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Buckeyes face MAC upgrade

September 9, 2011
By RICH GIBSON - Times Leader Sports Writer (rgibson@timesleaderonline.com) , Times Leader

If only they could all be like this for Luke Fickell. But what fun would that be?

Ohio State's sports information department likes to make Buckeye fans aware how awesome the Scarlet & Gray are in home openers at Ohio Stadium.

Case in point: Among media notes provided by OSU: The Buckeyes have won 55 consecutive regular season non-conference home games against teams not ranked in the AP Top 25. Not exactly breaking news.

Thus, last Saturday's 2011 opener vs. Akron figured to be a no-brainer, of which, of course it was.

The 42-0 outcome officially served as a feel-good start for Fickell who, immediately made an excellent first impression.

Yet another Mid-American Conference opponent invades the 'Shoe Saturday. Toledo's Rockets must be considered an upgrade as opposed to a Zips' program still working to re-establish itself among MAC contenders.

If nothing else, the Rockets should have Fickell's attention based on recent history.

Less than a year ago, Coach Tim Beckman's crew traveled to West Lafayette and pinned a 31-20 setback on Purdue's Boilermakers.

In 2009, Toledo headed west to the Rocky Mountains and returned following a 54-38 thumping of Colorado's Buffalos.

The 2008 Rockets pulled off one of the great wins in program history, handing Michigan's Wolverines a 13-10 setback in the Big House at Ann Arbor.

Overall, Toledo owns a relatively impressive 6-8 mark vs. teams ranked in the top 25, thus stage fright should not be part of the process for Saturday's high noon kickoff.

In his third season guiding the Rockets, Beckman recently agreed to a contract extension which runs through the 2015 season.

His resume includes a two-season stint at Columbus where Beckman served under Jim Tressel as cornerbacks' coach of the Buckeyes.

Much like Ohio State, Toledo opened its 2011 campaign in resounding style, rolling to a 58-22 triumph against overmatched New Hampshire.

The Rockets were 27-0 first half leaders and cruised to victory behind senior running back Adonis Thomas (5-10, 185) who rushed for 115 yards.

While OSU split QB time vs. Akron between veteran Joe Bauserman and freshman Braxton Miller, Beckman used similar measures against New Hampshire.

Junior Austin Dantin (6-2, 200) completed 15-of-21 passes for 161 yards and three touchdowns. Off the bench, sophomore Terrance Owens (6-4, 180) was accurate on 10-of-13 throws for 122 yards and two more six-pointers.

Steubenville Big Red product Dwight Macon, a 6-0, 200-pound redshirt freshman, also saw action under center.

Macon completed both his passing attempts and contributed 43 rushing yards and a score.

Thomas is a returning second team all-MAC performer who gained 1,098 yards last season when the Rockets compiled a 8-5 record, including a 7-1 mark in the MAC West.

Recruited out of Tallahassee, Fla., Dantin started UT's first nine games last season before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury.

Owens came on to fare well down the stretch, finishing with 1,244 passing yards and 13 TDs. The Cleveland Glenville product both ran and threw for a TD in the Rockets' 34-32 Little Caesars Pizza Bowl loss to Florida International last December.

The Rockets' leading receiver is one of the MAC's finest in 5-10, 180-pound homegrown Eric Page, a first team all-conference performer.

Page has amassed consecutive 1,000-plus yard receiving campaigns and will attract considerable attention from the Buckeyes' secondary.

Up front, Toledo boasts a pair of senior mainstays in 6-5, 301-pound right tackle John Morookian and 6-7, 304-pound left tackle Mike VanDerMeulen. The two have combined for 74 consecutive starts.

Defensively, the Rockets return a talented quartet, led by 6-1, 222-pound junior linebacker Dan Molls whose 143 tackles last fall ranked him 10th in the nation.

Senior Malcolm Riley (6-3, 281) will work to penetrate OSU's backfield from his end post. Riley tied for the team lead in QB sacks (6) a year ago.

Also up front, 6-2, 250-pound junior T.J. Fatinikun can wreak havoc at right end. The Perrysburg, Oh. native led the defensive line with 51 stops in 2010.

In the secondary, 6-3, 210-pound cornerback Desmond Marrow, a Youngstown Cardinal Mooney product, enjoyed a productive junior season, compiling 68 tackles, three picks and five pass breakups.

Two other seniors are in the defensive backfield: 5-11, 185-pound corner Taikwon Paige and 6-0, 199-pound free safety Diauntae Morrow.

Ohio State seeks to go 3-0 all-time vs. Toledo. The prior meetings have been one-sided affairs with OSU pitching shutouts (49-0 in 1998) and 38-0 two years ago at Browns' Stadium in Cleveland.

A repeat performance of last week's rout seems unlikely for a Buckeye club which compiled 517 yards and yielded but 90 vs. Akron.

The Bauserman/Miller rotation, however, should remain intact. Starting his first career game, Bauserman accounted for four TDs, passing for three - all to tight end Jake Stoneburner - and running for another.

Miller played equally well in his collegiate debut, completing 8-of-12 throws for 130 yards and a score. On the ground, running backs Carlos Hyde (93) and Rod Smith (74) combined for 167 stripes.

Overall, 11 Buckeyes made their first varsity starts while another, freshman wideout Evan Spencer, made his first collegiate catch a memorable one, hauling in a 33-yard aerial via an acrobatic, one-handed grab.

Spencer was one of 12 OSU true freshmen seeing opening day action. Only Texas (18) and Auburn (13) played more last Saturday.

Following Saturday's outing, Ohio State travels to south Florida for a nationally-televised week three matchup with Miami's Hurricanes. Kickoff is 7:30 p.m. for the ESPN telecast.

The Buckeyes are then back home to face Colorado (Sept. 24) before opening Big Ten play Oct. 1 against invading Michigan State.

Gibson may be reached at rgibson@timesleaderonline.com

 
 

 

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