Six games into the 2013 season, two winless teams faced off in a desperate battle for a win. Those two teams – the Miami RedHawks and UMass Minutemen – fought it out for what would become the only victory among the programs in 2013. The hosting Minutemen, who scored the game’s final 10 points, prevailed, 17-10, in that matchup.
One year later, the same two teams will again take the field looking for their first win. Beyond the obvious similarity, there is a world of difference.
1. Home field (advantage?)
For what it is worth, this week’s game is in Oxford. Granted, the RedHawks haven’t provided a win on their home turf (or any other) since Oct. 27 2012,
The Red and White have also put together some spirited home efforts in losing causes during the current 21-game losing streak (longest active streak among Football Bowl Subdivision teams).
In a 2013 game at Yager Stadium, Miami’s defense kept area rival Cincinnati off the board until the 4:55 mark of the fourth quarter. The RedHawks hapless offense, which finished last in FBS scoring that year, could not score, however, and MU went down to a 14-0 defeat.
Of course, Miami has also gotten blown out at home. Such was the case in a 45-3 demolishing by Bowling Green and a 44-7 thumping by Buffalo in MU’s final two home games last year.
2. Head Coaches/Staffs
Both UMass and Miami have new coaches and staffs.
Miami’s Don Treadwell (along with offensive coordinator John Klacik) made it to mid-season last year. The two were relieved of their duties on the Sunday before Miami and UMass met.
That left assistant/interim head coach Mike Bath to manage as best he could. It was, however, a small band aid on a gaping wound. Bath tried to modify a system that wasn’t really productive running or passing. However, he could only do so much in mid-season and was particularly limited in what he could introduce in the tumultuous week between Treadwell’s dismissal and the UMass contest on Saturday. When senior quarterback Austin Boucher was lost for the season due to injury two weeks later, it was the final straw.
Miami ‘s new head coach search settled on Notre Dame offensive coordinator Chuck Martin. Per several search goals, Martin came with head coaching experience and demonstrated ability to win. His resume includes two national titles with Grand Valley State – one of several stops along the way.
While the RedHawks have not won yet, his leadership has already transformed the team in many ways. He and his staff have also been tireless recruiters, with the bulk of their bounty yet to come.
UMass, meanwhile, reeled in Mark Whipple, whose resume included stints in collegiate athletics, as well as the pros. During his time in college, Whipple guided UMass to a 1-AA national championship. That 1998 team’s offense posted numerous school records. His pro career included quarterback coaching duties with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns.
3. New Quarterbacks
Both UMass and Miami have new quarterbacks. Coupled with scheme changes and other factors, the two programs have dramatically improved their offensive production over last season.
Whipple’s expertise with quarterbacks enhanced the Minutemen’s acquisition of former Marshall quarterback Blake Frohnapfel.
Stuck behind returning Conference USA Player of the Year Rokeem Cato, Frohnapfel decided to transfer. He landed at UMass, where he has thrived under Whipple’s tutelage and support.
His progress culminated last week when Frohnapfel set a new MAC and school record with 589 yards (with five touchdowns) in a 47-42 loss to Bowling Green.
Miami, meanwhile, has its own transfer. Andrew Hendrix was also stuck behind a high profile quarterback. With one year of eligibility left, he and two other ND players elected to follow Martin to Miami.
It was a chance for Hendrix, who played prep ball at nearby Moeller High School in Cincinnati, to shine in front friends and family while giving MU a quarterback who immediately understood the offensive system. With several talented receivers available, Hendrix has joined Frohnapfel and Buffalo’s Joe Licata near the top of MAC passing stat rankings.
One area which bears some similarities to last year is rushing. Both teams are again struggling with the run, with Miami ranked 11th (85.6 ypg) and UMass 12th (60.0 ypg). The RedHawks recently showed some signs of life in the ground game, thanks in part to moving receiver Dawan Scott into the backfield. Scott ripped off a 61-yard TD run last week against Buffalo before leaving the game with a leg injury He is listed on the two deep for this week, but his availability and/or effectiveness could be a factor Saturday.
As for UMass, part of the issue might be how much does it really want to run. The Minutemen passed 61 times last week and ran the ball on 31 occasions – averaging 1.6 ypc (with sacks included). Sophomore Shadrach Abrokway carried 14 times for 37 yards (2.6 ypc).
Miami’s defense had held its own through much of the non-conference schedule – at least enough to keep the RedHawks in games. But even though MU remained close in a 35-27 loss to Buffalo last week, the defense disappointed – particularly against the Buffalo running game, which amassed 273 yards (with three TDs). That, in turn, might have affected MU’s back end as the Bulls completed 29 of 39 for 302 yards and two TDs. Overall, Miami ranks seventh in total defense, ninth in rushing defense and fifth in pass defense.
UMass is 11th in total defense, 10th in rushing defense and 10th in pass defense.
As Miami’s Martin noted earlier this week, both teams have legitimate reasons to believe they “could have, should have, would have” won some of their previous outings this year.
Nobody knows better than these teams about the margin for error. Penalties, pressure on the quarterbacks and turnovers may be enough to turn the verdict one way or another.
Like last year, the short term prize of a single win is relished. But there will be more opportunities for wins. In the meantime, fans at Saturday’s game can enjoy a hard-fought contest – likely with offenses moving and down the field.
For that matter, both programs appear to be on the move.