When a defense is bludgeoned for 624 yards, gives up more points in one quarter than its winless opponent scored in any previous game, and approaches tackling with as much enthusiasm as a kid picking at a plate of cabbage, the obvious cry is for change.
But trying something new might have been the problem Saturday, says University of Toledo coach Matt Campbell, who attributes a dysfunctional effort against Eastern Michigan to a scheme that grew in complexity too fast for his players to comprehend.
When the Rockets are at their best, they are basic, maybe even predictable, but yet knowledgeable of their assignments. The plan last week to incorporate a few bells and whistles produced nothing but disarray in a 52-47 cliffhanging win.
In explaining how his defense made the nation’s 120th ranked offense look like the Oregon Ducks, Campbell on Monday told a story of his first season as offensive coordinator at Toledo. His call sheet consisted of about four plays, and when he ordered up something out of the ordinary, bad things followed.
In the adolescent stages of the new defensive scheme under coordinator Tom Matukewicz, the safest route to success seems to be simplicity, a notion Campbell and his staff figure to re-adopt this week at home against No. 21 Cincinnati.
"Some of those big plays came from some things that maybe we hadn’t done enough of to be good at," Campbell said. "It’s certainly a situation we all learned a lot from and it’s something we’ll grow from."
Campbell, on behalf of his assistants, shouldered blame for not "putting our kids in the best position to be successful." He estimates 175 plays were run in the game, and that the Rockets executed well on all but maybe 25. A unit that has been sufficient stopping the run gave up 283 yards and four touchdowns to fourth-string back Bronson Hill, and allowed Tyler Benz to throw for 301 yards. Hill had touchdown runs of 47, 58, and 70 yards as part of a 27-point third quarter when the offenses engaged in a game of ping-pong. The Eagles mustered nine gains of 20 yards or more and five of 40 or more. Their 624 total yards matched Arizona’s output in the opener against Toledo.
Tackle Elijah Jones cited a rash of "gray area," in which players were often confused of their roles.
"When we’re in the right spots and we tackle, I feel like nobody can beat us," Jones said. "We are so effective when we’re playing fundamental, sound football, and everybody’s tackling."
Cincinnati (5-0) scored 101 points the past two weeks against Fordham and Miami (Ohio) and averages 37. Asked if the game will be a shootout, say something along the lines of 75-65, Campbell responded, "No, it’s not." The Bearcats will be a difficult opponent, and a simple plan seems to be the best way to attack them.
"As a defense, we just realize this is a lesson," cornerback Byron Best said. "The only thing we can do is just flush what happened last Saturday and get prepared for the next game."
SHORT YARDS: Bernard Reedy was named Mid-American Conference West division special teams player of the week for the second week in a row after returning a kickoff 89 yards for a touchdown. Toledo has collected an individual award from the conference in six of seven weeks, with Reedy being the only repeat winner. ... Running back Cassius McDowell (leg) is probable, as is Justin Olack (arm). ... Campbell said true freshman Juwan Haynes got the starting nod at cornerback Saturday over Cheatham Norrils after practicing well during the week. ... Toledo received two votes in the coaches poll, and Campbell offered a "no comment" when asked if one of them was his.
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