UT searches for offense

Execution flaws pointed out by Florida’s stout defense

Toledo’s Terrance Owens, left, was under pressure by Florida’s defense all game. Up next for the Rockets is a trip to Missouri.
Toledo’s Terrance Owens, left, was under pressure by Florida’s defense all game. Up next for the Rockets is a trip to Missouri.

The degree of difficulty softens from here, ensuring from now on someone its own size picks on the University of Toledo offense.

No more gargantuan linemen clogging up lanes or all-universe linebackers patrolling the perimeter. Whew. Unless they somehow draw Alabama in a bowl game, the Rockets won’t see another secondary as talented as the one that handcuffed their passing game Saturday in a 24-6 loss at Florida.

Yeah, things are about to get easier for Terrance Owens and an offense that was maddeningly ineffective in the season opener. Easier, but not easy.

Up next is Missouri, a Southeastern Conference team trying to figure out the meaning of Southeastern Conference defense in its second year in the league. The Tigers, led by former Toledo coach Gary Pinkel, overcame early struggles to flatten Murray State 58-14.

Eastern Washington awaits the following week in what figures to be a breeze only to those uninformed. The Eagles produced 625 yards of offense in a road upset of No. 25 Oregon State, raising belief Toledo could be in for a shootout with the 2011 FCS champion.

Translation: Owens and an offense that received considerable preseason praise can’t afford for this slump to last longer than a game.

"We have to go out and execute better," running back David Fluellen said.

The Rockets failed to score a touchdown on offense, defense, or special teams for the first time since the 2010 opener and converted just 1 of 13 attempts on third down. Problems on second down shape the story, as 11 of 19 snaps ended in no gain or a loss.

Curiously, Toledo threw on 18 of 23 first downs and completed only seven. Campbell attributed the approach to his not wanting Florida’s defensive front to dictate tempo. In other words, the coach had little faith his offensive line, with two potential NFL draft picks, could consistently win battles in the trenches. Fluellen finished with nine carries for 46 yards. A year ago, when he totaled 1,498 yards, Fluellen carried no less than 20 times in every game in which he was healthy.

"Our biggest thing is we knew the depth that their defensive front carried," Campbell said. "We didn’t want those guys to dictate the pace of the game."

Florida’s line is considered the strongest unit on a defense that finished top 10 nationally the past two seasons.

Campbell did not have to pull a hamstring to find positives about a respectable loss to the nation’s 10th-ranked team. He admired the in-game growth of his defense, which forced stops on three straight series after halftime. Conditioning issues figured to arise amid the southern humidity. They did not. Health too was a concern, but Campbell’s team boarded the plane in one piece. The coach was pleased his team committed only four penalties with one he took by design to give his punter more room to execute a pooch kick.

As for his quarterback, Campbell did his best to prop up Owens but there was only so much the coach could do. The senior captain struggled mightily, completing 17 of 38 for 155 yards while tossing an interception in Toledo territory that led to a touchdown. He missed badly on throws, airmailing the ball above the head of his intended targets. Such struggles in past years would have signaled a benching, which no longer is a desirable option. Austin Dantin is gone, leaving the offense unconditionally to Owens.

"Their guys are pretty fast, well disciplined," Owens said. "We’re not going to face anybody, I don’t think, that’s better than their defense."

Contact Ryan Autullo at: rautullo@theblade.com, 419-724-6160 or on Twitter @AutulloBlade.