The 2006 1/2 season began on a better note with a 35-20 win over Akron last Saturday at the Glass Bowl.
"Our approach is that it's a new season," said UT coach Tom Amstutz. "We talked after the Eastern game about how we needed a fresh approach to finish things off the right way. It's the 2006 1/2 season and we're 1-0."
A convenient approach, perhaps, but why not? After all, as freshman safety Barry Church said, the 2006 season didn't have much going for it.
The Rockets were 2-6 overall and 0-4 in the Mid-American Conference. They'd lost four straight games. They'd been mathematically eliminated from MAC West Division contention and had assured that a streak of 12 straight winning seasons was snapped. They'd scored fewer points than any MAC team in league play. And they'd allowed more points in all games than any conference team.
"It wasn't too hot," Church said.
Yes, good riddance to the 2006 season.
"We stressed that it's a new season," said free safety Tyrrell Herbert. "We had to play with a new intensity. We had to be fearless."
Indeed, the Rockets got a season-opening win against Akron. It's one down and three to go - starting with a game a week from tonight at Northern Illinois - in the 2006 1/2 season.
"Coach Stutz said it was time to start over," Church said. "It's not really a gimmick. It's just motivation. We want to get some momentum to play for our seniors and send them out on the right note."
The "new" Rockets got one big play after another from their defense and special teams, collected huge dividends from a couple trick plays, and saw the running game produce 175 net yards and four touchdowns.
But the figurative flip of the football calendar didn't erase all of the Rockets' woes.
Quarterback play remained spotty. True freshman Aaron Opelt went the distance against Akron and completed his first seven passes. After that, he was 1-for-9 and finished with 97 yards, 41 of them coming on one completion.
Also, UT continues to draw flags at an alarming rate. The Rockets, the second most penalized team in the MAC, had nine penalties for 100 yards - two holding calls were declined - against Akron. There were four personal fouls and one unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
Amstutz doesn't seem to be concerned about either factor.
"Opelt is a true freshman who is getting more and more comfortable," UT's coach said. "I think he did a good job staying in control of the game plan after we got the early lead. He doesn't have to do everything, just run the offense.
"As for penalties, you want players to make good decisions. But I don't want to over-coach something and lose the aggressive nature that we have to play with to be successful."
PLAYER OF WEEK: Toledo running back Jalen Parmele was named the MAC West Division offensive player of the week after posting career highs with 27 carries and 145 yards against Akron. He also scored his team-leading sixth touchdown.
Parmele's previous highs, both registered earlier this season, were 18 carries at Iowa State and 111 yards at Western Michigan.
With three games to go, Parmele has a shot at giving UT a 1,000-yard rusher for the second straight year. He has 703 net yards.
BIG PLAYS OF WEEK: Safeties Church and Herbert each had first-quarter interceptions, the first stopping an Akron scoring drive at the goal line and the second being returned for a UT touchdown. But a third defensive back contributed a third big play in the same quarter.
Junior cornerback Nigel Morris rushed Akron punter John Stec, slapping the ball to the ground and giving UT possession at the Akron 21 to start a short touchdown drive.
THREE-DOT DATA: Punter Brett Kern kicked six times for an average of 42.7 yards, including three inside the 20-yard line. Which is the only MAC team with more penalties and more penalty yardage than UT? Let's answer that by pointing out that the Rockets and Akron combined for 21 penalties worth 202 yards on Saturday. Offensive tackle John Greco and Church both left the Akron game with apparent ankle or foot injuries. Amstutz said both will be ready to play at Northern Illinois.
The UT women's basketball team will play its only preseason exhibition game tonight at 7 in Savage Hall against a touring team called the Ohio Legends.
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