2016 MAC Record: 6-2
2017 St. Petersburg Bowl: Mississippi State 17, Miami 16
2016 MAC Media prediction: 2nd, MAC Eas
After turning corner, RedHawks think big
One might say the Miami RedHawks were in dire straights midway through last season when along came quarterback Gus Ragland – returning early from an ACL tear to lead the ‘Hawks.
With Ragland at the helm, the . . .
The late win streak also gave Miami a piece of the MAC East title, and with a wealth of talent returning on both sides of the ball, MU can enter 2017 with designs on a trip to the championship game.
● After two years of a monumental rebuild, Martin could sense his 2016 squad was improved. However, he said, the players still lacked confidence. Turnovers and penalties also undermined the RedHawks early. For whatever reason, MU cleaned up both those areas one Ragland made it back onto the field, starting in game seven against Kent State. The then-redshirt sophomore threw just one interception in seven outings (174 consecutive passes). That was in the bowl game against Mississippi State.
● Miami was one of four MAC teams to finish the entire campaign with a plus turnover margin (plus 1).
“If we want to keep winning, we have to keep on that trend.” -- Martin on avoiding turnovers and penalties
● Miami’s top three receivers return, along with some depth. James Gardner (45 catches, 750 yards, 6 TDs) and Jared Murphy (43 catches, 552 yards, 5 TDs) lead the way among wideouts. Dominique Robinson, a 6-5, 225-pound freshman out of Canton, Ohio has shown promise in switching over to receiver.
● Upon taking over, Martin made the offensive line an immediate priority. The group is now a strength and allowed MU to move the ball against Mississippi State in the bowl game.
Senior Jordan Diamond (6-5, 310) was granted another year of eligibility and returns to anchor an experienced line. Even sophomore center Danny Godlevske now has a season of experience under his belt.
“This should be the best O-line we’ve had,” -- Martin on the development of offensive linemen
“We’ve got playmakers all over the field,” -- Martin
● Miami’s defense finished No. 1 (MAC) in total last year, allowing 353.2 ypg. It was third in scoring defense (23.8 ppg), second in rushing defense (145.2 ypg) and second in pass defense efficiency.
● The one place where MU has to retool is at defensive end. J.T. Jones (Second Team All MAC) and Austin Gearing have both departed after combining for 10.5 sacks last year. Among those battling to step in are Dean Lemon, Quinn Calcagno and Brad Earnest.
“It’s been very competitive,” Martin said. “We don’t have starters returning, but those kids have played – not a ton, but you’ve got … guys who have some reps. So they are doing very well and they are making strides. They know how important that position is to us. … They’re excited about this opportunity.”
● Unlike at defensive end, the RedHawks bring back a pair of very solid players inside. Ikeem Allen (6-5, 270, Sr) and Nate Trawick (5-11, 312, Jr) return, which should help somewhat with the transition at DE.
● Junior McMullin (Third Team All-MAC) and DeAndre Montgomery are returning starters at linebacker. They will be joined by another junior, Brad Koenig, who has plenty of experience and finished third among all Miami defenders with 73 stops last year.
“We can put 11 really good athletes on the field and they can cover a lot of space. At times during camp, they’ve been suffocating for our offense. We had to be really sharp and good just to move the ball at all (against them).” -- Martin
● Miami finished 2016 on a bad special teams note when Mississippi State blocked MU’s potential game-winning field goal. The Bulldogs also blocked a PAT earlier in game, and the one point came back to haunt.
There were signs of problems late in the year, including three misses in a win at Buffalo.
Nick Dowd has departed. Among those vying to replace him is Samuel Sloman (R-So), Jacob Schwartz (Fr) and Paul Young (Fr). “I would say that is still a pretty open battle,” Martin said Saturday. “We were anywhere from great to average to, at times, below average (last year). We just have to get more consistent.”
● Punter Kyle Kramer returns to handle punting duties and showed some of that consistency later in the campaign. .“I thought the second half of the year, Kramer really solidified our punting,” Martin said.
● As for their return game, the RedHawks have a big-play weapon in Thomas. The junior speedster from Oxford earned Third Team All-MAC honors as a return specialist in 2016.
● While MU opened at Iowa last year, it goes to Marshall to open 2017. The current roster has no experience against the Herd, but veteran Miami fans are warning that MU vs MU has at times been a bitter rivalry, with some unpleasant memories in Huntington.
● Miami hosts area rival Cincinnati in Week Three. Former Ohio State assistant Luke Fickle has taken over the Bearcat reins. At stake will be possession of the Victory Bell, which UC has held since 2006.
● Prestige-wise, one of Miami’s biggest games ever will be Sept. 30, when the RedHawks face Notre Dame in South Bend. It will be a homecoming of sorts for Martin, who was offensive coordinator at ND before taking the Miami job. He’s still a Notre Dame fan, but won’t be on that day.
● Trap game?? Miami plays its first MAC game Sept. 23 at Central Michigan. That’s right in between the Cincinnati and Notre Dame games.
Martin’s steady rebuilding job appears to be paying off across the board as the RedHawks are now putting some depth in behind starters in multiple areas.
Miami has closed in on the balanced offense in Martin’s design. Ragland’s leadership skills brought things together and, coincidentally, the RedHawks ditched their turnover and penalty ways.
A solid defense allowed MU to stay in close games, even holding up relatively well against an SEC opponent in the bowl game.
More close games are in the future, including a huge road encounter against preseason MAC East favorite Ohio (Halloween Night in Athens!!!). Getting the kicking game in order will be an important piece in the big puzzle.