While Toledo isn't a national title contender, it is certainly a MAC title contender and one reason is the defense under new defensive coordinator, Tom Matukewicz. He joined the Toledo staff after Mike Ward followed former head coach Tim Beckman to Illinois.
Toledo returns five defensive starters from a year ago, but only shows true youth at the cornerback position.
Along with experience, the Rockets also have experienced depth at multiple positions. They had a handful of players that are returning from injuries last season, including T.J. Fatinikun and Mark Singer.
While those players were sidelined, underclassmen like Ben Pike got experience and adjusted to the speed of the game. The snaps last season will make sure the backups are not put on the spot this year.
Toledo is going to try and improve on defense this season after giving up 401.5 yards and 31.7 points per game last season. Those stats aren't great, but they were helped out with the offense outscoring opponents.
There aren't a ton of names that jump off the page for the defense, except Jermaine Robinson, but the defense works well as a unit and could come up with defensive stands when needed.
Players to watch:
#29- SS, Jermaine Robinson: The 6-foot-3 junior is a ballhawk. He had three interceptions a season ago and returned two of them for touchdowns, racking up 155 return yards over the three picks. Robinson is definitely a playmaker and game changer who can give the Rockets a momentum swing with just one play.
#23- DE, T.J. Fatinkun: The defensive tackle was leading his team and the conference in tackles and sacks when he lost the second half of the season to an elbow injury. He's big, 250-pounds, and can move quickly off the edge. Fatinikun will be interesting to watch against the somewhat experienced offensive line of the Wildcats.
#32- LB. Dan Molls: Molls was third on the team in tackles in 2011 despite missing the first six games with a leg injury. He always seems to be wherever the ball is and can easily amass over 100 tackles if he stays healthy over the course of the season. Having that capability on the defense is going to make a difference.
#43- FS Mark Singer: After missing all of 2011 with an injury, the senior is back and ready to bring leadership to the defense. He has four interceptions in three seasons, but his first came against Michigan in the fourth quarter back in 2008, giving Toledo the win.
#30- DT, Ben Pike: The 6-3, 260-pound junior has flown under the radar in the spring and the fall so far. With Fatinkum and Singer returning to the defense, the spotlight hasn't fallen on Pike so far in the 2012 campaign. He isn't projected to start, but as the team's leader with five sacks last season, he will likely have an impact coming off the bench.
Keys to the game:
1. Attack smartly: The Arizona offense is designed to strike fast and score in bunches. However, the offense is still learning the scheme. Against a veteran defense, not making smart plays can be costly for the Wildcats.
2. Limit Mistakes: Toledo's defense has a new coordinator, but still has plenty of play makers. Robinson and Singer will patrol the secondary, looking to take the ball the other direction if given the chance. Keeping turnovers to a minimum is important for Arizona's success.
3. Make big plays: Facing a tough, balanced, and deep defense isn't going to be easy. The Wildcat offense may find it difficult to methodically march down the field and score drive after drive. Matt Scott and co. will need to strike with long plays in order to get down the field.
4. Get rid of the ball quickly: Scott will be pressured by the Toledo defense. It is only returning five and a half sacks across the defensive line, but that isn't counting Pike's five sacks coming off the bench. The line will be coming for him and it is important for him to stay healthy.
5. Keep it simple: Arizona is playing its first game with the new offense. The basics will be enough to work against the defense, but the danger comes with trying to do too much.
Presuming that Rich Rodriguez wants to keep the offense vanilla in this first test, it's up to the players to keep it that way and not get too fancy with the ball.