PREVIEW: RedHawks face MAC East-leading Ohio
BY MIKE SMITH
After breaking a two-game slide with a win over Akron Oct. 22, the Miami RedHawks still need two more victories to reach bowl eligibility. Nothing has come easy for the RedHawks this year, but the upcoming battle against Ohio looms as a particularly tough challenge.
At 6-3 overall, the Bobcats . . .
. . . have already reached bowl eligibility. With three games remaining, they can not only add to their resume, they are in a position to possibly reach the MAC title game. To do that, however, Ohio can ill afford another conference loss. Through five conference contests, the 'Cats are tied with Buffalo and Bowling Green atop the MAC East. Each team owns a 4-1 conference mark, although Ohio has previously defeated UB and will meet the Falcons in a season finale Nov. 22 in Athens.
Of course, adding to the mix Tuesday is the fact that Ohio and Miami are serious rivals. The RedHawks hold a 54-41-2 advantage in the Battle of the Bricks. Ohio held off a Miami comeback to post a 35-33 victory last year, and MU edged the Bobcats 30-28 when Ohio last visited Yager Stadium (2018).
Here's more on the two teams . . .
OHIO BOBCATS (4-1 MAC, 6-3 OVERALL)
~~ The Bobcats have bounced back nicely after going 3-9 (3-5 MAC) in 2021, which was head coach Tim Albin's first year at the helm after taking over when Frank Solich retired. Playing a part in some of this year's success are a pair of former Miami RedHawks assistant coaches. Ohio’s defensive coordinator, Spence Nowinsky, and its safeties coach, John Hauser worked under coach Martin. Nowinsky served as Miami’s co-defensive coordinator/linebackers coach with the RedHawks from 2018-21 and Hauser was with the RedHawks from 2014-21. He coached cornerbacks all eight years with the RedHawks and was the co-defensive coordinator his last six years with the Red and White.
~~ Ohio fields one of the top offenses in the league, but is facing one of the MAC's better defenses. The Bobcats rank second in scoring (33.4 ppg) and are first in total offense (431.8 ypg). They are first in passing (309.4 ypg) and 10th in rushing (122.3 ypg).
~~ Junior quarterback Kurtis Rourke leads the MAC in passing efficiency (164.6), passing yards per game (302.8 ypg), total passing yards (2,725) and completion percentage. Rourke can also contribute with his legs, as he is third on the team in rushing (62 carries, 234 yards with a long of 61, and 4 touchdowns).
~~ RB Sieh Banguara tops the MAC in scoring by touchdown (6.9 ppg). He is sixth in rushing (70.7 ypg).
~~ Former Ohio State receiver Sam Wiglusz leads Bobcat receivers and is fourth in the MAC, averaging 81.7 ypg. He owns a MAC-best nine receiving touchdowns, including a 75-yard score.
~~ Ohio ranks 11th among MAC teams in scoring defense, surrendering 37.0 ppg. The 'Cats are 12th/last in total defense (481.9 ypg), sixth in rushing defense (157.7 ypg) and 12th/last in pass defense (324.2 ypg).
~~ Ohio is the least-penalized team in the MAC, averaging 45.6 ypg.
~~ The Bobcats are coming off their biggest win of the season, knocking off previously MAC-undefeated Buffalo 45-24 Nov. 1. Ohio outgained the visitors 474-260 overall.
~~ Leading by just seven heading into the final quarter, the 'Cats added two touchdowns to pull away.
~~ The Bobcats owned 157 rushing yards Kurtis Rourke completed 20-of-29 passes, good for 317 yards with five touchdowns and one interception.
MIAMI REDHAWKS (2-3 MAC, 4-5 OVERALL)
~~ MU was considered a top MAC East contender heading into 2021, but it lost starting quarterback Brett Gabbert to injury in Week One. That forced freshman Aveon Smith into the starting role and necessarily changed the RedHawk offense. Miami went 3-3 in six starts under Smith, but no small part of the success went to a defense that is among the MAC's top units.
~~ Gabbert returned to action Oct. 22, but MU's offense has yet to perform on all cylinders. Western Michigan broke Miami's 16-game home winning streak with a 16-10 verdict. Each team scored just one touchdown. Although the RedHawks scored two offensive TDs against Akron, the remaining points came via field goals and a defensive score. Miami was outgained 396-268 and converted just 2-of-13 third down opportunities.
~~ Gabbert completed 13-of-23 against Akron, totaling 184 yards with one TD toss to tight end Nate Muersch. It was his first score this year after tallying four TDs on five catches in 2021.
~~ Head Coach Chuck Martin noted this week that MU is still looking for the chunk plays that helped a 2021 offense that scored five touchdowns in the second half against Ohio. Two plays that showed a glimpse of progress last week wee a 58-yard toss to MAC Hippenhammer and a 41-yard pass to tight end Jack Coldiron.
~~ WR Jalen Walker missed the Akron game.
~~ Miami's ground attack has been inconsistent. Overall, it ranks fourth among MAC teams (150.1 ypg). The RedHawks rushed for 84 yards (2.3 ypc) against Akron and 83 yards (3.0 ypc) in the loss to WMU.
~~ Miami's ranks first in scoring defense (21.4 ppg), second in total defense (348.0 ypg), first in rushing defense (107.8 ypg) and seventh in passing defense (240.2 ypg).
~~ MU is fourth in penalties, averaging 53.0 ypg. However, when the offense sputters, the penalties have helped kill drives. The RedHawks are last in first downs (15.9 per contest) and third down conversions (29.6%). Ohio is last is opponent first downs, surrendering 24.7 per contest.
~~ Linebacker Ryan McWood is third among MAC defenders, with an average of 10.0 hits per game. Matt Salopek is 10th (8.6 per contest).
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.