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Published: Friday, 10/12/2007

UT tries to focus on 1 game at a time

BY MAUREEN FULTON
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Rockets tailback Jalen Parmele is one of the few bright spots in Toledo s first six games. The senior has rushed for 620 yards on 128 attempts and scored eight touchdowns.
Rockets tailback Jalen Parmele is one of the few bright spots in Toledo s first six games. The senior has rushed for 620 yards on 128 attempts and scored eight touchdowns.
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A year ago, following a four-game losing streak for the University of Toledo, the Rockets declared a new season had begun with a win over Akron. They called it the 2006 season.

Halfway through the 2007 season, Rockets coach Tom Amstutz was asked if his team had adopted a similar mantra following a disappointing start.

There isn t time to worry about the broad scope of the year, he said.

Our focus right now is to get better the week that we re in, Amstutz said. Our focus is not so much down the line, it s get better today.

At the midway point the Rockets are 2-4, with both wins coming by one point in the final minutes. Amstutz described the season thus far as a unique year, not a smooth year.

Nothing is coming easy for UT this year. So many personnel setbacks have forced in-season position switches, play-calling adjustments and more and more freshmen learning on the job.

The Mid-American Conference s unfortunate rules for determining division champions this year have all but taken the Rockets out of the West race after just two games. Other goals are still attainable, though. UT needs to win four of its final six games to better last season s 5-7 mark. Here s a look at the Rockets season so far.

Some positives:

• Run game and offensive line play. UT is third in the conference averaging 173 yards on the ground and has scored 14 rushing touchdowns, the most in the league. The line has allowed 10 sacks, three in the past three games.

Tailback Jalen Parmele s second-effort runs alone are worth watching the Rockets.

• Red-zone production. The Rockets lead the MAC with an 85 percent conversion rate once they get inside an opponent s 20-yard line. Out of 20 times there, UT has scored 14 touchdowns and three field goals.

• The Rockets two wins have both come on double-digit comebacks in the fourth quarter, showing that the team isn t giving up at any point in the course of a game.

We might be down but we re never out of it, tailback DaJuane Collins said. We came back twice this year already. If we came back twice we can do it again.

• Brett Kern continues to be one of the nation s best punters. His 47 yards per punt is second in the nation, and 12 of his punts have landed inside the 20 compared to three touchbacks.

Some negatives:

• Defense. It s hard to get specific because the problems are broad. The defense is technically improving the Rockets gave up the least amount of points this year in their most recent game. But who would have thought that 34 would be the lowest number rather than the highest?

The deficiencies exposed in the front seven through the first six games are not subject to a quick fix, Amstutz said.

That s not a one-answer kind of thing, Amstutz said. It s something you have to go through, a process. We ve got to practice wrapping up, digging ballcarriers back, getting a lot of people to the football, rallying to the ball, reading our keys.

• Kickoffs and coverage. The defense hasn t had an especially long field to defend. Opponents have averaged starting at their 35 against UT this season. The Rockets have mixed in more pooch kicks the past few games, but other teams still manage to get 5-7 yards on the return even when they catch it at the 30.

• The quarterbacks sometimes try to make too much happen. Starters Aaron Opelt and D.J. Lenehan have combined for eight interceptions. Most have been as a result of throwing into double coverage. Both are still young and learning.

• Injuries have exposed depth issues. When senior cornerback Nigel Morris got hurt, freshman Myshan Pettis was elevated to starter. It s a great story to have the local walk-on earn a starting job, but where were the juniors and sophomores recruited behind Morris? The two-deep depth chart at cornerback lists three freshmen and one sophomore, Walter Atkins. The Rockets have enough talent on offense that if just a few of the defensive problems are fixed, they can win some more games. And remember, two of UT s four losses came to teams currently ranked in the top 25. Just one of the Rockets remaining opponents has a winning record, Bowling Green.

We know that we can win all the games left on our schedule, senior receiver Andrew Hawkins said. It s just a matter of executing and keeping the right state of mind.

Contact Maureen Fulton at: mfulton@theblade.com or 419-724-6160.



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