A Closer Look: Toledo Rockets

No. 11 Ohio State will try to get back on the winning track in an unfamiliar venue this weekend. For the first time ever, the Buckeyes will play in Cleveland Browns Stadium, facing the "home" Toledo Rockets. Toledo enters at 1-1 and flying high under new head coach Tim Beckman after a home drubbing of Colorado.

Toledo (1-1)
Saturday, Sept. 19
Noon ET, ESPN-Plus
Cleveland Browns Stadium; Cleveland

The Rockets Head coach: Tim Beckman, 1-1 at Toledo, first year
2008 record: 3-9 (2-6 Mid-American Conference)
Series mark: Ohio State leads 1-0
School location: Toledo
Enrollment: 22,336
Colors: Midnight Blue and Gold
Stadium: Glass Bowl
Fight song: "U of Toledo"

Toledo Players To Watch
QB Aaron Opelt: A fourth-year starter, Opelt has gotten it done with his arm and his legs this year on the way to leading the NCAA in total offense through two games. He's thrown for 742 yards with seven touchdowns and two interceptions while adding 132 rushing yards and two scores on just 12 carries.

While those numbers are a little out of line with his past production – last year he averaged 181.3 passing yards and negative rushing yards – there doesn't seem to be much doubt he possesses good physical tools and has improved as a senior.

"He has a big arm and he can also be mobile as well," defensive lineman Cameron Heyward said.

WR Eric Page: A true freshman from Holland (Ohio) Springfield, Page has made an immediate impact at Toledo. He's seventh in the nation in receiving yards per game with 133.0 per contest, having caught 128 yards vs. Purdue and 138 against Colorado.

How he did it, though is worth mentioning: He had 12 catches against the Boilermakers and just three against the Buffaloes (including catches of 60 and 70 yards), showing he can do whatever it is the offense asks of him.

"He can beat you in the middle or beat you deep," Toledo head coach Tim Beckman said. "I think we have to utilize Eric in a bunch of different ways. He plays the game with all his heart, and that's the most impressive thing that I've seen as his head football coach."

WR Stephen Williams: As if having Page on the field isn't tough enough, the Rockets also have Williams, who stands 6-5 and has the best 40-yard dash on the team at 4.41 seconds. Want to know how explosive Toledo's offense is? Even with Williams' shoulder so banged up against Colorado that he didn't make a catch, the Rockets still won 54-38.

"It's surprising," Opelt said of the team's production against Colorado. "We definitely missed Steve, but I think the younger guys and some of the backups stepped up and made big plays for us."

Of course, the team still likes to have the talents of the senior who is among the most prolific wideouts in school history. He caught 15 passes – the second most in school history – for 185 yards and two touchdowns in the opener.

S Barry Church: A three-time first-team All-MAC choice, Church is the best player on the defense. A starter since arriving at UT as a freshman in 2006, Church has 270 career tackles, 17½ tackles for loss, nine interceptions and five forced fumbles. A third-team preseason All-American according to Phil Steele, Church leads the team with 14 tackles and has a pick this season.

Projected Starters
QB 11 Aaron Opelt, 6-2, 225
RB 22 DaJuane Collins, 5-10, 221
WR-X 85 Robin Bailey, 6-5, 230
WR-Z 7 Kenny Stafford, 6-4, 195
WR-M 12 Eric Page, 5-10, 165
TE 86 Danny Noble, 6-5, 236
LT 74 Mike VanDerMeulen, 6-7, 315
LG 68 Jared DeWalt, 6-4, 318
C 69 Kevin Kowalski, 6-4, 290
RG 65 Nate Cole, 6-2, 305
RT 70 John Morookian, 6-5, 291

DE 40 Alex Johnson, 6-2, 244
DT 56 Derrick Summers, 6-2, 258
DT 98 Maurice Hill, 6-2, 286
DE (LEO) 58 Douglas Westbrook, 6-3, 233
WLB 42 Archie Donald, 6-2, 235
MLB 48 Beau Brudzinski, 6-1, 228
STAR 8 Barry Church, 6-2, 219
LCB Daxton Swanson, 5-10, 165
SS 34 Lester Richmond, 6-1, 205
FS 29 Jermaine Robinson, 6-3, 195
RCB Byron Best, 5-9, 185

PK 85 Alex Steigerwald, 5-11, 185
P 2 Bill Claus, 6-0, 187
KR 83 Julian Bellinger, 6-1, 175/24 Adonis Thomas, 5-10, 175
PR 9 Kenny Veal, 6-0, 180

Five Fast Facts:
1. Ohio State has never lost to a team while it has been affiliated with the Mid-American Conference, which was established in 1946, though the Buckeyes did lose to Akron in 1894. Toledo is 5-13 overall against Big Ten schools but 5-6 in its last 11 contests. Ohio State and the Rockets will renew the series in 2011 in Ohio Stadium.

2. Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel and Toledo head man Tim Beckman go back a long way. Both attended Berea High School in northeastern Ohio, and Beckman's father, Dave, played for Tressel's father, Lee, at Baldwin-Wallace College in Berea. Dave Beckman once babysat young Jim, and Lee became a father figure for Dave once his own father passed away shortly after his enrollment in college. In addition, Tim coached cornerbacks on Jim's staff at Ohio State in 2005 and '06.

3. Beckman has done his best to raise visibility for the Toledo program by having an active presence on the internet. Beckman has his own website at www.CoachBeckman.com and is active on social networking sites Twitter and Facebook. He can be found on Twitter as @CoachBeckman, and his posts on that site have earned him acclaim on ESPN.com.

