PREVIEW: HOMETOWN LENDERS BAHAMAS BOWL
MIAMI REDHAWKS VS ALABAMA-BIRMINGHAM
Friday, Dec. 16 -- 11:30 a.m. ET. -- NASSAU, BAHAMAS --
By MIKE SMITH
Nothing came easy for the Miami RedHawks football team in 2022, and that certainly included reaching bowl eligibility. It took a 15-point second half rally, but MU managed to eke out an 18-17 victory over Ball State in the regular season finale. That raised Miami to 6-6 on the year, sending MU to its third straight bowl game (outside of the 2020 Covid year).
Of the RedHawks six wins, four were . . .
. . . by six points or less. Three were within three points. Five of the victories came with redshirt freshman Aveon Smith at quarterback. He got the call after junior starter Brett Gabbert was injured -- twice. The first time was against Kentucky in Miami's season opener.
Gabbert managed to return seven games later, but lasted only three games before injuring an ankle in Miami's final offensive play against Ohio. Smith returned and led MU to victories against Northern Illinois and Ball State to close the campaign.
The loss of Gabbert's experience and passing skill set significantly limited MU's offense. Miami ultimately finished 11th among 12 MAC teams in scoring (20.3 ppg) and total offense (308.4 ypg). Of itself, that might have been enough to sink bowl fortunes. However, the 2022 RedHawks also fielded one of the MAC's top defenses. That kept MU in most games, and Smith's athleticism gave Miami a winning edge in enough games to reach bowl eligibility.
The RedHawks defense was especially good against the run, and MU will need that toughness against a UAB team that ranks fifth nationally in rushing. Individually, junior running back DeWayne McBride, in fact, led the nation with an average of 155.7 yards per game.
Miami's best chance to win is . . .
MIAMI'S BEST CHANCE TO WIN IS . . .
-- if MU's defense can limit the Blazers run game and keep UAB from putting together long drives that end in punts.
-- if Miami's defense can create turnovers. The RedHawks defense has not only stopped several important opponent drives, but also set up the offense with good field position.
-- if the RedHawks are able to capitalize on a usually solid special teams game.
-- if Miami's offense can avoid turnovers. The RedHawks haven't had all that many, but given their offensive limitations, turnovers have been costly -- in points and/or field position.
-- if Miami can get some chunk plays that lead to scores. Smith's running has provided key scores and/or first downs. Complimenting with some pass completions and/or getting more out of the running game would help. The RedHawks are bowling, in part, because Smith hit Miles Marshall with a 34-yard game-winner against Ball State with 1:42 left. More completions would be a boost.
ALABAMA-BIRMINGHAM'S BEST CHANCE TO WIN IS . . .
-- if the Blazers run game gashes Miami's defense for big gains.
-- if the Blazers run game sustains long drives, eventually wearing down the Miami defense.
-- if UAB wins the field position/turnover battle and forces Miami's offense into long drives.
-- if the Blazers can put together -- and execute -- a successful pass game. Not that it's all that easy, but teams usually need to at least keep the RedHawks defense honest.
Here’s more on the two teams . . .
ALABAMA BIRMINGHAM BLAZERS (6-6, 4-4 C-USA)
~~ The Blazers finished fifth among 11 teams in Conference USA.
~~ UAB met Ohio in the 2017 Bahamas Bowl, falling to the Bobcats 41-6. The Blazers most recent bowl appearance was in 2021, when UAB edged No. 13 BYU 31-28 in the Radiance Technologies Independence Bowl. McBride led the way with 183 yards rushing.
~~ Like Miami, UAB pulled out bowl eligibility with a win in its regular season finale. The Blazers led 24-6 early in the third quarter and eventually held off Louisiana Tech by a 37-27 count.
~~ The Blazers registered just 91 yards passing against Louisiana Tech but piled up 406 yards on the ground. McBride averaged 17.0 yards per carry, logging 16 trips for 272 yards with one TD. Jermaine Brown Jr. carried 22 times for 119 yards and two scores.
