Martin expects offense to be more productive
Roughly halfway through spring practices, Miami head coach Chuck Martin recently spoke with mro-plus.com about a variety of football topics. Today, we cover the coach's observations about the RedHawks offense.
By MIKE SMITH
As good as the MU defense was last year, the RedHawks sometimes struggled on offense. Miami finished 11th among 12 Mid-American Conference teams in scoring (all games), producing just 20.2 ppg. By contrast, East Division champ Ohio topped the MAC with an average of 31.8 ppg.
The RedHawks were also 11th in total offense (305.6 ypg), ninth in rushing (140.1 ypg), and last in passing (165.5 ypg).
All of those stats, especially passing, were strongly influenced by . . .
. . . injuries to quarterback Brett Gabbert. After sustaining an injury in the opener, the 2021 Third Team All-MAC QB eventually missed six games -- half of them against MAC competition. Upon returning, he started three straight contests, winning one and losing two, before missing the final two regular season games and Bahamas Bowl.
SMITH STEPS IN
With the transfer of reliable backup AJ Mayer prior the season, MU turned to Aveon Smith. Although a talented runner, the freshman had limited passing skills and also spent the year learning to manage Miami's offense against various defenses.
To his credit, Smith guided MU to six victories, including wins in the final two games. That allowed the RedHawks to secure a bowl spot, and Miami nearly pulled out a Bahamas Bowl victory before falling 24-20.
GABBERT LOOKING/FEELING GOOD
After the season, Gabbert was in the transfer portal for a while. However, he withdrew and, according to Martin, is doing well. "Brett looks awesome," said the 10th-year MU head coach. "He's had a great spring. It's great to have him back and have him healthy."
Smith is back, as well. "We're excited about A-V (Avion Smith). A-V got to play a lot last year. (There was) a lot of great stuff he did for us ... as a first year starter that he knows he can improve on."
Joining those two is a bit of an unknown in newcomer Maddox Kopp. The 6-5 redshirt sophonore has a pocket passing background and redshirted in his freshman year at hometown Houston. He did not see action at Colorado last year and was part of Deion Sanders' roster purge upon taking over the Buffalo program.
Another addition to the quarterbacks room is new position coach Gus Ragland. The former Moeller High school standout joining MU and became an important part of rebuilding efforts after Martin took a floundering program.
"He helped turn this program around from the worst program in the country to being perennial MAC contenders," Martin said. "He's doing a great job, and he's going to be tremendous in this profession."
Of course, last year's situation at quarterback didn't help MU's transition among receivers. All-MAC First Team member Jack Sorenson finished his outstanding Miami career in 2021. Former Penn State wideout MAC Hippenhammer stepped up to lead the RedHawks in 2022 with 54 catches for 769 yards (14.2 ypc) and nine TDs. His best outing was against Ohio, when Gabbert -- playing in his final 2021 appearance-- found the senior for 107 yards and all three Miami TDs.
Hippenhammer, however, finished his career last year. If the RedHawks are going to resurrect their passing game, others will need to step up.
MARSHALL TAKING NEXT STEP
"Miles Marshall is the main guy back, and he's having a really nice spring," Martin said. "He's really taking that next step forward like you hope a second year guy in your program can.
"After that, its all kinds of new and young guys. They're all figuring it out. I have high expectations ... that they will be very productive for us."
As for the running game, Smith's running skills from the quarterback position in 2021 gave MU some big plays, even if the overall team rushing numbers were underwhelming. Fortunately, Martin pointed out, the team "did a nice job of taking care of the football a year ago, which gave us a chance. That's how we ended up going 6-6 and getting to the Bahamas Bowl."
MORE SCORING ON HORIZON?
Given available talent and what he has seen thus far, Martin indicated he expects to "pick up scoring by a lot." To that end, he hopes to get both the passing and running game going.
"We have to run the ball well to compliment the passing game," he said. "We've put a huge emphasis this spring on running the football, and we've got to improve in that area."
It comes down to execution, Martin concluded. "We've got to be more physical across the board -- from up front, to tight ends, to running backs to receivers in the run game. (We've got to be) more consistent with our pad level and more consistent with our technique."
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.