Rockets defense: ‘It’s us against the world’Written by Mike Bauman | | firstname.lastname@example.org
NOTE: This is the eighth installment of a weekly series in which staff writer Mike Bauman will follow sixth-year Toledo senior cornerback Desmond Marrow for the 2011 season.
Since Toledo senior cornerback Desmond Marrow arrived at UT in 2006, outside expectations have never been high for the Rockets’ defense.
That tune changed after last season, when Marrow and his defensive teammates tied for fifth in the nation with 34 takeaways to help UT register its first winning campaign since 2005. Thanks in part to those efforts and nine starters returning on the Toledo defense this year, the Rockets were picked to win the MAC in 2011.
“It’s like that every year,” Marrow said. “Everyone blames the defense. It’s always the defense’s fault. I think this year, we kind of took it upon ourselves to try and not be the problem because we know the offense is going to go out there and they’re going to score points. The least points we can hold the [opposing] team to, it makes it easier for the offense and then we come out with more victories.”
Just when the UT defense started to get some praise, the train derailed. First was the dismissal of starting senior star safety and Toledo native Isaiah Ballard in May. Next was the news in August that starting senior free safety Mark Singer would miss all of 2011 with a shoulder injury. That was followed by a lower leg injury to starting junior linebacker Danny Molls during the week of the Ohio State game that has sidelined him.
Ballard’s replacement at the star safety position, senior Charles Rancifer, missed the Syracuse game due to injury, while starting senior cornerback Taikwon Paige has battled a hip and groin injury he suffered against the Buckeyes. Still, the UT defense has persevered.
Despite being down three defensive starters and coming off an emotional game in which a blown call at Syracuse cost them a victory, the Rockets forced four turnovers in a 36-13 win at Temple on Oct. 1, holding MAC-leading rusher Bernard Pierce to 75 yards on 24 carries.
“Even if we don’t have something to prove, I feel like we go into every game [with the mindset that] it’s us against the world,” said junior defensive end and Perrysburg graduate T.J. Fatinikun, who led the team with three tackles for losses and 1.5 sacks against the Owls. “Our team, we’re just a bunch of hungry guys.”
Junior linebacker Robert Bell, who had 10 tackles in eight games as a reserve in 2010, leads the team with 38 tackles this year.
“We’re able to trust whoever comes into the game, whether it’s a second string guy, a third string guy,” Bell said. “We’re all in practice together. We’re all eating together. We’re all together, therefore when someone comes in, we trust that guy just like the guy that was ahead of him.”
Like Bell, senior linebacker Terrell Anderson never started a game at linebacker in his college career until this season and is fifth on the squad with 25 tackles.
“It makes you tighter because you have to be able to believe in these other guys, or believe in the guys that are just now getting their shot because some guys have been waiting two, three years to just get their shot,” Bell said of the adversity with injuries. “T.A.’s in his last year and he’s got his shot, so I know his love for the game, his power that he’s going to bring — he wants to be there. It’s not like someone’s out there and they don’t want to be there.
“You have to trust in every individual that they want to be there and they want to be successful,” bell said.
After enduring weeks of injuries, missed opportunities and at least one call that was indisputably wrong, trust through adversity just might be what sets UT head coach Tim Beckman and his team apart as the season wears on.
“Like Coach Beckman said, it’s pretty much like everyone’s against us it seems like, at least for the first part of the season,” Marrow said. “We had a couple bad breaks, whether it’s the [extra point] at Syracuse, or people say there were a couple bad calls against Ohio State. I think we wouldn’t want to have it any other way because usually — since I’ve been here — no one really expects that much out of us.
“We always have bad years, but we come into this year and everyone expects us to win. We knew it was going to be tough, but we love it that way.”