Toledo's David Fluellen runs into the end zone against Arizona on Saturday night in Tucson, Ariz. The Wildcats had a 624-358 advantage in total yards.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge
TUCSON -- The inconsistencies in University of Toledo's season-opening performance spark a worthy debate.
Some view a 24-17 overtime loss Saturday night at Arizona as a positive, pointing to a play here or a sequence there as all that stood in the way of an upset win.
Others will bemoan an eye-popping number of yards given up and feel fortunate the Arizona committed its share of self-inflicted errors They'll point to ineffectiveness by not one but two veteran UT quarterbacks, wag their finger at a beleaguered secondary, and conclude that more bad than good came out of the trip out West.
Either school of thought seems to have merit.
Yes, the Rockets nearly beat a BCS opponent, one that crushed them two years ago.
But they lost, and they did not always look good doing it. The outcome could have been lopsided when you consider:
■ Two Arizona touchdowns were wiped away by penalties, one of which -- a blocking in the back call -- that occurred 20 yards behind the play.
■ Wildcats receiver Richard Morrison dropped a touchdown pass on the game's first drive, and lost a fumble -- without anyone touching him -- inside UT's 10 on the next.
■ Arizona kicker John Bonano shanked two short field goals, including a 25-yarder that would have won the game as time expired in regulation.
■ A chance to pin the Rockets at the 1-yard line was squashed when the Arizona player on the punt return team fell into the end zone.
"I think it's just a matter of us cleaning up and taking care of what Toledo does," coach Matt Campbell said.
That housekeeping begins with the passing game, on both sides of the ball. Inexperience at cornerback was brought to light by Arizona quarterback Matt Scott, who proved mislabeled as a run-first quarterback by recording a career-high 387 passing yards. Defensive backs seemed resigned to conceding intermediate passes so to not get beaten deep, to which Arizona recievers Austin Hill (139 yards) and Dan Buckner (116) took advantage.
One of the few breaks Arizona caught all night came on Hill's tremendous diving catch in the end zone. Left in his wake was third-string safety Ethan Kagy because starter Jermaine Robinson was forced to the sideline after his helmet came disconnected the previous play. Robinson's immediate backup, Ross Madison, was at home serving a one-game suspension for breaking a team rule.
There's no minimizing the brutality induced by Arizona, whose 624 yards are second most in program history. The Wildcats averaged a jarring 7.1 yards per play.
"I thought we did a really good job. Maybe [we gave] up some yardage, but at the end of the day, they only had 17 points in regulation," Campbell said.
Campbell liked what he saw from the lines, both of which are breaking in three new starters. Pivotal to UT tying the game early in the fourth on a field goal was an offensive front that overpowered Arizona's three-man set, creating space for backs David Fluellen and Cassius McDowell.
Christian Smith's stuffing of Taimi Tutogi on fourth-and-1 in the fourth quarter highlighted efforts from the defensive line. Phil Lewis and T.J. Fatinikun recorded sacks, and Danny Farr had three tackles for loss. The play the unit was unable to make looms large. On third down in overtime, Scott refused to submit to Farr's attempt to drag him to the ground and delivered a bullet to Terrence Miller for the game winner.
An "incredible" throw, said Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez, the former Michigan coach who was making his debut with the Wildcats.
UT's chance in overtime was messy from the beginning when receiver Justin Olack was flagged for false start. Austin Dantin, appearing for the fifth straight series after Terrance Owens was yanked, slipped and fell on what would have been a big gain. He missed another opportunity when he underthrew Alonzo Russell in the end zone on third-and-20. Also in the OT, the Rockets, who for the most part played smart, were assessed a delay of game.
Neither QB distinguished himself as the team's best bet. Dantin, who started because he won a coin flip, authored seven drives producing three points. Owens had more success in his seven drives, leading to two touchdowns.
"Offensively we have to come back from this," Dantin said. "This wasn't the performance we wanted and next week against Wyoming I think we'll have a lot better performance."
Contact Ryan Autullo at: |email@example.com, 419-724-6160 or on Twitter @AutulloBlade.