4. Saturday's game will be broadcast on ESPN-Plus, the cable giant's syndication arm, which will send the game to 17 local affiliates throughout the nation. That includes WSYX (ABC 6) in Columbus, WTVG (ABC) in Toledo, WEWS (ABC) in Cleveland, WKRC (CBS) in Cincinnati, WRGT (FOX) in Dayton and WYTV (ABC) in Youngstown. The game will also be available on local channels in Philadelphia, Tampa, Denver, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Kansas City, Milwaukee, Providence, New Orleans, South Bend and Wheeling.

Those not in those cities must fork over for a one-weekend ESPN GamePlan trial, or watch on ESPN360.com, on satellite or at a local establishment.

5. The Aaron Opelt-Stephen Williams connection is among one of the most prolific in Toledo history. Opelt is fourth in career pass attempts and completions (527 for 903), fifth in passing yardage (5,549) and sixth in touchdown passes (37). Meanwhile, Williams is third in career reception yardage (2,222), fourth in touchdown passes (18) and seventh in catches (165).

Offensive Scouting Report
Toledo's offense is garnering some press – and spurring on talk of a possible upset – leading up to this Saturday's game, and with good reason.

The numbers have been impressive through two games, both against BCS conference foes in Purdue and Colorado. The Rockets are seventh in the nation in passing offense (371.0 yards per game, more than Terrelle Pryor has in OSU's games combined), seventh in total offense (558.5 yards), and 15th in scoring (42.5 points).

In addition, quarterback Aaron Opelt leads Division I in total offense (437.0 yards per game) while receivers Eric Page and Stephen Williams are tied for eighth in the nation in receptions per game (7.5).

The Rockets run a spread offense – one that seems more willing to go downfield than past editions – and are more than comfortable putting the game in the hands of Opelt, who threw 67 times against Purdue before adding six total touchdowns (four passing, two rushing) against Colorado.

"I'm not going to say he reminds me of Drew Brees, but he has really looked good," OSU linebackers coach Luke Fickell said. "He has a great quick release, has done a good job of finding guys. You gotta have patience."

Fickell meant that the Buckeyes must be able to make the big play – the turnover – when the situation presents itself. Toledo has lost three fumbles so far and Opelt tossed two picks against Purdue, meaning quick-change opportunities should present themselves if Ohio State is opportunistic when they come.

Opelt has also been able to make plays with his legs. He's run for 11.0 yards per carry while being sacked only once thanks to an offensive line that starts five players who started at least a quintet of games last year and is strong up the gut with senior left guard Jared DeWalt and junior center Kevin Kowalski, two All-MAC candidates.

"They get on their blocks quick and he gets the ball out quick as well," Cameron Heyward said. "We just have to get our hands ready and get off blocks."

As for Opelt's running abilities, "They spread the offense to make some running lanes for him," OSU's Austin Spitler said. "He makes the thing roll, so we have to affect him."

When it comes to the running game, Heyward said to watch for draws and trick plays, and the Rockets do have last year's top two rushers back in sophomore Morgan Williams and senior DaJuane Collins. The latter has started the first two games, totaling 187 yards and two touchdowns on 29 carries (a 6.4-yard average).

Williams, one of the best players in the state of Ohio his senior year at Canton McKinley but a prospect who was dogged by grade issues, has not played in the first two games while suspended. He is expected back for the OSU game, though, after topping 1,000 yards as a freshman a year ago.

Other than Page and Stephen Williams, receiving targets include Kenny Stafford and Robin Bailey as well as tight end Danny Noble, who stepped up and made five catches against Purdue. All have seven catches on the season.

Defensive Scouting Report
The joke from Tressel on Tuesday about the Toledo defense is that the unit sculpted by Beckman "starts blitzing as soon as they step up the bus."

"You gotta stay aware," offensive lineman Bryant Browning said. "Watching film on these guys, they're moving around a lot, a lot of twists, a lot of blitzes. As an O-lineman, you have to know your assignment. You have to know what gap you have, and when you have a chance, you have to come off the ball and knock someone around."

Toledo's 4-2-5 defense likes to push the issue in an effort to create big plays. That has been resulted in some major successes and failures for the Rockets thus far.

They did make three interceptions in each of the first two games and also recover a fumble for a total of seven turnovers in two games. On the other hand, the numbers aren't that good for the plays on which Toledo doesn't take away the ball.

So far, the Rockets are 107th in the nation in rushing defense (205.0 yards per game), 110th in total defense (493.0 yards) and 115th in points allowed (45.0).

The moral of the story is that the Buckeyes have to deal with the blitz, and if they do, big plays could very well come.

"They've taken on Coach Beckman's personality where they're going to come after you and they're going to be feisty and they're going to get after it and they're going to have some energy and those things," OSU quarterbacks coach Nick Siciliano said. "Any time you're bringing pressure, you're giving something up, so it's all about having the right play called for the right situation for us. If we're able to do that, that's when the big plays are going to happen."

Oddly enough, so far the biggest playmaker for the defense has been defensive end Douglas Westbrook, who has three interceptions on the year, including two against Purdue. He's the cream of the crop at a defensive line spot where the Rockets have struggled to get stop the run with a starting line that averages near 255 pounds.

The two linebackers have been OK, with the MAC's second leading tackler in 2008, Archie Donald, checking in with 13 stops and Beau Brudzinski, former OSU player Bob's son, making 12. This is still a crew that gave up the third-most rushing yards in Purdue history to Ralph Bolden.

On the back end, Toledo is young. While Barry Church and Lester Richmond provide senior leadership, three true freshmen are expected to start against Ohio State including two cornerbacks in Daxton Swanson (12 tackles) and Byron Best. Freshman free safety Jermaine Robinson has nine tackles, two sacks and the team's lone fumble recovery.


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