2018 RECORD: 6-6 (6-2 in MAC play)
HEAD COACH: Chuck Martin (6th year)
2019 PRESEASON POLL: Second in MAC East
By MIKE SMITH
One way or another, underclassmen are likely to a significant role in this year’s Miami RedHawks team.
With a big senior class and coming off a bowl game, 2018 had to the potential for Miami to take another step in the massive rebuild that began in 2014.
The RedHawks were, however, walking a . . .
Although MU again finished 6-6 for the 2018 regular season (including a win over rival Ohio), the RedHawks were passed over for a bowl offer.
Failing to win a non-conference game set the stage, and some critical injuries midway through the season contributed to problems. Now, a talented, but considerably younger, Miami team faces an even tougher 2019 challenger.
How about meeting Iowa, Cincinnati and Ohio -- all on the road -- in three of the first four weeks. That would be daunting enough for a big senior class. This year’s RedHawk edition, while talented in a number of areas, is certainly younger.
2018 Stats (all games/MAC rank)
Scoring offense: 28.1 ppg (5th MAC)
Scoring defense: 25.5 ppg (4th MAC)
Total offense: 372.0 ypg (8th MAC)
Total defense: 368.2 ypg (5th MAC)
Turnover margin: Plus-6 (3rd MAC)
➤➤ Without a doubt, the biggest question for Miami is at quarterback. To what level can MU replace Gus Ragland. Head coach Chuck Martin will turn to a trio of untested underclassmen. Competition for the position not only carried into the fall, as Martin predicted, it will likely continue into the non-conference schedule.
➤➤ Lefty sophomore Jackson Williamson did not see action in Saturday’s Fall Preview practice but should be ready to go soon. Redshirt freshman A.J. Mayer is also familiar with the system. Another possibility is true freshman Brett Gabbard -- younger brother of former Iowa standout and NFLer Blaine Gabbard. Brett was not on hand until fall camp started, but he saw considerable action Saturday with Jackson temporarily unavailable.
MARTIN ON REDHAWK QBs: “None of our quarterbacks has an issue throwing. They’re all strong-armed. They’re all accurate. It’s all about decision making and timing and what do you do when the play breaks down. … (Gus Ragland) either made a play or got us out of a play. It’s just who is going to manage all the situations when things aren’t perfect out there.”
➤➤ The RedHawks also took a couple big hits with the departure of standout running backs Alonzo Smith and Kenny Young. However, the transition at his position will be much easier, since Jaylen Bester and Maurice Thomas have significant experience and there is talented depth behind them, including sophomore Davion Johnson. “We already know they are good,” Martin said. “Now it’s their time. They’re excited about it - getting more touches.”
➤➤ The receiving room has several familiar faces, including team leader Jack Sorenson (53 catches,742 yards 2 TDs). Luke Mayock and tight end Andrew Homer combined for 58 receptions, 550 yards and six scores.
➤➤ Senior Jarret LaRubbio (G), along with juniors Danny Godlevske and Tommy Doyle (T) are returning starters along the offensive line. With senior Matt Skibinski at the other tackle, MU will have an experienced front.
➤➤ Linebackers Brad Koenig (FirstTeam All-MAC) and Junior McMullen are gone. The former led MU with 102 total tackles, 3 interceptions and 4 force fumbles. Successfully plugging in the linebacker spots could help a unit that ranked fourth in scoring defense last year and would like to remain among top defenders this time around. Several freshman could see action -- in some form -- early.
➤➤ A spate of injuries last year took its toll on the defense, but it gave some backups game experience that will come in handy this season. Those backups are now vying for starting spots, with the competition including incoming freshmen.
According to Martin, “There’s going to be a lot of freshmen that play this year … and not necessarily start. When you lose guys, you’ve got a backup ready to be a starter. But then who is ready to be the backup. That’s where a lot of these young guys are going to fill in. … Defensively, (there’s) a whole slew of kids that are probably going to contribute.”
➤➤ Senior Doug Costin and junior Ben Kimpler anchor the defensive line, which was “nicked up” Saturday but should be okay by kickoff for the Iowa opener. “We’re going to get a bunch of guys back,” Martin said.
➤➤ A strength the 2019 defense may well be its back end. Two transfers from Iowa (Manny Rugamba and Cedric Boswell) sat out last year but are ready to go just in time to play against their former school. Seniors Zedrick Raymond and Travion Banks are returning corners. Senior Bart Baratti has been effective as a nickle back and MikeBrown was second on the team in tackles last season.
➤➤ The RedHawks should field one of the MAC’s better special teams units. Senior Sam Sloman has been a relatively reliable placekicker. He missed one of 42 PAT attempts last year and converted 10 of 13 field goals with a long of 44. Two of his three misses were from beyond 50 yards. Adding kickoff duties, Sloman registered 42 touchbacks in 2018.
Punter Kyle Kramer earned Third Team All-MAC honors. He averaged 41.9 yards per boot and dropped 30 kicks into the 20-yard line.
➤➤ Miami had two one-point losses last year. The first was a 40-39 home loss to Western Michigan before Broncos quarterback Jon Wassink got hurt. The other was a 31-30 double overtime loss at Army. MU rallied late to tie and stayed with the Black Knights until missing a two-point try at the end of the second overtime.
➤➤ After four non-conference games, MU opens MAC play at home against Buffalo. Last year’s MAC East champs are not in rebuild mode, but lost several key pieces on each side of the ball.
➤➤ Two of the toughest MAC games will be on the road -- at Western Michigan and at pre-season favorite Ohio.
Sorting out the quarterback situation against the likes of Iowa and Ohio State is likely to produce a few ugly moments. The hope will be to get that -- and other positions - settled by MAC play.
Any injuries would complicate things, but Martin sees a lot of talent in his large freshmen class. If healthy, the RedHawks are capable or better in most areas. For now, throwing the football is the biggest question mark.