Run game buoys offense as MU upsets Bobcats
By MIKE SMITH
ATHENS, OH -- After losing quarterback Brett Gabbert to injury in a loss against Toledo last week, the Miami RedHawks needed their offense to step up for this week's showdown against Ohio. That offense answered the call by scoring 30 points on the way to a 30-16 win.
With the RedHawks defense and special teams contributing solid efforts, MU took a big step in its bid to win a MAC East crown. Both Buffalo and Miami have one conference loss. Those two meet Nov. 15. Ohio falls to 4-2 in Conference play.
Sophomore running back Rashad Amos led . . .
. . . the way against Ohio, carrying 21 times for 163 yards and one touchdown. That one-yard run came two plays after a 66-yard burst by Amos that seemed to swing momentum to the visiting RedHawks. His score gave Miami a 13-9 halftime lead.
The RedHawk defense, while giving up nine points early, had settled in by that time and continued to thwart Ohio in the second half. The Bobcats were forced to punt on three of their first four possessions after intermission. Miami, meanwhile, scored 10 third quarter points and added a 46-yard Aveon Smith touchdown pass to Kevin Davis before Ohio tallied a final touchdown.
Smith, who went 5-4 while starting for the injured Gabbert last year, completed 7 of 11 for 103 yards and a touchdown Saturday while guiding the RedHawks to victory in their biggest game of 2023. The sophomore also ran 15 times for a net total of 22 yards with one score.
Davis (61 yards) and Gage Larvadain (24 yards) combined for five of the team's seven receptions totaling 103 yards with a TD.
Ohio out-gained the visitors 363-291. However, the Bobcats committed the game's only turnover and committed several costly penalties while being flagged 11 times for 78 yards.
Senior Kurtis Rourke completed 25 of 39 pass attempts, good for 313 yards with one TD. Sam Wiglusz (5 catches) and Miles Cross (6 catches) contributed 79 yards apiece. The Bobcat running game, however, was limited to just 50 yards (1.9 ypc) and one TD. Sieh Bangura led the way with nine carries for 38 yards.
Ohio breezed down the field for a score on its first possession. Rourke completed all three passes (totaling 68 yards) and ran for another 12 yards on a six-play drive. The extra point was blocked.
After a three-and-out by MU, Ohio moved 49 yards in 13 plays before settling forr a 33-yard Gianni Spetic field goal with 1:28 left in the first stanza.
Miami punted on its next possession. However, the RedHawk defense forced a fumble while sacking Rourke three plays into Ohio's drive.
The RedHawks, who did not record a first down until 9:21 of the second quarter, were already close enough for a field goal and got on the board with a 26-yard Graham Nicholson field goal. It was the first of three straight scoring possessions by MU. Ohio, meanwhile, ended the first half with three straight punts.
Nicholson's second field goal -- a 40-yarder -- left MU trailing 9-6, and Miami moved in front on Amos' 1-yard tally just before intermission.
The RedHawks expanded their lead in the third quarter. Nicholson, who has not missed a field goal or PAT this season, connected from 32 yards out at 11:22. One drive later, Miami came back for seven more. Amos's 24-yard run up the middle and a pair of Bobcat penalties contributed to a 60-yard drive. Smith covered the final three yards to give the visitors a 23-9 advantage.
The RedHawks defense continued to stymie the 'Cats, forcing Ohio to end the next two possessions on downs and a punt. When Smith hit Davis on a swing pass that the junior took 46 yards down the sideline for a Miami score with 11:13 left in the contest, MU held a commanding 30-9 lead.
Ohio managed to answer with an 11-play, 75 yard drive. Rourke completed six passes along the way, including a 1-yard TD toss to Tyler Walton on fourth down.
Once Miami got the ball, it leaned on Amos. He carried eight times in a drive kept alive by a Bobcat penalty. The RedHawks eventually used 13 plays to eat up 7:23 on the clock. By the time Ohio got the ball, there was just 33 seconds left.
-- As has been the case, Miami special teams was a significant contributor to success against Saturday. Graham Nicholson booted three field goals and three extra points. He is the only MAC kicker to hit 100 percent of his tries on the year.
Alec Bevelhimer averaged 47.3 yards on four punts, with a long of 50.
Cade McDonald has been reliable as a punt returner and averaged 18.0 yards per return, with a long of 43, against Ohio. When the Bobcats managed to poke the ball free on one return, Caiden Woullard picked it up and gain for another 10 yards.
-- As expected, two of the MAC's top defenses made life tough for opposing offenses. Ohio registered three sacks and eight tackles for loss. Key Thompson (16 hits) and Bryce Houston (11 hits) led Bobcat defenders.
Matt Salopek topped Miami defenders with 14 tackles. Overall, the RedHawks recorded three sacks and six TFL. The second quarter strip-sack of Rourke set up MU's first points. Over the following seven possessions, Ohio punted six times and loss possession on downs once.
-- The Bobcats averaged 1.9 yards per rush.
-- Both teams struggled on third down. Miami was successful on 3 of 12, while Ohio converted 3 of 14.
-- Freshman DB Raion Strader had eight solos among his nine tackles on the day.
-- Kevin Davis' 46-yard touchdown catch and run started out as a simple swing pass to the left flat. After a studder-step move, he got around the corner and threaded the needle between defenders and the sideline. Three key blocks turned the play into a chunk score. Cade McDonald, Miles Marshall and Joe Wilkins Jr. all helped seal a lane for Davis to use.
-- The RedHawks will have a well-earned 10-day window before hosting Akron Nov. 8. A few extra days are always welcome, but Head Coach Chuck Martin noted his team could use a little extra time to get healthier. Working in some extra practice reps and/or study for QB Aveon Smith might prove helpful as well.
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.