RedHawks in search of another bounce-back win
By MIKE SMITH
The Miami RedHawks have not won -- or lost -- two games in a row this season. After falling last week at Bowling Green, MU may be "due" for a win this time out. The RedHawks are also on home turf, where Miami owns a 16-game win streak. Throw in a family weekend, which typically brings in one of the bigger crowds, and MU should have at least some wind under its wings when kickoff time arrives at 3:30 p.m. Saturday.
All that said, however, MU Head Coach Chuck Martin said Monday his RedHawks have a number of issues to "clean up" for this week's matchup. As he has . . .
. . . acknowledged in recent weeks, the post-Brett Gabbert RedHawks have a very small margin for error. Gabbert, a junior quarterback, earned All-MAC Third Team honors in 2021 and was expected to lead a potent RedHawks offense on a MAC East title run. However, he was lost - likely for the year -- in the second half of Miami's opener at Kentucky.
Last week's 17-13 loss at Bowling Green reflected Miami's struggles as the RedHawks were held to just 189 yards of total offense. That moved MU (303.1 ypg) into last place among MAC teams in total offense. It is next-to-last in scoring (19.7 ppg).
The biggest problem has been Miami's former strength -- passing. The RedHawks are last among MAC teams in passing yardage (134 ypg), and freshman quarterback Aveon Smith has completed just 52.9 percent of his passes while MU's pass attempt total (156) is lowest among all MAC teams.
The saving grace has been a defense that ranks among the league's best. Miami has also been able to run the ball at times. However, after grinding out 236 yards rushing two weeks ago in a win over Kent State, the RedHawks managed just 98 on the ground Saturday at Bowling Green.
The Falcons were hardly an offensive juggernaut, but they have a balanced offensive day with 176 yards rushing and another 149 passing. Miami's passing yardage (91) was even less than the rushing total. Consequently, MU spent much of the day spinning its wheels while trying to escape poor field position.
"The field was kind of tilted against us pretty much the whole second half," Martin said, adding, "Every inch is critical right now for us."
Western Michigan, meanwhile, has endured its own struggles and owns just two wins on the season. The one MAC victory came in Week Two when WMU edged Ball State 37-30.
The RedHawks lead the all-time series 37-23-1 and are 22-9-1 at home against the Broncos. However, Miami is looking for its first victory over Western Michigan since 2004; despite playing in the same conference, the teams have met just seven times in the last 18 years.
Here's more on the two teams . . .
WESTERN MICHIGAN BRONCOS (2-5, 1-2 MAC)
~~ The Broncos are playing their first road game since Sept. 24 at San Jose' State. They have lost their last two games and four of the last five.
~~ Western Michigan trailed Ohio 20-14 after three quarters last week. However, the Bobcats pulled away with 13 unanswered points in the final stanza.
~~ WMU tossed five interceptions and lost the ball on downs twice during its first seven drives of the second half. The final drive ende after two plays as time ran out. Western Michigan totaled six turnovers, while Ohio committed two.
~~ Freshman QB Jack Salopek completed 17 of 31 pass attempts, good for 249 yards with one TD and five picks against Ohio. On the year, he has completed 50.8 percent of his attempts (last MAC) and is last in passing efficiency (106.5).
~~ Corey Crooms tops Western Michigan receiving with 32 catches for 452 yards and four touchdowns. Jehlani Galloway has 18 receptions for 278 yards, while tight end Blake Bosma has pulled in 20 balls for 145 yards and a score.
~~ Running backs Sean Tyler (99 catches, 419 yards 3 TDs) and La'Darius Jefferson (56 carries, 235 yards, 5 TDs) are both averaging 4.2 yards per trip.
~~ Kicker Palmer Domschke has converted 14 of 15 PATs and six of seven field goals, with a long of 42.
~~ Senior Linebacker Zaire Barnes is fourth among MAC defenders, averaging 9.3 tackles per game. Marshawn Kneeland had three tackles for loss last week and leads the MAC with an average of 1.88 TFL per contest.
MIAMI REDHAWKS (3-4, 1-2 MAC)
~~ The RedHawks have owned a lead at some point in each of their six games this season. Part of the reason is early success, especially on the first drive.
~~ The RedHawks are last (MAC) in red zone offense, getting just 20 opportunities and scoring touchdowns on 10.
~~ Kicker Graham Nicholson has been successful on 11 of 14 field goal tries, with a long of 49. He provided seven of Miami's 13 points last week, hitting a PAT along with two field goals (45 and 49 yards).
~~ MU's only touchdown at Bowling Green was a 19-yard pass from Smith to Miles Marshall in the back corner of the end zone. "He's a big, strong kid," Martin said of Marshall. "He can run. He can catch the ball. He's a willing blocker."
~~ Like other RedHawk receivers, Marshall has limited catch opportunities. Among his six catches on the year, the junior contributed two big receptions in the last two games. In addition to last week's TD, he had a 78-yard catch-and-run to set up a touchdown against Kent State two weeks ago.
~~ Last year, Miami finished No. 1 among MAC teams in passing (278.5 ypg), but with Gabbert gone, the RedHawks have struggled through the air. "The frustrating thing to me is there is so much more out there (for receivers) that we don't even know, because we're not throwing the ball around as efficently as we need to," Martin said. "I think we have some widouts that can really do things (but from where we are at right now) they're not being able to impact the game as much as we'd like."
~~ Junior Michael Dowell registered 17 tackles last week at Bowling Green.
~~ Linebacker Ryan McWood is second among MAC defenders (10.7 tackles per game).
~~ Miami's two conference losses were by four (Buffalo, 24-20) and three (Bowling Green, 17-14) points. The two wins were also by a total of seven points. "We've played four games now that are about the same games," Martin said. "We're slugging it out . . . but until we get more explosive offensively, then this is how we're going to have to win."
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.