Friday, September 9, 2011


COLUMBUS — Toledo may reside in the Mid-American Conference, but they're certainly never afraid of stepping out and going toe-to-toe with the big boys of college football.

Just ask Pittsburgh, if you don't believe me.

The Panthers came into their 2003 showdown with the Rockets flying high, ranked No. 9 in the nation according to the Associated Press. Toledo didn't show Pittsburgh such high regard in the tilt, burning the Panthers for 551 yards of offense, en route to a stunning 35-31 victory.

Toledo also isn't intimidated about playing in hostile environments against teams from the mighty Big Ten. The Rockets went into the 'Big House' in Ann Arbor in 2008 and knocked off Michigan 13-10, and then traveled to West Lafayette last season and bested Purdue, 31-20.

This Saturday, the Rockets will travel to Columbus with upset on their mind again as they take on the 15th-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes at Ohio Stadium (12 p.m.).

"We're going down there and taking care of what we can take care of," Toledo head coach Tim Beckman said. "This is a very good Ohio State team. They are extremely well coached. It will be a challenge but one you build your program for, and try to play better than the last time we played them."

The last time the Rockets faced the Buckeyes was in 2009 at Cleveland Stadium. Ohio State crushed the Rockets 38-0.

However, Buckeyes interim head coach Luke Fickell isn't about to let his team view the Rockets as the squad they pulverized in 2009, but more as the "giant killers" that they've become over the past decade.

"You want to make sure they know who their opponent is," Fickell said. "You've got to know your opponent every bit as much as you know yourself. And knowing their history is a big part of that. They're not going to come in here and be in awe by any means. That comes from the top down, from Coach Beckman and the job that he does. He's not going to allow them to be in awe of walking in here in front of 106,000 (fans).

"And a lot of those guys have been here and seen that. We played them a couple of years ago and there's a lot of the same faces. Now obviously it was in Cleveland Stadium, but I think it's very important for our guys to understand who it is exactly they're playing and know that what they see on film, they're probably going to get a lot better, just because of the bull's-eye that is out there.

"Knowing (Toledo's) a bit of a giant killer at times is definitely something our guys will know."

Each team has yet to be tested much in 2011. Toledo blew past FCS New Hampshire in their opener last week, 58-22, behind a balanced 591 yards of offense (304 passing, 287 rushing).

The Buckeyes shut out Akron, 42-0, surrendering just 90 total yards and five first downs in the win.

Toledo should give the Buckeyes' defense a much bigger test than the Zips gave them last week. The Rockets' offense — like Ohio State's — is led by two quarterbacks in junior Austin Dantin and sophomore Terrence Owens.

In the Rockets' blowout win last week against New Hampshire, Dantin looked confident and sharp, finishing 15-of-21 passing for 161 yards and three touchdowns. Owens looked just as impressive going 10-of-13 for 122 and two scores. Add in senior tailback Adonis Thomas, who tallied 115 yards on just nine carries — including a 46-yard scoring run in the second quarter — and you have an offense that can give an opposing defense all they can handle.

Ohio State senior linebacker Andrew Sweat — who led Ohio State last week with six tackles (two for loss) and an interception — said the Buckeyes' defense will need to be on high alert for Toledo's quick-hitting, yet balanced attack.

"(Toledo does) a lot whether it be the run or the pass game," Sweat said. "They'll spread you out, run screens. You have to be on your toes every play. They'll attack you downfield. I think they'll do a great job, so we need to be prepared and ready for them."

That defensive road goes both ways.

The Rockets defense didn't look all that outstanding against New Hampshire last week, giving up 332 yards to the Wildcats, including 152 on the ground (4.6 avg.). Toledo must shore up those defensive woes if they have any desires of taking down another giant this weekend.

In the opener against Akron, the Buckeyes' two-quarterback system consisting of senior Joe Bauserman and true freshman Braxton Miller, combined for 355 total yards — 195 and 160, respectively — and five touchdowns, as each played about a half of action in the win.

Fickell was impressed with both of the his quarterbacks, and will continue to go with a two-man attack this weekend.

"I didn't have a lot of worries that they wouldn't be successful at doing things we were asking them to do, throwing the football and managing the things that we were asking them to manage," Fickell said of Bauserman and Miller. "But I was impressed to see some of the emotion. To see some of the competitive nature, to see those kinds of things come out, that leadership ability. And also how they were on the sideline as well.

"Again, we're going to continue to keep those guys both in the fold and figure out how this team comes together and what's best for it."

As difficult as it will be for the Rockets to contain the Buckeyes' talented quarterback duo, slowing Ohio State's stable of tailbacks will be just as demanding.

With the suspensions of Dan Herron (five games) and Jordan Hall (Akron game), as well as the injury to Jaamal Berry, the Buckeyes had just two running backs available in last week's opener against the Zips. That's all they would need, though, as sophomore Carlos Hyde and red-shirt freshman Rod Smith punished the opposing defense for a combined 167 yards (4.5 avg.) and a touchdown.

The Buckeyes will have Hall back this Saturday — and possibly Berry — making the task of slowing Ohio State's rushing attack even more excruciatingly difficult on the Rockets.

Bottom Line

The fact is, you don't have to be scared of going into the wilderness in order to get eaten by a bear.

My point is, Toledo certainly won't be intimidated about playing at Ohio Stadium, but their confidence isn't going to be enough to bridge the large talent gap between the Rockets and Buckeyes.

Toledo will try to get some quick-hitters going early against the Buckeyes' defense, and may find a little success on the opening series or two. But the size and speed on the Ohio State defense will be too overwhelming for the Rockets to have any real sustaining effects.

The real damage will be inflicted by the Buckeyes on the offensive side of the football. Whether it's Bauserman or Miller under center, the Rockets' defense will be in way over their heads.

Look for each passer to build upon last week's success, and for the running game to gash the Rockets' inferior defensive front for at least five yards per carry.

The Buckeyes are 18-point favorites going into Saturday.

Look for them to cover by halftime.