The University of Toledo’s offense in 2011 ranks by most measurements as the best in program history, scoring more touchdowns, and averaging more yards from scrimmage than any team that came before.
Two years later, could competition be ready to unfold?
It is premature to say the Rockets will mimic their 2011 version by, say, averaging 42 points per game, but as center Zac Kerin suggested Wednesday, “the potential is there.”
All key skill players return, including a 1,000-yard receiver, a near 1,500-yard running back, and a quarterback who, when healthy, has proven himself among the elite of the Mid-American Conference.
Moreover, the receivers room is crowded with new and veteran talent, and the Rockets’ coaching staff speaks confidently about filling the one vacancy on the line.
Not to be dismissed is the kicker. Jeremiah Detmer, as sure a bet as there is at the position, closed last year with 17 straight field goals and was the team’s top point scorer.
“It’s a very talented offense, much like that offense was,” said coach Matt Campbell, who called plays in 2011 when Toledo rolled up 481 yards per contest. “There’s a lot of playmakers. We have depth at the skills positions that maybe we didn’t feel comfortable with last year.”
Last year’s offense slipped to 31.5 points, a dropoff of about 11 points from 2011 that can be traced to relative inexperience and too many empty red-zone trips. The Rockets scored touchdowns on only 44 percent of those opportunities compared to 75 percent the year before, when they ranked sixth nationally.
“It just comes down to executing,” Kerin said. “Our offense last year I think had the potential [to replicate the 2011 success] but we just missed some things. That’s what we’re trying to fix this year.”
Campbell said he and second-year offensive coordinator Jason Candle "hammered through" issues that afflicted the offense a year ago and expect to have a better attack this time inside the 20.
Three offensive starters from that record-shattering 2011 team are still around: All-Mid-American Conference selections Kerin, guard Greg Mancz, and receiver Bernard Reedy. Quarterback Terrance Owens, though not the usual starter in 2011, played frequently in a shared role with Austin Dantin and was excellent after Dantin got hurt at the end of the year
The 2011 team, which averaged 51 points over the final six games, dissected defenses behind a bruising line and a dynamic frontline punch of running back Adonis Thomas and receiver Eric Page. This year’s team is in many ways an imitation of that group. David Fluellen (1,498 yards) and Reedy do a nice impersonation of Thomas and Page, and there’s much to like about a line that returns 80 percent of its starters. Alonzo Russell (960 yards) is a nice complementary receiver the same way Reedy was in 2011.
“I feel we have the same level of talent,” Owens said. “I feel we can do the same as that or top that.”
Concern still exists.
The winner of the right tackle competition between Chase Nelson and Robert Lisowski will make his first career start at a position of great importance because of the need to protect the blindside of the left-handed Owens. Campbell said he wouldn’t be surprised to see the two platoon.
Dwight Macon, an offseason warrior, is having another strong camp, but questions remain if he can translate his summer labors into fall success.
At running back, two touted freshmen been sidelined with injuries, setbacks that could hurt their chances to be Fluellen’s understudy. Damion Jones-Moore won’t return for a week or so, and Campbell said Kareem Hunt was expected back Wednesday for an evening practice. Campbell added that junior Cassius McDowell, who has been “outstanding,” is the frontrunner for the backup job.
However, the biggest question as it relates to the offense’s viability, and whether the 2013 team can replicate the success of 2011, is what happens inside the red zone. Two years ago, the Rockets punctuated scoring chances with touchdowns. Last year, they too often settled for field goals.
“We know at the end of the day it’s about scoring touchdowns,” Campbell said. “We’re blessed to have a great field goal kicker. He’s tremendous. But we want to score touchdowns in those critical areas.”
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