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Published: Sunday, 10/1/2006

Opelt could become starting QB


PITTSBURGH - University of Toledo coach Tom Amstutz made no bones yesterday about how much he likes Aaron Opelt at quarterback, but he stopped short of handing the freshman the starting job.

The Rockets played both Opelt and Brandon Summers, a red-shirt freshman, for the second straight game, this one a 45-3 loss to Pittsburgh, in place of the injured Clint Cochran.

"We'll go back to practice and see how Cochran is doing," Amstutz said. "He won the starting job. But if he doesn't progress, it looks to me like Aaron would be the guy."

To hear him talk, Amstutz might be leaning in that direction regardless of Cochran's progress toward full recovery from an undisclosed ailment.

"Aaron made some great runs, threw the ball pretty well, and moved the team," Amstutz said. "He can strain defenses. He played hard and never wavered against a real good Big East defense. I think he's going to be a very good football player."

Could he get the starting nod?

"He could," Amstutz said. "But we'll evaluate a lot of things."

Opelt completed 15 of 30 passes for 92 yards with 20 of those yards coming on one pass to Steve Odom. He was also UT's leading rusher with 11 carries for 56 yards as the Rockets managed just 124 yards on the ground.

HAWKINS HURT: At 5-foot-8, 163 pounds, receiver Andrew Hawkins is built for the Rockets' screen package and short-passing game. But every now and then he's sent over the middle to deal with much bigger safeties and linebackers, and the result can be painful.

That was the case midway through the first quarter yesterday when Hawkins was hung out to dry by a high pass from Summers, grabbed the ball for an instant, and then got hammered by Pitt free safety Eric Thatcher, who had a free shot at the UT junior.

Hawkins got right up after the collision and ran off the field, but received medical attention on the sideline and was eventually carted to the locker room. He returned to the UT bench area during the second half and watched the game from a wheelchair. The Toledo radio broadcast reported it to be a possible pelvis injury.

Amstutz would not comment either on the specifics of the injury or its possible severity.

ODDS & ENDS: Injuries have taken a toll on the UT offensive line, particularly at right tackle where Jerry Aguwa, Greg Luna and Sean Zabinski have been lost. Yesterday, right guard Jesse Anderson was moved to the tackle slot and freshman Jared Dewalt got his first start at guard. Odom ran his NCAA-leading streak to 42 straight games with at least one pass reception. He finished with four catches for 38 yards. There are 18 Division I-A head coaches who work at their alma maters. Two of them are Amstutz and Pitt's Dave Wannstedt. This is the first time in six seasons that an Amstutz-coached team finds itself 2-3 The Panthers now own a 2-1 series lead against UT. Pitt's two wins, both at Heinz Field, were by a combined 82-22 score. UT freshman kicker Alex Steigerwald hit on a 35-yard field goal with 0:02 left in the first half for his team's only points. He is 4-for-4 this season.

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