Two weeks into the 2014 season, there is already enough material on the Miami RedHawks for a short football version of the movie “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” One might assume that because MU is riding the Football Bowl Subdivision’s longest losing streak, the RedHawks version would 95 percent bad or downright ugly.
Such an assumption would be wrong, but more importantly, what really matters is what MU can do about the bad and the ugly. Let’s take a look at the big picture
To truly appreciate the good, one must realize the progress already accomplished. Hence, this section includes some 2013 statistics to use as a baseline.
> The RedHawks are moving the ball. They rank a respectable sixth in total offense, averaging 418.5 ypg. Contrast that with last year’s 226 ypg.
> Miami has a passing game. The RedHawks of 2013 recorded 286 attempts with 131 completions for 1,491 yards (124.3 ypg). That left MU ranked 122nd of 124 FBS teams. Only New Mexico and Air Force were lower. Heading into Week Three of 2014, Miami ranks second in the MAC with 338.5 ypg. Quarterback Andrew Hendrix has quick release, is relatively mobile and is not afraid to make a throw.
> The RedHawks have multiple threats in Hendrix and several capable receivers. David Frazier and Rokeem Williams are each averaging over 100 yards per game. Dawan Scott is a veteran who is likely to resume his statistical productivity as the season progresses. Tight end Alex Welch has battled injuries since transferring in, but he can be a playmaker, as well – particularly if he gets healthy.
> Miami’s defense has played well since halftime of the opener against Marshall. Last week, it gave up a trick play that became a game winner for Eastern Kentucky. But EKU’s other 10 points came off Miami turnovers – a pick six interception return and a field goal that followed a muffed punt.
> The running game is still struggling. Miami retired Touchdown Travis Prentice’s jersey last week, but in contrast MU was only able to pick up 86 rushing yards on the day. The hope is things will improve as the season goes on. Thomas Merriweather’s numbers weren’t all that good in 2010 until the RedHawks went down the stretch. The O-line line and Merriweather then jelled, with TM rolling for 141, 182, 85 and 100 in his last four games. It was a critical part of MU’s drive to a MAC title and bowl game win. Spencer McInnis did average 5.1 ypc on 10 rushes against EKU. If the RedHawks can stay out of long yardage situations, its run game might be more effective.
> The RedHawks are struggling mightily in the red zone. See above, because the lack of an effective running game thus far isn’t helping. Head coach Chuck Martin also noted receivers are getting taken out of their routes. Miami ranks 11th (MAC) in red zone offense. They have two TDs to show for eight trips into the zone – neither was through a run.
> There appear to be some kinks to work out on field goals. Kaleb Patterson is a solid kicker and should be one of Miami’s top scoring threats. He missed one wide and one other FG attempt was blocked last week. This is probably one of the easier areas to fix.
> Miami’s pass efficiency rating is ranked 11th. Only UMass (48.3) has a lower completion percentage than MU (48.5). Some of this simply owes to errant throws and/or forcing passes. Some other reasons, however, point to some of the ugly.
> The RedHawks rank last in the MAC in allowing sacks. But the nine sacks for minus-60 yards is the tip of the iceberg. Hendrix has been under a lot of pressure. Eastern Kentucky repeatedly blitzed with a variety of people – and it paid dividends. Not only did Hendrix toss three interceptions, but it led to a fumble and created pressure even when Hendrix was able to escape. Somehow, Miami has to find a way to effectively counter opponent blitzes.
> One of the most significant statistics in football is turnover margin, which can trump many good things. Never mind that EKU converted just one of 13 third down opportunities. Never mind that MU had 25 first downs to 12 for the visitors or 445 total yards to Eastern’s 280. Never mind Eastern’s well-executed trick play for the game winner. The seeds for a disheartening defeat were sown when MU lost the turnover battle (6-2) and continually put itself in poor down-and-distance situation.
> That last statement brings up a final ugly item – penalties. Miami had nine penalties for 61 yards against EKU. Granted, the Colonels had eight for 94 yards, but it doesn’t exactly balance out. Miami converted on just six of 19 third downs. The penalties – often illegal procedure – also put MU in situations which only invited more EKU pressure. What will happen Saturday when Miami’s offensive line will be struggling to hear in a stadium with 110,000 screaming Michigan fans?
With 10 more games on the schedule, there is plenty of time to adjust the good, bad and ugly. Certainly, turnovers and penalties are a starting point. Blitz adjustments would also go a long way.
There is talent on this team, and if the offensive side can clean some things up, the RedHawks defense so far seems capable of keeping MU in the hunt for those elusive creatures – WINS!