The Rockets are looking for a new horse, since the one they rode to a league championship and a Motor City Bowl berth won't be able to take them any further.
Scooter McDougle, who did all of the heavy lifting in the critical wins over Northern Illinois and Bowling Green that got the Rockets into the title game -- and the guy who was instrumental in the victory over Miami for the MAC crown -- is out.
McDougle fell awkwardly as he was tackled going out of bounds in the closing minutes of the win over the RedHawks, damaging the ligaments in his left knee. He is a candidate for surgery once the swelling goes down, but he is not a candidate to carry the ball again for the Rockets until the 2005 season.
In McDougle's absence, coach Tom Amstutz plans to use a running back by committee approach. The lead member of that group will be true freshman Jalen Parmele, with juniors Trinity Dawson and Quinton Broussard providing the backup.
"We'll make it work with those three guys," Amstutz said. "We'll miss Scooter, but we have a number of other talented running backs on hand and they are ready to step in. I fully expect them to step in there and do the job."
Parmele (6-1, 205) is the closest one in size and stature to the rugged McDougle (6-1, 225). Amstutz seems to favor the big back approach when he has that option. He has also displayed a lot of trust in the freshman, playing him in front of Dawson and Broussard in the critical road win over Northern Illinois.
The Rockets finished the regular season with a 9-3 record, and went 7-1 in the MAC. They defeated Miami in the MAC Championship Game, and will play Connecticut in the Motor City Bowl on Dec. 27. All of that came after a dreadful 0-2 start in which Toledo was crushed by both Minnesota and Kansas. The Rockets are resilient. They regrouped and won it all after that putrid beginning that might have sent other teams cascading into the trash heap.
The Achilles' heel for the Rockets, even when things have been going well, has been their tendency to give up too much on the defensive end. Before Toledo's huge second-half surge, Bowling Green was picking apart the UT defense for 27 first-half points. Miami had fewer points but similar success in the early stages of the title game. In the Motor City Bowl, Toledo has what is in essence a home field advantage and will need to keep the Huskies down from the start with solid defense.
GAME OF THE YEAR
Toledo 31, Northern Illinois 17 -- In the showdown of the season, the Rockets got a must-win on the road and essentially stole the West berth to the title game from the Huskies. The win turned Toledo's season-ending game with rival Bowling Green into a division title game.
MATCHUP TO WATCH
UConn secondary vs. WR Lance Moore -- The Huskies will have to contain Moore, who is always at his best in the big games. He caught three touchdown passes in the league title game victory, and had a school-record 15 catches in an upset over Pittsburgh last season.
QUOTE TO NOTE
"Not having Scooter changes things. We will now use a running back by committee approach, and we expect those guys to perform." -- Toledo head coach Tom Amstutz on his plans for the bowl game after the knee injury to starter Scooter McDougle.
BOWL AT A GLANCE
Toledo vs. Connecticut, Motor City Bowl, Detroit, Dec. 27.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
LB Keon Jackson -- The junior all-MAC performer's 31-yard interception return for a touchdown in the MAC title game is the first-ever interception returned for a score in championship game history. It was Jackson's second pick returned for a score in his career.
LB Anthony Jordan -- A rare junior serving as captain, Jordan broke through against Miami and recorder the Rockets' first block on an extra point attempt of the season.
OT Nick Kaczur -- The husky Canadian is coveted by the pro scouts for his size and athleticism, but most comment that outside the obvious talents, Kaczur has the mean streak they like to see in their linemen. His childhood dream of playing in the CFL might be sidelined by a fat NFL contract offer.
WR Lance Moore -- The pros are a bit concerned about his size (5-11, 180), but Moore's speed, quickness, and ability to make people miss make him an enticing prospect as a return man.
RB Scooter McDougle, injured late in the MAC title game, will be out for the bowl with a torn ACL in his left knee. McDougle is headed for surgery in a couple of weeks, once the swelling goes down, and likely won't touch a football until next season. He is replaced by the trio of Jalen Parmele, Trinity Dawson and Quinton Broussard.
QB Bruce Gradkowski had surgery on his injured right hand the day after the MAC title game and three screws were inserted to speed the healing of a broken bone. Gradkowski is in a soft cast for two weeks, then is expected to begin throwing and practicing. His left shoulder, which suffered a mild separation in the championship game, is responding well to treatment and is expected to not be a concern when the bowl game gets here. All indications are that he will play in the bowl game as the starter.