Brian's Blog: I See a Light

I see a light, and it's at the end of the tunnel. The latest edition of Brian's Blog is here. It's not fun losing, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel that goes through the Toledo Rocket football program. It's hard to see with the naked eye, but it is there. Can you see it?

Last night I checked my email and found the updated stats for Toledo's 2009 football season. I opened the stat file up and stared at them for a while. The glaring numbers being 39.3 and 433.1. Those are the points per game and yards of total offense by the opposition through ten games. Good enough for 12th in the MAC, only better than Eastern Michigan.

Then I looked further and caught myself staring again. 23 first downs for the opposition, not by play on the field, but by way of penalties on Toledo. That's 2.3 first downs a game because of defensive penalties on Toledo.

Then I noticed that Toledo is averaging 431.8 yards of total offense per game. That's less than 2 yards per game different than the defense is giving up, but we are averaging nearly 11 points per game less than the opposition. Why is that?

Well, there are a few reasons. First, the opposition scores 90% of the time they are in the red zone against us, and we only score 81% of the time we are in the red zone. Also, the opposition is scoring touchdowns instead of field goals 76% of the time in the redzone, while we are only scoring touchdowns 65% of the time. 65%??? Those aren't good percentages.

The next reason, and probably the biggest reason, is because of penalties. Toledo has been called for 85 penalties this year, while our opposition has been called for just 53 penalties. That's a 62% increase in penalties for Toledo, compared to their opponents. You can take 73.8 yards of penalties per game from the Rockets.

The final reason is turnovers. 22 turnovers in 10 games. That's 2.2 turnovers per game. Might not seem like a lot, but it is more than the opposition.

These are tough numbers to swallow, but after all this program is in the rebuilding stages. Three straight losing seasons dictate that your program is rebuilding, not reloading.

Before the season started, most fans would have said that 5 or 6 wins would be a step in the right direction. After a 3-2 start with wins over teams that have a combined record of 5-23, we were given a false sense of hope. Then came the better opponents and a 1-4 slide.

You might think the sky is falling, but it's not. There are a lot of positives that I see on the field every game. These positives are a step in the right direction, and will bring this program back as one of the top football programs in the MAC.

The last two years (2007 and 2008) Toledo combined for 19 sacks in 24 games played. So far in 2009 the Rockets have 18 sacks through 10 games. Still would not call those great numbers, but definitely an improvement and shows that this team is not afraid to blitz in order to get some pressure on the opposing quarterback.

I can't talk about positives without talking about Eric Page. He's just a true freshman, but he leads the team with 71 receptions for 986 yards and 7 TD's. He's #1 in the nation for receptions and receiving yards by a freshman. He also happens to return punts, and now starting with the Central Michigan game he started returning kickoffs. He's averaging 12.9 yards per punt return, much better than we've seen the last few years from our punt returners, and 29.7 yards per kick return, which is the best average on the team. Oh, did I mention he adds another dimension to the offense as a QB in the wildcat formation, and he even has ran a reverse for a touchdown this year?

Another positive is true freshman QB Austin Dantin. He's completing 65.2% of his passes this year. He thrown for 515 yards and 4 TD's, with just 2 INT's. His passing efficiency is a 141.2, which is higher than Aaron Opelt's. And he can really run too, making the QB position a dual threat for the Rockets.

Other positives I have seen are about potential. Defensive end TJ Fatininkun and linebacker Dan Molls have done a solid job when in the game. Both true freshman that are going to get better over time. Cornerback Daxton Swanson has emerged as our best cornerback, though he is just a true freshman. He does get beat some, but not as much as he did earlier in the year. He shows good technique in tackling as well.

I see positives off the field as well. The football team's GPA has improved tremendously since Tim Beckman took over as head coach. He has instituted some rules that have brought back an emphasis to academics.

When rebuilding a program, you need to sell prospects on what you are building, not what has happened over the last three and a half years. And that is exactly what I see happening. Toledo has 11 commitments to the 2010 recruiting class. Three of the 11 commits are rated three stars by either Scout or Rivals. Two of them are on defense. In fact, 7 of the 11 commitments have been recruited to play defense at Toledo. Three defensive line recruits, three linebackers, and one defensive back. With somewhere between 11 and 13 more commitments needed to fill out the class, you can expect more defensive players as the staff tries to improve that side of the ball.

Tim Beckman is in his first year as a head coach, but coaching is all around him. He learned from his father, and he has coached under some of the best head coaches in the game of college football. I can see already that he is doing things the right way.

It's not fun to lose, but as fans of Rocket football we need to be patient. I do see a light at the end of the tunnel, and we will get there. To the naked eye it might be hard to see, but this program is moving in the right direction.

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