Molls anchors struggling UT defenseWritten by Nate Pentecost | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Defensively, the University of Toledo football team has been nothing short of porous this season.
Nationally, the Rockets are 108th out of 120 in total defense, allowing nearly 485 yards per contest, including a robust 624 yards allowed in their 24-17 season-opening loss at Arizona.
Despite UT’s early-season defensive woes, senior inside linebacker Dan Molls is adding to an already decorated collegiate career with one of the hottest starts to the season in the country.
On a defense that has struggled to wrap up the ball carrier, Molls has recorded the second most tackles (49) of any player in the nation at the fifth highest rate of tackles per game (12.25) through four matchups this season.
“[My statistics have] never been something I look at,” Molls said. “As a linebacker it’s my job to make tackles. The one statistic that sticks out to me is that we’re 116th in pass defense and I play a big part in that.”
Molls is certainly a key member of UT’s defense, which has allowed quarterbacks to rack up 1,301 yards on 65 percent passing this year. The burden of surrendering more than 325 passing yards per contest, however, falls largely upon the youth of the secondary and the defensive unit’s inexperience with first-year defensive coordinator Tom Matukewicz’s system.
“The schematics of our defense have changed a bit but guys are buying into it and we’re starting to see how good the change in style of play is for us and how well it fits us as individuals,” Molls said. “If we can fine-tune the little details we’ve been missing in the past few weeks it’s going to be scary how good of a defense we can be.”
This adjustment process has manifested itself on the stat sheet. Since the Wildcats torched Toledo for more than 600 yards Sept. 1, the Rockets have steadily decreased their yards allowed by an average of 74 yards per game.
Toledo head coach Matt Campbell credits Molls for anchoring the defense and bringing along the younger players during the transition period.
“He’s been the great constant on our defense,” Campbell said. “It’s important to have a great leader like Danny in the middle of the field getting everyone set up and where they need to be.”
Molls’ ability to direct the defense was no more evident than during the Sept. 22 clash with Coastal Carolina.
After senior Robert Bell exited the game with a leg injury early in the third quarter, Campbell replaced Molls’ counterpart at inside linebacker with redshirt freshman Trent Voss.
For the remainder of the game, Molls could be seen on the field gesturing to Voss numerous times, instructing him on how to react to the Chanticleers’ play calling. Under Molls’ tutelage the 19-year-old recorded a staggering 13 tackles in less than a half.
“Great leaders make the people around them better,” Campbell said. “Danny did a great job of that. Give him a lot of credit for what Trent did in the game Saturday.”
However, as a member of the defense that allowed a pair of teams to light up the scoreboard for at least 60 points each at the Glass Bowl last year, Molls said he is not satisfied with the defense simply improving.
One of those teams was Western Michigan. Although Toledo narrowly escaped with a 63-60 victory last season, Molls recalls the shootout leaving a bitter taste in his mouth.
“I remember that we won the game,” Molls said. “But the very next thing that comes to mind is the fact that we let up 60 points.”
On Sept. 27, Molls and the Toledo defense redeemed themselves with a 37-17 win in Kalamazoo.
Molls looks at the rest of this season as an opportunity for his class to cement a legacy for itself.
“In the past, the offense has been known to carry our team and that’s something as seniors on the defense we take personally,” Molls said. “We take pride in what we do and we want to turn the tables and have our team rely on our defense for a change.
“The huge part for us is eliminating big plays. We have to be able to put our offense in more comfortable situations to make it easier for our team to win games.”
The Rockets offense can rest assured Molls will do his part to disrupt the opposing team’s game plan while making big plays of his own as often as anyone in the country.