin featured two penalties, an inopportune slip on the turf, and a ball that was an eyelash from going for a touchdown.
Had they prevailed, the Rockets would have:
- Given Matt Campbell a win in his regular season coaching debut
- Dealt Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez a loss to Toledo for the second time in his first season with a program. Michigan in 2008 is the other.
- Won an opener on the road for the first time since 2000 at Penn State.
Instead, the debate at quarterback between Dantin and Terrance Owens will rage on, as neither gave a performance worthy of securing the job full time. Both signatured seven drives, with Dantin’s leading to three points and Owens’ netting two touchdowns.
“Offensively, we have to come back from this,” said Dantin, who was 10 of 25 for 63 yards. “This wasn’t the performance we wanted and next week against Wyoming I think we’ll have a lot better performance.”
The most effective quarterback Saturday was neither Dantin nor Owens, but Arizona’s Matt Scott. Inaccurately depicted as run-first quarterback, Scott carved up UT’s secondary for 387 yards on 30 of 46 passing. His game-winning throw was a thing of beauty, as he stood strong against Danny Farr pulling at his jersey on third down and rifled a pass at the goal line. Terrence Miller was there to catch it and put Arizona in front in overtime.
“The throw he had in overtime was incredible,” said Rodriguez, who won his first opener in five tries.
The game reached the extra period only because of Arizona’s woeful kicking. After a couple of set up runs to kill clock and improve the spot of the ball, John Bonano settled in for a 25-yard kick with two seconds remaining and pushed it wide left. It was his second easy miss of the half.
“On the sidelines we knew we were either going to block the kick or Arizona was going to miss it,” safety Jermaine Robinson said.
On many fronts, UT was fortunate to even be hanging around until the end.
Arizona gobbled up 624 offensive yards to UT’s 358 but coughed up the ball twice in Rocket territory, including inside the 10-yard line when Richard Morrison inexplicably lost control after a catch. Morrison also dropped a pass in the end zone.
The Wildcats saw two touchdowns nullified by penalties — one of which may have assisted in the score, and another that was nowhere near the play — and screwed up a chance to pin UT at the 1 when the gunner on punt return fell into the end zone.
“I thought we did a really good job of maybe giving up some yardage, but at the end of the day, they only had 17 points in regulation,” Campbell said.
Poor tackling throughout the night reached a crescendo early in the third when Ka’Deem Carey burst through the middle of Toledo’s defense, making safety Jermaine Robinson and others whiff before finishing off a 73-yard jaunt.
UT was unable to hit the home run it needed in the second half against an Arizona defense that played far better than advertised after giving up 460 yards a game in 2011. In desperate need of a spark, Campbell inserted Dantin in the third quarter after Owens lost a fumble in his own territory. Momentum Owens had established early in the game — connecting with freshman Alonzo Russell for a 59-yard scoring strike and authoring another TD drive — had since evaporated. He never played again.
“We decided at that time a quarterback run game might loosen things up for us and get us going,” Campbell said.
Enter Dantin, who won the right to start last week by a coin flip.
Campbell’s plan nearly materialized when Dantin faked a handoff and took off on the first play of overtime, freezing the defense. He was in a position to score a touchdown, or at least approach the goal line. Instead he slipped and fell after a seven yard gain.
His hiccup was prologue to a fruitless drive. Justin Olack was flagged for false start, and UT was penalized for delay a game. Dantin didn't put enough loft on a pass to Russell, who had beaten his defender in the end zone. The final play, on fourth-and-20, was a ball thrown nowhere near a slanting Bernard Reedy.
“I think it’s just a matter of us cleaning up and taking care of what Toledo does,” Campbell said.
Contact Ryan Autullo at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6160 or on Twitter @AutulloBlade