Rockets Host the Buckeyes in Cleveland

It's time for the latest edition of My View by Tom Mauter. This coming Saturday Toledo hosts Ohio State at Cleveland Browns Stadium. The 1-1 Rockets will battle the 1-1 Buckeyes in a game that Rocket Nation has anxiously awaited for three years. Read on to see Tom Mauter's thoughts on one of the biggest games in Rocket Football history.

First it was the triple option offense of Navy, then is was the tailback centered offense of USC . This week the Buckeyes will prepare for the Rockets spread offense. Despite a 1-1 start, some of the Buckeye faithful have been disappointed with the narrow win over Navy and Saturday night's loss to the West coast darlings of USC on national television.

One question is what will be the mental state of the Buckeyes when they enter Cleveland Brown Stadium. Will they have the same chip on their shoulder they displayed against USC? Or will they "take a week off" mentally looking to their Big Ten opener against Illinois in The Horseshoe?

No doubt Coach Jim Tressel (84-20) will have his squad prepped for the Rockets. But the "punch in the gut" loss to the Trojans has to leave a head buzz of shoulda, coulda, wouldas under those sparkly gray helmets.

On Offense

How big or little difference that buzz will make it yet to be seen but any carryover past noon Saturday has to be a plus for UT. What is clear is that wunderkind QB Terrell Pryor is still learning his position. His significant achievements to date are a result of his immense athletic talents. He is yet to master the position in terms of mechanics, reading defenses and decision making. That will come with experience. Despite these shortcomings, he only completed 60.6% of his passes last year with a dozen TD throws and only four INTs. This year he is 25-46 with 2 INTS and 1 TD. Having a cadre of new faces on the receiving end of his passes is a key consideration to his less than Heisman-like start.

Behind TE Jake Ballard, WRs DeVier Posey and Dana Sanzenbacher is a cast of new comers with talent but still a work in progress in terms of establishing a passer-to-receiver chemistry. Offensive inconsistency has been present all too often for the likes of Coach Tressel despite his preference for conservative play calling.

Look for the Buckeyes to feature RB Dan Herron 5'10", 193# as their weapon-of-choice in a ground oriented attack despite his average of less than 3.5 ypc. The Rockets will be tested with the run until they prove they can stop the Buckeyes. And why not? The CU Buffaloes touted their offensive line which averages 6'6" and 296#. Ohio State, from tackle to tackle, averages 6'5", 314#. And they are much better with more playing time together when compared to the Buffs.

When Pryor goes to the air the majority of his throws are the short to intermediate variety. His lively arm has yet to find the touch for consistent deep balls.

On Defense

The biggest difference for the Rockets from Friday to Saturday will be the speed of the Buckeye defenders.

Starting with the DL, the defensive end firm of Heyward, Gibson, Rose and Wilson are as good as any team in the country. They are fast and relentless in their pursuit of folks in the opposing backfield. Consider Rose and Wilson are backups who started last year.

The young linebacking corps is coming into its own following the loss of James Laurinaitis (St. Louis Rams) and Marcus Freeman (Chicago Bears). WLB Ross Homan is joined by first year starters SLB Tyler Moeller and MLB Austin Spitiler.

The only glaring hole in the Bucks defense, if you can call it that, is at the cornerback position. The safety positions are solid led by Kurt Coleman, the teams' leading tackler last year. After two games, he's second in total tackles with 14 and first with eight solo tackles and one INT. At the other safety position is Jermale Hines. Chimdi Chekwa and Andre Amos are new starters at the cornerback position. The Bucks have favorite playing a zone pass defense to keep the CBs out of man-to-man coverage.

Special Teams

Ray Small led the Big Ten in punt returns last year with a 15+ ypr. average. Kickoff return duties are handled by Lamaar Thomas who is averaging more than 22 ypr this year on kickoffs that he received between the five and 15 yardline.

PK Aaron Pettrey has a strong leg and is a perfect 5-for-5 on FGs with a season long of 52 yards. Jon Thoma is a capable punter with the skill to angle punts keeping opponents inside their own 20 yard line on five of eight punts.

What to Look For

Expect the Buckeyes to start an extra DL in favor of a safety to put early pressure on Rockets QB Aaron Opelt.

Keep an eye on how the spread offense puts OSU DBs into man coverage. The more the Rockets are able to get their receivers into space the better we will be in moving the ball. The Buckeyes will crowd the line of scrimmage hoping their pressure will force Air Opelt to throw quickly and short in front of coverage.

Rocket offensive success will depend, in good part, to how the blocking schemes and play calling – QB mobility – negates the rush of the DEs.

Look for Jermale Hines to blitz often from his safety position.

Look for the pass to set up runs by Collins and Williams. TE Tom Burzine will be a key blocker.

Buckeye running bags will be prepped for a busy afternoon of running the ball with an occasional swing pass coming FB Brandon Saine's way.

Don't look for Stephen Williams to be much of a factor in this game – his shoulder needs time to heal.

Rocket defenders will be close to the line of scrimmage challenging Pryor to put the ball in the air with short passes resulting in at least one INT.

If Julian Bellinger returns kick-offs, he will not fumble.

Remember, the first battle of Lake Erie took place in September of 1813 pitting the Royal Navy, regarded as the world's strongest, against American naval forces. We know how that turned out!

Some fans may believe that UT is already a winner with the big payday this game provides. I see it as a future payoff that, in part, is dependent on the Rockets on-field performance. Our University can invest in infrastructure such as with the new University's Health Science Campus (2010) which will include the College of Pharmacy. By the way, this was the first college established at The University of Toledo. While the college's 105-year history includes a tradition of student-centered instruction and excellence in research and patient care, it's the performance of the faculty and, ultimately, the students that create lasting value. The same is true on the field of play. A good showing by the Rockets will add to the value in recruiting student athletes seeking top quality in the classroom and on the field.

Not to be lost is the growing confidence this team is demonstrating. They are getting better making marked improvements and should now be considered a bonafied contender for the MAC West.

I'll see you at the game.

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