RedHawks open against talented Kentucky team
Miami at Kentucky (7 p.m.)
Kroger Field - Lexington, OH
By MIKE SMITH
Another season ... another tough non-conference schedule.
For a variety of reasons, its the burden many MAC teams annually face as they open their seasons.
The burden part is two-fold: 1) Losses to major college football programs can work against a team bowl eligibility. 2) Injuries can cost teams key players before even reaching conference play.
On the plus side: 1) The games are often important paydays for "mid-major" programs. 2) Pro scouts get to see MAC players against high-level opponents 3) Many players enjoy the chance to play against major competition in front of huge crowds.
"It's quite an opportunity," Miami head coach Chuck Martin said this week when talking about his team's opener at Kentucky.
"It will be thrilling for everybody involved."
He continued. "I know the kids are excited. Our preparation has been really good."
The Wildcats are coming off a 10-3 2021 record that included a bowl win (over No. 15 Iowa). This year's team is also projected to finish second behind Georgia in the Southeast Conference East Division. Such expectations don't come lightly, and they a reflect respect for talent.
>> Senior quarterback Will Levis is a key component to the Wildcat's offensive success. He completed 66 percent of his passes last year, good for 2,826 yards with 24 toiuchdowns and 13 interceptions. He also ran 107 times, contributing 376 yards and nine scores.
"People talk about (him becoming) a first round pick a year from now," Martain said. "He's big and strong (6-4, 232). We've got a whole cutup (video collage) of him running over SEC linebackers. He's a huge run threat, but ... the NFL (would) like him because he can throw a post route about 75 yards in the air, right on the money. He's got this big strong arm."
>> The Wildcats are reloading a bit at receiver. Wan'Dale Robinson, a dangerous slot receiver, ranked second among SEC receivers in both receptions (104) and receiving yards (1,334). He is now with the NFL's New York Giants, but the 'Cats have brought in several transfers to go with some talented freshmen wideouts.
>> Kentucky's ground game should enjoy more success this year as RB Chris Rodriguez Jr (5-11, 224) returns. However, he will not be available against Miami. Rodriguez was second among SEC runners last year, averaging 6.1 ypg while totaling 1,379 yards. That leaves him 1,134 yards short of Benny Snell Jr's career rushing record. Senior Kavosiey Smoke (5-9, 209) will get the start this week.
>> Although UK lost a pair of linemen to the NFL, Martin said the Wildcats will again be large/talented enough to support the offense. "They do a great job with their play-action games. They do a nice job with their RPO (Run, Pass, Option) games. They do a nice job with their movement."
>> Defensively, Kentucky was among the upper half of SEC teams. Nobody could match Georgia’s 9.5 ppg, but the Wildcats were fourth in scoring defense at 22.1 ppg. They were also fourth in run defense (117.8 ypg) and seventh (219.3 ypg) against the run. “Coach Stoops is a defense guy. They have a defensive mindset,” Martin said. “They played tremendous defense a year ago. They run and hit. They fly around (and) create turnovers. They get after the quarterback and they close space (quickly) on defense. They are really sound and physical.”
>> With an experienced offense and multiple weapons, Miami’s offense should thrive this year. Saturday’s test against SEC-level size and speed, however, will be a good challenge. Avoiding turnovers and establishing favorable ball possession would certainly help the RedHawks cause.
>> Martin noted MU has been building on its offense the last several years and is getting healthy. “Now, we’ve grown … where we’ve got a lot of guys who played a lot of football for us.”
>> The biggest challenge for Miami’s 2022 squad is on defense. Graduation and some key transfers hit the RedHawks hard, especially up front. “We’ve lost a lot of guys … (but) we’re excited about the group. There are a lot of new faces.”
Martin said nobody really knows how some of the less experienced players will respond “under the bright lights,” so he plans on using non-conference play to sort out the two-deep. “We’re going to play a lot of guys. There are still some jobs to be won on the defensive side of the ball -- particularly at the safeties and the nickel positions.” According to Martin, video shows UK likes to test secondaries. “They throw a lot of deep balls. In non-SEC games, they just kept throwing over people’s heads. … You have to be on point mentally to give yourself a chance.”
For a complete preseason preview on Miami, CLICK HERE
Editor-Publisher Mike Smith
Mike grew up in Mid-American Conference football and basketball territory and returned there after military service. He has been covering MAC football and men's basketball for much of the last several decades.