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Published: Saturday, 10/11/2008

UT looking to regain swagger


ANN ARBOR The University of Toledo has had success against a top-notch defense this season, bowling over Fresno State defenders with 598 yards of offense.

The Rockets would give anything to get back to that place, that stretch where they scored 95 points in two games and their offense seemed as dangerous as any in the Mid-American Conference.

Although they're going up against another solid defense in Michigan's today, the Rockets know they can't wait any longer to regain their offensive firepower.

'We've got to get that excitement back,' quarterback Aaron Opelt said. 'We've got to get the swagger from the guys back.'

UT has gone scoreless in six straight quarters and has scored one touchdown in the last two games. An injury to DaJuane Collins, dropped passes and conservative play-calling have all been part of the problem.

At 1-4, the Rockets still have more than half their season remaining but need to get back on track quickly or the bottom could drop out. UT has four of its next five games on the road, starting with today's contest at the Big House.

'We have a lot of games in front of us,' UT coach Tom Amstutz said. 'What's to come is going to decide what kind of season we have. I'm optimistic and I believe in the players, and that's the way I coach them.'

Collins, who only had six carries against Ball State, said his ankle started to bother him again during the game and that contributed to the running game's poor outing.

UT had just 14 yards rushing, two weeks after gaining 297 on the ground against

Fresno State. Collins knows he needs to play well for UT's offense to improve.

'We've got to open up the run game,' Collins said. 'We can't be predictable, we've got to have the defensive coordinator guessing all day.'

The Rockets' defense hopes to be as opportunistic as others the Wolverines have faced. UM has lost 11 fumbles this year and thrown five interceptions.

'We're going to go there and try to make the best of some breaks,' Amstutz said. 'Try to get the ball out and do those kind of things to disrupt them, not have it be the day that they get it all together on us. We want to be the team that keeps them off balance. We want to be very aggressive.'

A victory over Michigan would not only be one of the biggest wins in school history, it would right UT's season. The players are focusing more on the latter.

'If we win this game,' defensive end Derrick Summers said, 'this gives us confidence going into the MAC games that we can play with anybody.'

Playing in the Big House atmosphere in front of more than 100,000 people is something the players welcome. Amstutz knows UT won't pull off the upset unless the Rockets of the last two weeks do not show up, and a crisp, efficient offense arrives instead.

'We're going to go in there and battle our hearts out,' Amstutz said. 'I was there when Toledo beat a Penn State team in front of a huge crowd. That was a great feeling.

'But you have to be good to do it. You have to play well on the field. That's going to be our challenge. We have to keep improving in practice. When we go there we have to be focused to execute on each play and play our very best game.'

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

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