Utah State's Nevin Lawson celebrates by kissing the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl trophy after defeating the University of Toledo. The Rockets were stymied mainly by the Aggies' defense.
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BOISE — The University of Toledo sputtered in the red zone all season, and the Rockets’ performance in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl was no exception.
They ran up against an Aggie defense from Utah State that secured the zone as if renewal of their scholarships hinged on it.
In the 41-15 loss at Bronco Stadium on Saturday, the Aggies pitched a phantom barricade across the goal line in Toledo’s five visits inside the 20-yard line.
"The most glaring stat that’s going to come out, and it’s kind of been our Achilles’ heel all year, is our red zone offense," coach Matt Campbell said following his team’s third loss in its last four games.
One year after it was among the nation’s most efficient offenses in the red zone, Toledo finishes the 2012 campaign as one of the worst. Its 54 chances yielded just 24 touchdowns, a 44 percent success rate that ranks 121 of 124 teams. The Rockets (9-4 for the second year in a row) ranked seventh in 2011, producing a touchdown 16 more times than this season with one less opportunity.
The difference? The simple answer is to point to seven new starters and a new offensive coordinator.
Saturday’s failure to splinter a Utah State defense that succeeds 71 percent of the time in preventing red zone touchdowns — second to Notre Dame — serves as a microcosm of Toledo’s shortcomings in a 9-4 season that could have been better.
Austin Dantin threw a third-quarter interception at the 15 on a pass Campbell described as "flat." A chance at the 9 to tie the game with nine minutes to go unraveled when Dantin’s replacement, Terrance Owens, couldn’t pick up one yard on fourth down.
Three other red zone opportunities ended unfulfilled, with Jeremiah Detmer converting a field goal.
"We’ve been struggling all season on that," receiver Bernard Reedy said. "We just could not get it going tonight. I can’t fault anyone. We’re a team. We just have to piggyback off that next year and get better."
In their four losses, the Rockets scored touchdowns on six of 17 tries inside their opponent’s 20. One cannot expect a touchdown every time, but 35 percent success rate isn’t good enough.
Campbell said the emphasis this offseason will be to "attack the details," chief among them red zone offense.
Nine of 11 offensive starters are expected to return in 2013.
"We did a lot of great things this year, but we’re going to attack the details of what we have to get better at," Campbell said.
"We’re very close to where we want to be. I just told this football team it was a great season. We did some really great things. I’m really proud of what we accomplished, but you want to win your last game and you want to have a chance to win a [Mid-American Conference] championship.
"Those are things we didn’t accomplish this year. We’re going to have to sit back, look at it, evaluate who we are, and what we need to do to get better.
"We’re not just going to stay the same. We have to continue to get better."
Contact Ryan Autullo at: email@example.com, 419-724-6160 or on Twitter @AutulloBlade.