The end of non-conference play can be a time of reflection – a time for pause to see what kind of identity a team has before heading into the conference schedule.
Of course, it can also be a time to pause and regroup. Such is probably the case with the Miami RedHawks, whose psyche might be better served by forgetting a chunk of the last month – or at least a few Saturdays.
The RedHawks went 1-3 in non-conference play. That win came in week one when MU downed Presbyterian, a football championship series opponent, at home. Three losses followed – two by lopsided scores.
With the departure of quarterback Andrew Hendrix and cornerback Quinten Rollins (2014 MAC Defensive Player of the Year and now a Green Bay Packer), the RedHawks, came into 2015 with numerous questions on each side of the ball. Four games against a pretty challenging non-conference schedule have not answered a lot of questions, but there are enough clues to give Miami something of an identity.
For what it’s worth, here are some observations:
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They were outscored 114-14 on trips to Wisconsin (58-0) and Western Kentucky (56-14). The latter had the potential to be worse, since it was 49-7 at the half.
On the other hand, Miami defeated Presbyterian 26-7 in the opener and lost to Cincinnati 37-33 in a rivalry game two weeks later. The Cincy game was, in fact, very winnable. MU had a late lead and could have put the game away with a couple of first downs.
As for defeating an FCS team, keep in mind that Miami lost to Eastern Kentucky last season before later breaking a long losing streak with a win over UMass.
“Obviously, we’ve got to find a way to play better on the road. We played fine on the road a year ago,” Martin said after Saturday’s loss at Western Kentucky.
With a big game against Kent State on the road this week, MU hopes to find a quick answer. The RedHawks pulled out a 10-3 victory over KSU in Oxford last year.
► The RedHawks have struggled against passing games.
Last week’s loss to WKU topped the list, but Brandon Daughty, a sixth-year senior, ranks second nationally in passing for a reason. He’s a tough yardstick. “I’ve watched 16 games … and he’s looked like this in 15 of them. He threw 52 touchdowns last year. It’s insane. That is an incredible amount of touchdowns. He’s a very, very talented kid,” Martin said, adding that Doughty’s receiving corps makes him even more dangerous. “He throws a lot of great throws, but sometimes he throws short throws and they turn them into long gains.”
Wisconsin, traditionally known for its running attack, got more passing yards (263) than run yards (188), The Badgers’ air game accounted for four of seven touchdowns, including three of four first half TDs.
Cincinnati was nearly equally balanced in run and pass yardage, but three completions keyed a final UC drive for the victory.
Asked about the pass defense after Saturday’s loss, Martin looked at the big picture. “I’m concerned about the whole team. Do we need to get better at pass defense? We do, but we’ve got to get better run defense (among other things).”
“Physically, we got whupped. They could run the ball on us, and we had a hard time tackling them,” Martin said of Western Kentucky. “We (also) had a very hard time with their perimeter guys – sometimes we didn’t cover them, but even when we were in coverage, they would catch the ball and run for another 15 or 20 yards.”
He continued, “The last two weeks, I thought we were really up against it athletically. Last week (against UC), we really played good and played physical. This week we didn’t play as physical, and it showed up early.”
With Kent State’s 6-1, 241-pound RB Trayion Durham on the horizon, the RedHawks will need to “bring it” Saturday. Durham has shown he is capable of carrying/dragging defenders. He missed last year due to injury, but is back and registered 114 yards on 31 carries while filling in for junior starter Nick Holley in KSU’s double overtime loss to Marshall Saturday. Holley is reportedly doubtful again this week.
► The Miami offense has been inconsistent
Certainly the loss of Hendrix, who was skilled and already versed with the offense upon arrival in Oxford, is a factor. He has been replaced by a quarterback trio, but all are relatively inexperienced. They are also surrounded by youth at many positions.
“We’re very young at the whole offense, and our inconsistency hurt us again (Saturday). We’re not good enough to (keep) going three-and-out and put our defense out there (a bunch). But we’re much younger over there than we are on defense. We did some nice things last week (against UC), but we haven’t played great on offense all year.”
The first two quarters against Cincinnati were probably MU’s best offensive periods of the year. Miami put up 23 points before intermission and added another TD midway through the third period. The RedHawks, however, got one field goal the rest of the way and could not pick up vital first downs late to salt the game away.
He noted MU had a good week of practice heading into the Western Kentucky game, but it didn’t translate come game time.
“I don’t know about surprised. (I’m) disappointed, probably, that we couldn’t move it a little better,” Martin said. “With not being able to move the ball at all (early), we kept getting our defense back out there, and they didn’t really handle the situation very good.”
With so much inexperience at quarterback, the RedHawks are prone to some very untimely turnovers. Senior Drew Kummer had a late interception against UC and true freshman Billy Bahl tossed three picks last week while completing just four passes to his own receivers. Bahl’s potential is considered high, but he is transitioning to a college game. So is redshirt freshman QB Gus Ragland, who brings some good running skills to the position.
Like the offense as a whole, the running game is inconsistent. The RedHawks registered 220 yards on the ground against Cincinnati one week after being held to -3 yards rushing on 24 carries at Wisconsin. Miami totaled 123 yards rushing on 40 attempts against WKU Saturday, but much of it came late as Ragland and Spencer McInnis each provided 43 yards.
For the season, Alonzo Smith has 163 yards on 38 carries, while Kenny Young has contributed 132 yards on 24 rushes. Ragland, in his limited time, has added 14 carries for 110 yards. The ground game has accounted for two of 10 Miami TDs this year.
As for receivers, it’s difficult to fully gauge. They’ve accounted for 80 percent of the touchdowns – several on long plays -- and have some hefty yards per catch averages. But there are times, for whatever reason, when completions are hard to come by.
To keep drives moving, improve field position and ultimately be in a position to win, both the passing and running games will need to be more consistent.
► Special teams is too busy at one thing, not enough at another.
Nobody has run a kick back yet against Miami, but there were a few that looked like they might go a very long way. Opponent penalties helped in a few cases.
The kickoff return unit has stayed busy, while the field goal unit - not so much. Miami has tried just three field goals on the season, converting two. Senior Kaleb Patterson is 1 of 2 on field goals and 5 of 7 on PATs.
Miami ranks next to last in scoring defense (along with Bowling Green), allowing 39.5 ppg. It is last in scoring offense (18.2 ppg), two spots behind Kent State (21.0 ppg). The two might even be closer were it not for turnovers. Kent State is first in total defense (218.5 ypg) and seventh in turnover margin (plus-2). Miami is ninth in total defense (470.8 ypg) and 12th in turnover margin (minus-4).
Those stats, along with home field advantage, would favor Kent State this week. Martin, though, is hoping for his team to rebound.
“We’re not going to panic. We’re not going to hit the eject button. We’re going to stay the course and do things the right way all the time,” Martin said. “We did a good job after Wisconsin, when everybody thought the world was coming to an end, and we battled back. But we got off to a good start (against UC), and we got our heads up. … I think we have the right group of kids to keep plowing ahead. We’ve got to get ready to find a way to beat Kent State.”