Explosive Rockets aim for NIU

By Carl Ackerman

When NIU’s football barrage raids Toledo University’s field at 6:30 Saturday night, the Huskies will be hungry to avenge last week’s 60-14 Nebraska loss, but Toledo will be just as hungry for a win after last season’s 39-27 loss to NIU.

The Huskies (1-1) have improved their squad since last year, but first-year Toledo coach Nick Saban is skeptical about his team.

“We have to improve drastically, and eliminate our mistakes and penalties,” Saban said. “We have to control the ball on offense more, and our defense has to play well enough to contain NIU’s firepower.

“We have got to develop consistency in our play. We must continue to do better. Our problem is we don’t have a lot of depth. Hopefully, we will keep our people healthy,” said Saban.

The Rockets are fueled by sophomore quarterback Kevin Meger, who tallied 648 passing yards and averaged 4.5 yards rushing last season.

“Meger is still a young player. He started some games last year. He’s a great competitor, great hustler and he has excellent quickness. He’s still learning, but he’s improving every day,” said Saban.

Another player that is improving every day is Meger’s counterpart, NIU’s Heisman Trophy candidate Stacey Robinson.

“Stacey Robinson does a great job executing and running the wishbone and the pass. He’s just an outstanding quarterback. He’s a great runner, and he really throws well. It will be a tremendous challenge for us to contain him. I have all the respect in the world for him,” Saban said.

Saban also added that it’s not just Robinson that makes the Huskies so threatening, it’s everyone on the team.

“Northern has a great team. They’re going to be one of the best teams we play this season, if not the best. Northern will present a tremendous challenge for our defense,” Saban said.

Toledo traveled to Miami-Ohio last weekend and came home with a 20-14 win. The Rockets dominated the first half by out-gaining the Redskins 224 yards to 43 for a 20-7 halftime lead.

Redshirt freshman Troy Parker rose to the occasion in the game and rushed for 128 yards on 37 carries for three touchdowns. Parker was nominated for Mid-American Conference offensive player of the week honors. Meger turned in a solid performance and completed 10 of 19 passes for 159 yards.

The Toledo defense also put in a solid effort which included three interceptions and an important goal line stand to help preserve the win.

Despite the victory, Saban was not very pleased with his team’s performance.

“We started out playing well, but we took some penalties and made way too many mental mistakes. Actually, we didn’t really play that well. We didn’t execute, and there are a lot of areas that need improvement,” Saban said.

“There are some other things we needed to do with our offense, such as utilizing the short-passing game and taking advantage of what the defense is giving us,” Saban said.

Toledo can expect plenty of offense from NIU, and if last year’s confrontation is similar to this year’s battle NIU can expect the same.

NIU led 29-24 at the half after both teams totaled 483 yards. However, the second half only saw 13 total points. It was the first start for Meger, who completed 13 of 22 passes for 192 yards with two interceptions.

NIU ran for 328 yards, spurred by Robinson’s 132 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries. Jerry Evans led the way for Toledo with 10 catches for 116 yards while Rick Isaiah had six for 135 yards.

The Rockets have 41 returning lettermen and 16 returning starters from their 6-5 team last year which finished second in the Mid-American conference.

Toledo is on a tear at home with a ten-game winning streak. Against NIU, they lead the series 15-6. The Rockets have dominated NIU in Toledo, winning 10 of 11 contests including eight in a row.

Prior to arriving at Toledo, Saban was a secondary coach with the Houston Oilers for two years. Saban played football against NIU while at Kent State, and in the 1972 season he suffered a broken ankle at NIU. However, Kent State went on to win the Mid-American Conference that year.