Head Coach: Chuck Martin
MAC Preseason Media Poll: 6th MAC East
► How will the RedHawks fare with the departure of quarterback Andrew Hendrix and cornerback Quinten Rollins?
► Miami yielded 12 more sacks than any other MAC team in 2014. It also finished ninth in sacking opponent QBs. Can head coach Chuck Martin’s efforts at rebuilding the RedHawks lines begin to pay dividends in year two?
► Is there any pulse in the running game yet, and is this the only answer for red zone improvement?
(CLICK READ MORE TO CONTINUE …)
► Will Miami quarterbacks be able to take advantage of a talented receiving corps?
► Will the infusion of young athleticism/talent on defense be enough to improve on a 10th place ranking in scoring defense?
► Replacing quarterback Andrew Hendrix (All-MAC Third Team) is arguably the biggest challenge facing Miami this season. Hendrix, a Notre Dame transfer with just one year of eligibility remaining when he arrived, knew Martin’s system and provided a quality transition year that benefited all parties. He finished second among MAC QBs in average passing yards (273.3 ypg) and was also second in total offense (300.3 ypg). His accomplishments were more remarkable when one considers he was working with a totally new set of receivers and behind a line that allowed a conference –high 43 sacks. Of course, it didn’t help that MU was 12th in rushing offense.
► While Hendrix can’t suit up again, the good news for Miami is that it has some viable options to step in. Martin, in fact, recently confirmed that the RedHawks will likely use three quarterbacks this season. Doubters might see this as symptomatic of having no real answer for the position. Indeed, none of the three quarterbacks have any appreciable game experience and two are freshmen (one redshirt and one true). The situation is not nearly as dire, however, as it was two years ago.
Martin noted all three have strengths, and at least to start the season, he plans to take advantage of all three. Drew Kummer (6-3, 211, R-Sr) seems to have an edge in decision making and running the entire offense. Gus Ragland (6-3, 213, R-Fr) appears to be a capable-enough passer who is also a running threat. He led Cincinnati Moeller to two straight Ohio Division I titles and scored eight TDs in the 2013 championship game (three passing, five rushing). True freshman Billy Bahl (6-4, 248) already has the size, arm and mentality to be a solid pass-oriented quarterback. He has demonstrated significant potential in fall camp and should only get better as he learns the system and gets accustomed to game speed/situations.
► Miami’s running game has been negligible since Thomas Merriweather led a stretch drive to the 2010 MAC championship. Even in an option-run-oriented 2013 season, MU struggled to move the ball on the ground and last year it was one of seven FBS teams to average less than 100 yards rushing per contest.
Martin is intent on restoring a running threat to balance his offense, but he is aware it’s not an overnight fix. Yes, fleet-footed backs who could also break a tackle here and there would be nice. But so would some running lanes. The line MUST improve for the RedHawks to run the football. If/when they can, it will only help the RedHawks in other ways (e.g. passing, time of possession, red zone).
Spencer McGinnis (5-9, 206, R-Jr) played in 10 games last season, picking up 246 yards on 64 rushes. Freshmen Kenny Young (5-10, 200, R-Fr) and Alonzo Smith (5-9, 225, R-Fr) are among a young stable of running backs coming onto the scene. Martin’s favorite running back figures to be “Whoever-Can-Get-It-Done,” especially in the red zone!
► Converted receiver Dawan Scott had some success (between injuries) last season, suggesting there at least is some potential for the run game. Scott, who averaged 5.2 ypc on 74 carries over 10 games is gone now. So is Zach Lewis, an All-MAC Third Team member, along with two other starters. Brandyn Cook, Collin Buchanan and Trevan Brown are upper classmen on a line that is getting an influx of younger players.
► While questions abound through much of the offense, the receiving unit figures to be a major plus. David Frazier (Second Team All MAC) is gone, but there remain a number of other capable receivers.
