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Published: Monday, 12/27/2004

A high-powered Motor City Bowl


DETROIT - They come expecting fireworks. The Fourth of July in late December. Touchdowns, touchdowns, touchdowns.

When the University of Toledo and Connecticut play in the Motor City Bowl here this evening, both arrive heavily armed. The Rockets scored better than 35 points a game this season, while the Huskies averaged about 30. The two combined for more than 900 yards of offense per game.

Put the heavy-duty circuitry in the scoreboard.

Toledo scored 40 or more points five times, while the Huskies had four such offensive explosions. The Rockets scored 57 touchdowns, and UConn had 40.

The Huskies led the Big East in total offense, while the Rockets were the second-most productive offense in the Mid-American Conference.

"We've got two pretty talented and productive offenses playing in this bowl, so I understand why there is a lot of talk about that part of the game," UT junior linebacker David Thomas said, "but before it is all over, the defenses are probably going to have asay in how this thing turns out. It might not be as high-scoring as people think."

With almost a month to prepare for each other, the Rockets and the Huskies have had ample time to dissect those attacks and devise strategies to slow the offensive machines.

"We've spent a lot of the past few weeks looking at film of UConn and studying what they like to do," UT senior defensive end Phil Alexander said.

"Preparation is the key, and we feel like we'll be better prepared for this game than for any other game we've played this year. You don't stop great offense, and UConn has a great offense, but we'll do everything in our power to limit what they can do."

UConn senior quarterback Dan Orlovsky (6-5, 238) has thrown 82 career touchdown passes, and he has 10,467 career passing yards. Orlovsky completed 39 passes against Syracuse, the most by any Division I-A quarterback this season other than Texas Tech's Sonny Cumbie. Orlovsky's 445 passing yards in that game are the second-most this season against a team from a BCS conference.

"He's a big, strong quarterback who has a real presence out there," UT coach Tom Amstutz said. "We'll have to figure out some ways to get pressure on him, and disrupt their routine. You don't want a guy like that to get comfortable and get on a roll."

Toledo junior quarterback Bruce Gradkowski is the Rockets' career touchdown pass leader with 56, and with a full season left, is on the verge of breaking every career passing mark at UT. He comes into the Motor City Bowl ranked second in the nation in pass completion percentage (70.8), and will start despite breaking a bone in his throwing hand in the Dec. 2 MAC Championship Game. Gradkowski passed for 3,475 yards and 27 TDs this season.

"They've got a great quarterback and so do we," UConn senior linebacker Alfred Fincher said. "And all of the talk leading up to the bowl seems to be about the quarterbacks and the two offenses. There's not much talk about the defensive side, and that's kind of a disrespect thing to us. The offense gets all of the glory, but we think we can do some things on defense, too."

Maurice Lloyd, another senior linebacker for the Huskies, echoed those sentiments.

"Coaches always preach that defense wins games, and we believe that," Lloyd said. "We know we have one of the best quarterbacks in the country, and we know we're going against one of the best, and we're not taking anything away from them. But for people to say this bowl game is definitely going to be a shootout because neither team has a good defense is just a mystery to me. You have to play some pretty good defense to finish with a winning record, and then get invited to a bowl game."

The Huskies had the No. 3-ranked defense in the Big East, allowing 331.6 yards per game and 25 touchdowns this season. The Rockets were ninth in total defense in the MAC, allowing 419.2 yards per game, and 45 touchdowns, but 18 of those came in the first two games of the year - big losses at Minnesota and Kansas.

"Those games were pretty bad, and the numbers we allowed way back then have pretty much put us in a hole all season long, as far as statistics go," UT's Alexander said. "But we have come so far since then.

''It's like that was a different team. This defense has improved a lot, and we are anxious to show people that in the bowl game."

Contact Matt Markey at: mmarkey@theblade.com or 419-724-6510.

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