~~ Both backs earned All-CUSA honors and McBride was the league’s Offensive Player of the Year. The nation’s leading rusher has carried 233 times for 1,713 yards (eighth-most in a single season in league history) and 19 touchdowns in 11 appearances. The Starke, Florida, native enters bowl season ranked first nationally in rushing yards, first in rushing yards per game (155.7), second in rushing touchdowns, third in yards per carry (7.35), third in scoring (10.4 points per game), third in total touchdowns (19), seventh in all-purpose yardage per game (156.6) and seventh in total points scored (114).
~~ Junior Dylan Hopkins completed 7-of-14 passes, good for 91 yards with one TD and one interception against the Bulldogs.
~~ Trea Shropshire had one catch, but it was good for 74 yards and a TD.
~~ Raynard Ellis led UAB defenders with 18 tackles (11 solo) and 1.5 TFL.
~~ Alabama-Birmingham put five players on the CUSA First Team: RB DeWayne McBride, OL Sidney Wells, OL Kadeem Telfort, LB Noah Wilder and DB Starling Thomas V.
~~ RB Jermaine Brown Jr. was among five Blazer players to earn Second Team All-C-USA honors. Joining him were OL Will Rykard, OL Quincy McGee, DT Fish McWilliams and DB Grayson Cash.
MIAMI REDHAWKS (6-6, 4-4 MAC)
~~ This will be the first football meeting between Miami and UAB.
~~ The RedHawks defeated North Texas 27-14 in last year’s Frisco Football Classic Presented by Ryan.
~~ Miami owned just three wins after losing at home to Western Michigan (16-10) Oct. 22. The RedHawks then won three of their last four, with the lone loss coming to rival Ohio (37-21). The Bobcats, who won the MAC East title this year, had more offensive success against MU than any other MAC opponents. Ohio ran for 194 yards and passed for another 362 as conference Offensive Player of the Year Kurtis Rourke completed 25-of-35 passes and tossed three TDs.
~~ On the year, Miami is scoring 20.3 ppg and allowing 22.5 ppg.
~~ The RedHawks are ranked 11th (MAC) in scoring offense, 11th in total offense (308.4 ypg), eighth in rushing offense (142.6 ypg), and 11th in passing offense (165.8 ypg).
~~ MU is first (MAC) in scoring defense (22.5 ppg), fourth in total defense (371.7 ypg), first in run defense (135.8 ypg) and seventh in pass defense (235.9 ypg).
~~ Brett Gabbert, who had not played since his injury in the Ohio game, was reportedly in the transfer portal for a while but then withdrew. Still, Smith should be behind center again for the bowl game.
~~ Smith’s line from the Ball State game tells at least part of the story. He completed 18-of-46 (39.1%) through the air with one touchdown and one interception. Fortunately for the RedHawks, the one TD turned out to be a game-winner. Even that, however, might not have happened had Smith not used his legs to fuel Miami’s fourth quarter rally. His ability to break a long run -- or at least scramble for key first downs -- has been an important part of the five wins MU posted with Smith at quarterback.
~~ The freshman led Miami rushing against Ball State, carrying 18 times for 84 of the RedHawks 130 rushing yards.
~~ Mac Hippenhammer, a former Penn State player, has been MU’s top receiver. He recorded 52 catches, good for 726 yards with eight touchdowns during the regular season.
~~ Miami’s run game has struggled for much of the year, and Smith finished the regular season as MU’s top rusher. He registered 101 carries good for 503 yards (5.0 ypc) with six of the RedHawks 13 rushing scores.
~~ Linebackers Ryan McWood and Matthew Salopek have led MU’s defense, combining for 230 hits (101 solo).
~~ Miami’s defensive front was rebuilt before the season but has been a key part of the defensive success. MU has been stout against the run and usually capable of at least putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
~~ Given MU’s offensive challenges, special teams have played an important part in several games. The RedHawks have benefitted from generally solid ST play. Graham Nicholson was perfect on 25 PAT tries and hit 18-of-22 field goal attempts, with a long of 49 yards. Sophomore punter Dom Dzioban averaged 42.2 yards per boot, with a long of 67.
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.