Saturday, Sept. 5, 3:30 p.m. ET
By MIKE SMITH
It will be two hungry teams facing off Saturday when the Miami RedHawks host Presbyterian College at Yager Stadium. Both teams showed improvement last year, and both teams have a lot of incentive to go all-out for a win.
Presbyterian would love to record its first win against an FBS opponent. Miami, meanwhile, likely has fresh memories of losing to an FCS school last year while trying to break a losing streak that had reached 17 games.
Let’s take a look at the two teams:
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Things got better after that, however, and head coach Harold Nichols’ team put together a 6-5 record for the season. It went 5-2 against FCS opponents and a preseason 2015 Big South Conference poll predicted a fourth place finish for PC in 2015.
Miami, on the other hand, posted two wins last season in new head coach Chuck Martin’s first year of rebuilding. After the 2013 winless season debacle that started under former coach Don Treadwell, two wins seemed like a definite first step forward – especially so since the RedHawks were highly competitive in a number of other 2014 games.
One that got away, however, was last year’s contest against another FCS opponent – Eastern Kentucky. Aided by a 55-yard Pick Six interception and late trick play that went for a 43-yrd score, EMU pulled out a 17-10 victory in Oxford.
Such a verdict might not have occurred had the game been later in the season when the RedHawks gained some confidence and had more experience in their systems. The setback, however, serves as a cautionary tale.
Miami has plenty of reasons to bring its A-game, or as close to it as the RedHawks can get.
-- Any win is a good win and to be highly valued.
-- With some difficult dates/matchups on the schedule, MU needs to maximize every win opportunity it has.
-- Coaches and players want to turn some of last year’s close loses into wins.
-- With the departure of their best offensive (quarterback Andrew Hendrix) and defensive (CB Quinten Rollins, MAC Defensive Player of the Year and now a Green Bay Packer), the RedHawks young talent wants to show it can step in and step up.
This may be especially true at quarterback. There is a dearth of game experience among three QBs that will likely see action.
Senior Drew Kummer has just a few game plays under his belt. Redshirt freshman Gus Ragland and true freshman Billy Bahl are yet to take their first actual game snaps. According to their head coach, all three have talents that can help the team – though those skills can overlap considerably.
Ragland is likely the best runner of the bunch, but it’s not at all like he can’t pass. Bahl has already shown the potential to be an outstanding passer, but he has the least time in Miami’s system. Kummer has demonstrated his system knowledge and can do other things as well.
Whoever is behind center, they need protection from the offensive line. Martin has been working diligently on building that unit, but it is an overnight fix and some new – young – faces will be in the O-line mix.
Hendrix, of course, was the ultimate “system” quarterback, having transferred to Miami from Notre Dame with one grad year on which to play. In a league with more than a few good quarterbacks and an inconsistent line, he managed to make All-MAC Third Team.
Hendrix not only passed for 3,280 yards with 23 touchdowns, he also netted 324 yards rushing after 343 yards in losses. That comes out to a hand (or foot) in 80.3 percent of the offensive production for the season.
Over the last several years, Miami’s run game has sometimes seemed to be operating on a treadmill. Martin is determined to fix it, which would certainly help problems in the red zone. However, the run game is intrinsically tied to progress on the line.
Dawan Scott, a converted receiver, provided some yardage out of the backfield while healthy last year. It remains to be seen when MU can turn the corner and just who will be holding the pigskin when they do. Redshirt freshman Kenny Young (5010, 200) showed some flashes in fall camp and may be able to break a few long runs (a rarity in recent years) if he can get through to the next level. Redshirt freshman Alonzo Smith (5-9, 225) is also an option.
Miami’s best overall options are probably still through the passing game. David Frazier (59 receptions, 949 yards, 5 TDs) is gone, but returnees include Jared Murphy, Rokeem Williams and Sam Martin. Chris Hudson, a 6-6 freshman, was at times impressive in fall camp and has the potential to be a very productive player in the system.
Based on spring and fall camp, the RedHawks have been making strides. Barring some bad performances by QB on bad days along the line, Miami’s offense should still be pretty productive. The defense, however, must improve if Miami is to increase its win total. The RedHawks were 10th in scoring defense (31.8 ppg) and rushing defense (199.9 ypg). It was a little better in passing defense, with MU ranked seventh. However, losing the MAC Defensive Player of the Year, could hurt a bit. Fortunately, they can plug in Heath Harding. He played corner his freshman year and moved to safety last year when the one-year wonder Rollins arrived and won a job in camp.
Linebacker is the strong suit for the defense, with Kent Kern, Joe Donland and Josh Dooley returning. Several others (e.g.g Paul Moses, and TJ Williams have worked their way into a talented unit
Bryson Albright, Mitch Winters and JT Jones return up front, which could be an improved unit this season. Albright is an exceptional athlete, but the senior is light for defensive end (6-5, 225). He is backed up by former quarterback Austin Gearing, a 6-5 redshirt junior who has bulked up to 250 pounds.
Bigger, stronger, faster is something every coach talks about and works toward. The RedHawks have made some big strides in those areas. How far those improvements help will be on display starting Saturday.
The RedHawks are young, but redshirt freshman and sophomores are beginning to show up on the depth chart – either starting or as the first backup. Some of the playmakers in upcoming games may not be familiar names to RedHawk fans - yet! Veteran or not, however, Saturday is the first chance to show the home crowd what they can do.
► PC finished third in the Big South last season in rushing offense (174.1 ypg). Darrell Bridges (6-1, 200, R-So) and Blake Roberts (5-10, 190, R-Jr) were both among the league’s top 10 rushers. Bridges, who will get the start Saturday, netted 396 yards, while Roberts added 385 yards. They averaged 4.7 and 4.6 ypg, respectively.
► Redshirt senior Tamyn Garrick is listed as a starter. He has played very sparingly since his freshman season. His backup, Kaleb Griffin, saw action in nine games last year, completing 18-of-33 for 172 yards. He is 206-for-333 with 10 interceptions and eight TDs in his career.
► Jordan Hallums tops the returning receivers. He tied for second in receptions (24) and totaled 238 yards. Daryl Wilson registered nine catches for 158 yards with two TDs. Marquel Hines, a sophomore, has moved from the Blue Hose backfield into the slot position.
► Blue Hose linebacker Donelle Williams and defensive back Ed Britt were named to the Big South Preseason All-Conference Team.
► PC ranked No. 2 among FCS schools in red zone defense.
► Overall, the Blue Hose averaged 15.9 ppg scored and 24.5 ppg allowed.