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HomeSportsUT
Published: 9/30/2006

UT to battle Pitt without Cochran

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Cochran Cochran
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PITTSBURGH - University of Toledo coach Tom Amstutz said yesterday that quarterback Clint Cochran will miss his second straight start today when the Rockets meet the University of Pittsburgh at Heinz Field.

"Clint will be in uniform and available to play, but he's scheduled to be our No. 3 quarterback for the game," Amstutz said. "He has practiced this week, but the other guys are functioning at a higher level."

Cochran suffered an undisclosed injury during UT's 37-31 victory over Kansas on Sept. 15. He did not play last Saturday in a 41-7 win over McNeese State.

Redshirt freshman Brandon Summers and true freshman Aaron Opelt each played half of that game at quarterback for the Rockets. They combined for 186 yards passing, while Opelt added 41 yards on six rushing attempts.

"We'll go with the Summers-Opelt rotation again," Amstutz said. "They'll pretty much rotate by series."

Missing their starting quarterback won't make things any easier on the Rockets, who were listed as 14-point underdogs most of the week.

Of course, Pitt linebacker H.B. Blades has intended all along not to make things easy on UT, regardless of the circumstances.

"You're never supposed to look ahead, but I'll be honest," Blades told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "I started thinking about Toledo at halftime [of Pitt's 51-6 rout of The Citadel last Saturday]."

Blades remembers UT's 35-31 victory over Pitt during the 2003 season. The Panthers were ranked No. 9 in the nation coming into the game at the Glass Bowl, but the Rockets broke loose for 551 total yards of offense, including 461 yards passing by ex-quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, a Pittsburgh native.

"I was a true freshman, and after the game fans were running on the field and pushing me," Blades said. "I just wanted to fight someone I was so mad. I had to walk off the field. My mind is on Toledo because of what happened that night.

"We have some veteran guys who were there who can't forget. We look at this as a chance for redemption because we got torched that night. You can't underestimate a [Mid-American Conference] school anyway, because every week they knock someone off, but getting up for this one won't be a problem for a lot of reasons."

Blades, a 6-foot, 240-pound senior, ranks third in the nation in tackles, averaging almost 12 per game.

"H.B. Blades is one of the best linebackers in the country, period," Amstutz said. "Man, is he fast. Their speed as a team is outstanding. Pitt is just a very good, very talented football team with a quarterback [Tyler Palko] who is playing at a high level.

"It's a huge challenge for us to play a team of this caliber. But it's a huge opportunity too."

It is similar to the opportunity UT took advantage of in 2003 when Pitt became the highest-ranked opponent ever to fall to the Rockets.

That Toledo victory evened the series at 1-1. Pitt won the first of the contracted three-game series in 2002 by a 37-19 score in a game also played at Heinz Field.

Pitt is 23-2 all-time against MAC schools and has never lost to a MAC opponent at home.

"Toledo is one of those programs, and this goes back to the Nick Saban days and maybe even before that, that you never really look at as a typical MAC team," said Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt. "They've had great recruiting, have gone to a lot of bowl games in recent years, and they have a bunch of guys in the NFL. That's a good program."

Both of Pitt's losses to MAC teams have been recent - the '03 setback at Toledo and a 16-10 overtime loss at Ohio early last season.

OU's touchdowns in that game came on interceptions of Palko, including an 85-yard return that won the game for the Bobcats in OT.

It has been a different story for the Pitt quarterback thus far in 2006. He leads the nation in passing efficiency and in touchdown passes with 12. His 1,140 passing yards rank fourth in the nation.

UT will counter with something of a patchwork situation at quarterback while attempting to win its third straight game and move over the .500 mark.

Pitt - with wins over Virginia, Cincinnati, and The Citadel to go with a loss at home two weeks ago to Michigan State - is seeking a 4-1 start for the first time in four years.

ROCKETS ON TV: The Toledo-Pittsburgh game can be seen at noon today on ESPNU, which is an upper-tier sports channel carried locally by Time Warner and on DirecTV.

Contact Dave Hackenberg at:

dhack@theblade.com

or 419-724-6398.



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