Season opens at home vs. Western IllinoisWritten by Scott McKimmy | | firstname.lastname@example.org
The Rockets’ season opener at the Glass Bowl on Thursday marks a couple of milestones.
The first “first” is the meeting itself as UT faces Western Illinois University (WIU) for the first time in history. The second is the introduction of instant replay in the Mid-American Conference, which functions by the same rules used in the Big Ten.
Coach Tom Amstutz can’t throw the red flag himself because the replays must be called from the booth. But he can make sure that any calls going against the Rockets are nullified by dominating the Leathernecks with a deep backfield and a potential phenom in quarterback Bruce Gradkowski.
Plus the Rockets may have an edge with inside information coming from running backs coach Doug Downing, who served on the WIU staff from 1990 to 1995 and then returned in 1996 for three more years as offensive coordinator. He left the Leathernecks the same year they welcomed their new coach, Don Patterson, so the Rockets may find themselves second-guessing their opponent and relying on their defense to stop WIU’s top running back, Travis Glasford.
Glasford, a senior, twice ran for more than 1,000 yards in a season, and it seems the Leathernecks are pinning their hopes on him. Although 4-7 overall and 2-5 in the Gateway Football Conference in 2004, WIU’s abilities may exceed expectations. A win against Eastern Michigan last year, one versus Ball State in 2000 and two previous victories against Northern Illinois demonstrate Patterson’s mantra that it’s all about attitude.
For the Rockets, it’s about pride, too. UT looks to protect its 13-game home winning streak, which began after a loss to Miami in 2002. That game pitted the hometown boys against Ben Roethlisberger, who now suits up on Sundays for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Nevertheless, the Rockets turned around and beat Miami in the MAC championship that year, so the Leathernecks are looking, at best, at a possible upset.
— Scott McKimmy