A year removed from experiencing a myriad of problems on the defensive side of the ball, the Arizona Wildcats look to prove doubters wrong by playing above expectations in 2012. To kick things off in the upcoming campaign, UA faces a Toledo squad that finished ninth in the nation in total offense a season ago.
The Rockets bring back the two-headed monster at quarterback in Austin Dantin and Terrance Owens. Both players possess superior accuracy with their throws and have enough athleticism to do some damage on the ground when needed.
Toledo must find a way to replace the production wide receiver Eric Page brought to the field. As a junior a season ago, Page caught 125 passes – good for second in the nation - and 10 touchdowns. He wasn't a serious downfield threat, but Page proved to be a reliable pass-catcher and route runner who will be very difficult to replace.
Bernard Reedy, the team's second-leading receiver from a season ago, is back after producing 40 receptions, nearly 19 yards per catch and pulling in nine touchdowns. After Reedy, Toledo's most productive receiver remaining from last year's squad is junior James Green, who caught just nine passes in 2011.
The Rockets' passing game should have its fair share of concerns, but their running game has some questions surrounding it as well. Not only did Toledo lose its top receiver, but it must also find a way to replace the 1700-plus yards of ground production left behind by the departed Adonis Thomas and Morgan Williams. David Fluellen is the only returning running back with significant game experience, finishing with 493 yards on the ground and four rushing touchdowns last season.
The offensive line has some turnover to account for, as the Rockets replace three starters from last year's unit. For an offense that already has numerous faces to replace at skill positions, the offensive line could be the biggest question mark of all.
Players to watch:
#2 – QB, Terrance Owens: The signal-caller threw for just a shade over 2,000 yards while splitting duties with Dantin. He displayed precise passing for most of the campaign, completing 72.2 percent of his attempts while throwing 18 touchdowns compared to just three interceptions. Owens can also cause problems with his feet, as evident by the 209 yards he rushed for last season. Arizona needs to keep Owens in the pocket or he could be in for a big day.
#4 – QB, Austin Dantin: The senior shares reps with Owens and produces at nearly the same rate. In 2011, Dantin completed the season with 1,404 passing yards while completing just under 65 percent of his passes. Dantin tossed 15 touchdown passes while getting picked off only four times, so there isn't much variation between the two quarterbacks.
#1 – WR, Bernard Reedy: Toledo is expecting Reedy to make a big leap in 2012 in the absence of Page. Averaging nearly 19 yards per reception as a sophomore, Reedy showed he has it in him to be a home run threat. Given the transition the UA defense is currently under, Reedy is a player that could potentially be a thorn in the side of the Wildcats' secondary and is a player that both quarterbacks will target often.
#22 – RB, David Fluellen: Taking over for the departed seniors, Fluellen is expected to shoulder a big load and he could be given the opportunity to test the Arizona front seven. The Rockets' running back can pick up plenty of yardage on the ground, averaging over five yards per carry last season, but the question is what he can do while carrying most of the load. If he can on Saturday, Fluellen could help keep the Arizona defense on its toes.
Keys to stopping Toledo's offense:
1. Fundamentals: The transition from the Mike Stoops' 4-3 defense to Jeff Casteel's 3-3-5 has been tough in the offseason, but its progression has been noticed recently. The key early on for the unit is to play fundamentally sound football. Casteel's defense requires players to understand not only their role, but their surroundings as well. If the UA defensive unit can perform cohesively, it should be successful Saturday
2. Play team defense: The 3-3-5 is a system that can be exposed if players are caught out of position or off their assignment. Each individual on the field must take care of their responsibilities as well as covering their teammate's backs when needed.
3. Pressure the quarterback: Toledo has a pair of experienced quarterbacks, but its offensive line is shaky and the depth at running back and receiver is depleted. If Arizona can disrupt the Rockets' backfield, the Wildcats should be able to stop the Toledo offense.
4. Prevent big plays: Both Reedy and Fluellen have playmaking ability and the last thing UA wants to do is give up big-yardage plays to a squad like Toledo. As long as Arizona prevents that from occurring, it should be able to control the tempo of the game.
5. Effort: One of the biggest traps in playing a team like Toledo is not taking it seriously and falling short of giving maximum effort. The Rockets are talented enough to make Arizona pay if the Wildcats get lazy, so Arizona must treat Toledo like any other squad it faces and avoid getting comfortable.
Toledo Offensive Preview
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