Miami faces KSU offensive juggernaut, improved defense
By MIKE SMITH
Suffice it to say the Kent State Golden Flashes have Miami head coach Chuck Martin's respect and attention.
Miami and KSU meet Saturday at Yager Stadium, where the last RedHawk loss was against Western Michigan (40-39) back in 2018. Saturday's homecoming tilt is just MU's second home game of the 2022 season, and Martin is expecting a huge challenge. Speaking at his Monday morning press conference, Martin observed, "It will be the most complete Kent State team we've faced by far."
While Miami (2-3, 0-1 MAC) is coming off . . .
. . . a "gut wrenching" 24-20 loss at Buffalo, Kent State (2-3, 1-0 MAC) is fresh off an impressive 31-24 victory over Ohio. "They had 733 yards (of offense) last week," Martin said. "That's a mind-boggling number. Yes, it went to overtime, but they only got 25 yards in overtime, so they had 708 yards in regulation."
Martin also noted the Flashes offensive balance. "They ran for 398. They threw for 335, so they can do both. They have a new quarterback (Colin Schlee). He will be one of the most athletic players in the league. ... He runs really fast. He's strong and fast, and he's got a howitzer for an arm."
Schlee is actually second among MAC quarterbacks in pass efficiency (152.4). He is also second among Kent State runners (47 carries, 256 yards, 5.4 ypc). Marquez Cooper leads the ground game with 112 carries for a total of 510 yards (4.6 ypg) with six touchdowns. He had 240 yards and scored the winning touchdown in overtime last week. Junior Bryan Bradford (6-0, 251) is also available for some of those tough yards through the trenches.
Miami's defense has been strong against the run (No. 1 MAC), limiting opponents to 84.8 ypc and 2.8 ypc. However, Martin noted, the RedHawks will also be thoroughly tested through the air. Not only does Schee have a strong arm, Kent State has outstanding speed and talent among receivers. Dante Cephas (6-1, 186) leads the MAC with an average of 100.2 receiving yards per game. Sophomore Devontez Walker (6-3, 192) is another big threat. Like Cephas, he averages over 16 yards per catch (21 catches, 252 yards, 3 TDs).
"The Cephas kid is as good as anybody in this league," Martin said. "The guy on the other side, the more I watch (him), the more he looks like Cephas."
As much as Martin respects the KSU offense, he has also been impressed with KSU's defensive improvement this year. "They are much, much better on defense. They held Oklahoma scoreless for (almost) an entire half and they held Georgia down."
As for his own team, Martin feels the RedHawks are "playing better football every week, ... (but) we don't have as big a margin for error, because we're not going to be as explosive offensively" after losing junior QB Brett Gabbert in Week One.
Creating turnovers and some short fields have helped, particularly when combined with MU's solid defense. That turned out to be a winning formula in Miami's win at Nothwestern two weeks ago. However, penalties (11 for 96 yards against Buffalo) and some execution slips, thwarted several RedHawk scoring opportunities last week. "We've got to finish drives," Martin said. "We moved the ball . . . but when we had opportunities to generate more points, we made mistakes and -- credit Buffalo's defense -- they made the plays."
In spite of its offensive stumbles, Miami moved ahead of the Bulls 20-17 late in the third quarter. When UB put together a final drive, it appeared to kick a game-tying field goal with 46 seconds remaining. But the RedHawks were flagged for offsides. Buffalo took the points down and accepted a first down. Three plays later, Cole Snyder hit Justin Marshall on a 15-yard TD that became game-winner.
"Our defense has played lights out for two-plus games," Martin said. But "we didn't play our best defense on the last drive, ... and they got us in the end."
Offensively, freshman QB Aveon Smith completed 14 of 26 passes for 119 yards with one interception. That pick proved costly as it was returned 51-yards to set up a Buffalo touchdown.
Smith also led Miami rushing with career-high 12 carries for 142 yards and both RedHawk TDs. One rush went for 73 yards and the RedHawks' first touchdown. Keyon Mozzee, meanwhile, had 14 carries for 62 yards. Overall, Miami ran for 240 yards. Mac Hippenhammer was the top receiver (4 catches, 90 yards).
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.