Toledo Prepares For...Which Quarterback?

As Marshall's offense prepares for Friday Night's Mid-American conference opener against Toledo, they find themselves as unsure of the starting quarterback as the Rocket defensive coordinator Lou West. He might be as unsure about his own unit, wondering which one will show for the ESPN-televised, 7:00 p.m. kickoff: the group that allowed UNLV to score two touchdowns in 27 seconds in a late-game loss; or the group that man-handled I-AA Liberty?

Toledo comes into the Marshall game as one of the leaders in points given up per game, 15.5 per (28 to UNLV, three to Liberty), but has allowed opposing teams to pass for 236 yards per game and complete 58 percent of their passes. This plays directly into one of MU's strengths, no matter if the quarterback is Graham Gochneaur or Stan Hill.

The Toledo defense is plus three on turnover margin, snatching two fumbles and three interceptions. On the other hand, they are seventh in total defense in the MAC against not two of the most dangerous offenses in the NCAA. Toledo has allowed 377.5 yards per game to the Rebels and the Flames.

On the defensive front, Toledo returns four starters although one of that group has already been moved to the second team. Last year, starting senior defensive tackle Robert Menefee (6-2, 265) was a spot starter, but he has come back in great shape and overtaken returning senior starter Lantz Jeudy (6-2, 290) in the first team role, although both will play. The other starter at the down lineman is senior Chaz Williams (6-4, 295), who is already among the MAC leaders in tackles-for-loss with four in two games.

Defensive end sees the return of senior Frank Ofili (6-3, 264), who battled through injuries last year to record four sacks and nine tackles-for-loss. Another starter from 2002, junior Phil Alexander (6-3, 254), is listed as a second team player behind converted linebacker and senior Ray Turner (6-1, 230). Turner brings speed and athleticism to the position, as evidenced by his three passes broken up in two games.

A big hole was left at inside linebacker with the graduation of All-MAC starters Tom Ward and David Gardner, the heart and soul of the Rocket defense for three years. Sophomore Anthony Jordan (6-3, 230) has been moved inside from defensive end and has responded with 10 solo tackles and 14 total to rank as Toledo's top tackler and 21st in the MAC. The other inside backer is junior Brock Dodrill (6-2, 217), converted from the whip linebacker. He was third on the team in tackles in 2002 with 89 total.

The outside linebacker positions also have two new starters. Junior Michael Broussard (5-11, 200) has an interception and 13 total tackles at the whip, while senior Paul Dye (6-1, 218) has already returned a fumble for an 80-yard fumble return for a touchdown against UNLV. Starting rover from 2002 Keon Jackson (5-11, 206 sophomore) sat out the Liberty game with a hamstring problem and is not listed on the two-deep this week. Jackson had five tackles off the bench against UNLV.

In the secondary, the leader would have to be senior cornerback Brandon Hefflin (6-1, 175), who has already been selected for the All-American Senior Bowl, held in Las Vegas in January of 2004. Hefflin, a second team All-MAC selection in 2002, had six interceptions last season, the most at Toledo for one player in eight seasons. He has an interception and two passes broken up so far in 2003. The other corner is manned by sophomore Antonio Malone (6-1, 186), who was torched by UNLV for the two late scores in the loss to the Rebels. He recorded 30 tackles in 2002.

At free safety junior Patrick Body returns to his true position from whip, where he moved at mid-season in 2002. Body (6-2, 201) had 83 tackles and two interceptions splitting time at the two positions and has forced two fumbles in 2003. Backing up at corner is senior David Mentlow (5-10, 191) and red-shirt freshman Bo Martin (6-1, 198), who the coaches are very high on. At safety, sophomore Jamar Landrom (6-2, 210) backs up.

Special teams return both punters and place kicker. Sophomore Jason Robbins (5-10, 158) hit 54 of 62 point after touchdowns, making 33 of 34 in the last six games, and was 13-16 on field goals with a long of 37. Punter Brandon Hannum (6-3, 230 senior) 39.4 per punt on 13 kicks as the backup in 2002. He will also kick off and be backed up by sophomore Jason Cox (6-1, 207), who kicked 14 times for a 36.5 yards per punt average and four inside the 20-yard line.

Donta' Green, one of the MAC's best return men, has graduated, but receiver Lance Moore has already returned a punt 54-yard for a touchdown against Liberty. Kickoff returns will fall to sophomore running back Astin Martin (5-8, 177) and red-shirt freshman whip linebacker Rodney Gamby (5-10, 197).

The Rockets are looking to become only the second team to win at Marshall since Bob Pruett became the head coach in 1996. MU is 29-1 against MAC teams, losing to Western Michigan 30-10 on October 5, 2000, and the Herd is 37-1 against all opponents since Pruett's arrival. Since MU Stadium opened in 1991, Marshall is 95-5 in 100 games played by the Herd on its home turf. Toledo is 0-4 at Marshall since 1997, with three of the losses coming in MAC Championship Games (1997, 34-14; 1998, 23-17; and 2002, 49-45). The Rockets also lost a regular season match-up in Huntington in 1999, 38-13. In 21 meetings in the "Jewel City of the Ohio River", the Rockets are 6-14-1 in a series that UT leads 21-18-1, the closest Marshall is to .500 against any MAC foe from the first membership by the Herd in the league (1953-68).


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