Junior Jared Murphy leads the group, statistically, pulling in 42 aerials for 600 yards and four touchdowns last year. Sophomore Sam Martin shined on occasion (e.g. eight receptions, 111 yards, four TDs vs UMass). Junior Rokeem Williams had an outstanding “offseason” and could be poised for a solid year. Juniors Fred McRae IV and Sam Shisso are back. Meanwhile, freshman Chris Hudson (6-6, 226) distinguished himself in fall practice and could be a major target this season.
Tight end fizzled a little for Miami last year with Notre Dame transfer Alex Welch battling injuries. Like Hendrix, Welch was only available for one year. Ryan Smith and senior Orland David are back. Redshirt freshman Nate Becker (6-5, 265) is a big body who might help the offense in several ways.
► Miami was next-to-last in scoring defense for conference-only games (32.2 ppg). Only Eastern Michigan gave up more (38.5 ppg). For the RedHawks to win more games, the defense needs to improve. Defending the run was a particular sore spot. MU surrendered 199.9 rushing yards per game overall and 221.4 in conference play (last in MAC).
► Speaking of the defense in general, Martin recently said that while the defense is sometimes short on experience, it is getting closer to matching up physically.
There are signs the defensive line will be improved in 2015, and that would certainly prove helpful in bringing some bad defensive numbers down.
► All four starters up front return. Defensive ends J’Terius Jones (50 tackles, 5.0 sacks) and Bryson Albright (55 tackles, 6.0 sacks give MU considerable athleticism on the edge. Jimmy Rousher and Mitch Williams operate inside. The RedHawks are also building a little more depth, as well,
► Linebacking should be a definite strength. Seniors Kent Kern and Joe Donlan were standouts, with Kern starting nine games before missing the final three with an injury. Nonetheless, he was named Miami’s Most Valuable Defensive Player after recording 69 tackles, two sacks and 8.0 TFL. He earned All-MAC second team honors in 2013. Donlan, meanwhile, was Miami’s second leading tackler (77 stops, three sacks) in 2014. It was Donlan who came up with a game-saving tackle at the two-yard line to preserve Miami’s streak-breaking win over UMass last year. Josh Dooley, Nate Gerbus, TJ Williams, Zach Smierciak, Paul Moses and Sam Connolly are among other options in the second line of defense.
► MAC Defensive Player of the Year Quinten Rollins is now a cornerback with the Green Bay Packers. Junior Heath Harding, who started at corner as a freshman and moved to safety last year, will head back to the corner this season. He led MU with 98 tackles at safety last year. R-Jr Marshall Taylor is also back, giving MU a big corner (6-3) for certain matchups.
Redshirt senior Brison Burris returns at safety after missing 2014 due to injury. He had 75 tackles back in 2013. Tony Reid and Jay Mastin are among others vying for time at safety.
► Senior Kaleb Patterson gives the RedHawks a real threat on field goals. To date, he has a long of 52 yards. Classmate Christian Koch returns as punter. Getting a little more production out of the return game would be one of the goals for 2015.
► The defense is loaded with returning starters, but Miami’s offense has many new faces. How well they step up will say a lot about whether MU can improve its win total. This is particularly true of the offensive line and quarterback positions.
Overall, look for quite a few freshman and redshirt freshman to see playing time, with several making significant contributions.
► This will be Miami’s first season following the opening of a new indoor practice facility. Between that addition and the second year under Martin, the RedHawks, by all accounts, were able to be much more productive in the offseason.
► Miami opens at home against Presbyterian. After losing to Eastern Kentucky (another FCS foe) last year, the RedHawks will take nothing for granted.
► Miami’s cross-division foes are Northern Illinois (home), Western Michigan (away) and Eastern Michigan (home) . The first two are potential MAC West winners.
► Miami was fifth in turnover margin (plus-2, plus 0.17 per game).
► The 2014 RedHawks were ninth in red zone offense, scoring on 72.5 percent of trips to the zone. The scores included 24 TDs (10 rushing and 14 passing) and five field goals (in nine tries).