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Published: 10/14/2006

Rockets face Kent State at its best

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Young Toledo quarterback Aaron Opelt has made progress despite taking some hard knocks.
Young Toledo quarterback Aaron Opelt has made progress despite taking some hard knocks.
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The Mid-American Conference's two most surprising teams meet this afternoon in Kent, Ohio.

Surprises, of course, can be good and bad.

Kent State, one of the league's laggards for most of the past several decades, has won four straight games coming into today's 4 p.m. kickoff at Dix Stadium.

Toledo, normally a MAC powerhouse, has lost two games in a row to fall to 2-4 overall and 0-2 in conference play.

Because of scheduling quirks, and since the two schools are in different divisions, a 47-7 win by the Rockets in 1999 stands as the only meeting between UT and Kent in a dozen years.

It doesn't appear this is the best time for the Rockets to renew acquaintances.

But UT coach Tom Amstutz said he welcomes the opportunity.

"I'm glad we're playing them, glad we're facing a good team," Amstutz said. "Our team is going through a character-building period and the best way to work through that is with tough challenges."

Aaron Opelt will again start at quarterback for the Rockets with Clint Cochran as his back-up. Amstutz said there's a chance Cochran will get some playing time today and that there is no plan in place for him to be held out the rest of the season to gain additional eligibility through a medical red-shirt petition to the NCAA.

Opelt completed 31 of 52 passes for 288 yards, three touchdowns, and a pair of interceptions in last Saturday's loss to Central Michigan.

"He's impressive," Kent coach Doug Martin said of Opelt. "He has a strong arm and he's very mobile. I think Toledo has found itself a quarterback."

The Golden Flashes certainly have.

Julian Edelman, a junior college transfer, has completed 75 of 125 passes for 1,143 yards and is also Kent's leading rusher with 88 carries for 345 yards. He has passed for six touchdowns and rushed for four.

"He likes to run," UT linebacker Mike Alston said of Edelman. "We have to contain him first, and then pressure him."

Martin said the Flashes were looking for an athletic quarterback and "sort of stumbled upon him. Sometimes you just get fortunate. Julian has a nice arm and we have come a long way as an offense as he's become a better passer. But he can stay alive in the pocket. More than anything, he's a playmaker."

Edelman's favorite target is 6-foot-3, 185-pound senior receiver Najah Pruden, who is averaging 22.6 yards per reception and 94.3 yards per game. Helping in the running game is Eugene Jarvis, just 5-foot-5 and 158 pounds, who is averaging 4.8 yards per carry.

The Flashes, who were 1-10 and 0-8 in the MAC a year ago, are averaging 190 yards per game passing and 175 yards per game on the ground.

"Kent's offense is really improved," Amstutz said. "They've had a good defense for the last couple years."

This season, that defense has accounted for 43 tackles for losses, 20 of those being quarterback sacks, to go with seven interceptions and seven fumble recoveries.

Kent is leading the MAC East with a 3-0 league record and it has been a long, long time since the Flashes had something to play for this late in a season.

"It hasn't been hard to motivate them in practice, I know that," Martin said. "This is the first time our attitude has been right. I give our players credit for buying into what we've been selling, that confidence can come from only one thing - out-working people.

"It was a tough sell because we have no real tradition to fall back on. We've sold these kids that they're only responsible for the present and the future, not for Kent State's past."

Contact Dave Hackenberg at:

dhack@theblade.com

or 419-724-6398.



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