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Five questions with Let’s Go Rockets

October 29, 2010

This week I took the opportunity of Toledo coming to town to ask the Let’s Go Rockets blog five questions about their football team, plus a bonus Band Day question. You can read my answers to their questions here.

1. I haven’t really watched Toledo play this fall, and while you can sometimes get the feel for an offense by reading about it and looking at stats, I find it harder to gauge a defense without actually seeing it. So tell ET readers about the Toledo defense: key players, strengths, and weaknesses.

Senior LB Archie Donald leads the Rockets with 83 total tackles this season, good enough for 2nd overall in the MAC. The Rockets defense is markedly better than previous seasons, most notably in form tackling and knowing where to be on the field. The Rockets are also forcing a lot of turnovers this season, both INTs and fumbles. Through 8 games, the Rockets are tied for 2nd in the nation in interceptions with 14. Through 8 weeks of play, a member of the Toledo defense has won POTW honors 4 times (and Isaiah Ballard won for Special Teams last week) The defense has been allowing an early lead the last few games, but have locked down opponents in the 2nd half of games. If the Rockets can play in the first half like they do in the second half, they would be the best defense in the MAC.

2. Two years ago, the Rockets finished with a 3-9 record, the same as EMU, and like the Eagles, Toledo dumped their head coach for a first-time head coach from a defensive background. So far this year, Toledo is 5-3, 4-0 in the MAC, with a realistic shot at the conference championship. What have been the keys to Toledo’s turnaround over the past two years?

Sometimes, approaching a problem from an entirely different angle is the best way to solve the problem — and that’s really what Beckman has done. Once Amstutz was gone, a lot of little changes took place (some bigger than others) and it’s led us to where we are currently. Solid recruiting (best in the MAC this year) has helped to fill some voids and get quality players into the program. One of the biggest changes for the Rockets is the addition of the new athletic training center. Under coach Beckman, the Rockets are focused in the off season on conditioning/lifting weights and staying in football shape. Everything has become a challenge for the players, and it’s starting to pay off on the field.

3. That kind of turnaround has surely generated some pretty over-the-top reactions, both from fans and journalists. What are some of the most irrational things you’ve heard or seen – optimistic, pessimistic, or just plain absurd?

The toughest issue to battle with a new regime/coach for a program is that the coach will instantly solve all the problems and you’ll be undefeated and win championships from here on out. And that’s just not the case — it takes a couple seasons to get yourself in deep water and a couple seasons to get yourself out. We’ve encountered a lot of Toledo fans who are confident that Beckman will turn Toledo around but are impatient and want it to happen right now. In his first season, Beckman made strides to make us better and we’re seeing that pay off in his second season — next year, we will be even better, but everyone has to be patient with the process.

One completely absurd conjecture we’re encountered is that Toledo is hurting itself (and it’s record) by playing a strong OOC schedule and some people are penalizing Toledo for losing games to strong opponents. Toledo didn’t schedule an FCS opponent like many other MAC school chose to do, instead we played four strong OOC teams — obviously we feel the Rockets could have an even better out of conference record if they didn’t play two top 20 opponents, Arizona and Boise State. The Rockets defeated Purdue (middle of the Big 10 right now at 4-3, 2-1). We’re hearing a lot of chatter about how NIU is a better team, and that might be — but they’re getting a lot of credit for beating their OOC competition. NIU beat Big Ten bottom dweller Minnesota (1-7, 0-4). Take off Arizona and Boise State and add in North Dakota and Minnesota (like NIU) and the Rockets might only have 1 loss on the schedule. Not that we can get this one back, but if the Rockets were to play Wyoming again, we believe the outcome might be different. You can’t change who is on your schedule, but playing top 20 teams vs conference dwellers HAS to factor in to the overall record and the perceived strengths (and weaknesses) of a team. Would everyone think NIU was bad if they were beaten by BCS #3 Boise State (6-0) or BCS #15 Arizona (6-1) ? So why does Toledo have the same record in conference, yet sit many spaces lower in many MAC rankings and get dinged for “big losses” when they came at the hands of some of the biggest names in college football right now ? Not factoring that into rankings and rating is as absurd as thinking a new coach will fix all your problems in season 1.

4. Fifteen years without a winning season have taught EMU fans to expect the worst. Channel your inner pessimist, and share the top three reasons that, despite an offense well-stocked with underclassmen, Toledo will struggle to put points on the board in 2011.

Three reason — we can give you one better — the single most important factor in Toledo putting points on the board is the offensive line. Without strong play from them, the QB doesn’t have a chance to get the ball our to receivers and a RB doesn’t have a chance to get out of the backfield. The o-line plays a huge role in the success of our football team year in and year out. Considering the current state of affairs in Toledo, it’s increasingly difficult, even after the few disappointing seasons prior to 2009, to be pessimistic about the Rockets. 10 MAC championships help avoid that feeling.

5. What one other thing that I haven’t asked about should EMU fans know about Toledo’s football team?

Not that it directly pertains to this Saturday’s matchup between EMU and UT — but fans of college football usually find this interesting. Toledo is the only team in the Nation to be undefeated against both Penn State and Michigan.

Bonus question: I love marching bands, both for themselves and for their role in the pageantry that makes college football so great. This Saturday at EMU is Band Day, and students from 12 high schools will be joining the EMU band for the halftime show. Do you have any information as to whether Toledo will be sending the full marching band, a pep band, or no band at all? Just wondering. :-)

We doubt the band will be traveling to this game. When we marched a few years back, the band only went to one away game a year, and it was a game that was thought to be a competitive one. We don’t know if it is still like that today, but we’d imagine the Rocket Band has or will be traveling elsewhere.

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