Miami head coach Chuck Martin can sometimes be a little disarming for his candor – at least to journalists who haven’t met him. The candor showed Saturday in post-game comments after Miami’s 45-21 loss at Iowa. There was the usual honesty about a missed block here, missed route there, or turnover that flipped a big opportunity – things would need to be addressed in the coming days. However, there was also a strong hint of optimism.
And why not?
Despite the final score, Miami managed to out-gain the hosts in total yards, 424-404. Sophomore quarterback Billy Bahl tossed a pair of touchdowns to classmate James Gardner and the RedHawks . . .
“We ran the ball with legitimate run plays and then we threw the ball effectively,” Martin said.
The latter, in particular, was encouraging to Martin. He knows all too well how Miami’s ground game struggled over the two years he and the staff have worked to build a foundation along the front line. But there were signs late last year that Miami was turning the corner, and Saturday’s limited success against a No. 17 team with a good defense seemed to validate the RedHawks progress.
“We didn’t look or feel like anything I’ve watched for two years,” Martin said. “At no point in time were we not getting positive plays on the ground . . . We never lined up (and really) ran the ball until late last year with any success, (and we also) pass blocked better. … You look at some of the third down clips from a year ago, and its scary. We had a lot of success on third down today. Our guys up front did a heck of a job.”
Miami converted 5 of 11 third down opportunities and went 2 of 2 on fourth down conversions versus Iowa. That's effectively 7 of 11 as far as maintaining possession.
Here’s a look at this week’s matchup.
Eastern Illinois at Miami
Saturday, Sept. 10, 3:30 p.m. ET
Yager Stadium, Oxford, OH.
Eastern Illinois Panthers (0-1, 0-0 Ohio Valley)
● Eastern Illinois, a Football Championship Subdivision member, fell to Western Illinois, 38-21, Saturday. After taking a brief 7-0 first quarter lead, the Panthers fell behind 24-7 heading into the third quarter. Two long pass plays (53 and 79 yards) from quarterback Mitch Kimble allowed EIU to pull within 24-21. Western Illinois then put the game away with two more scores.
● EIU actually out-gained the Leathernecks, 468-347, in total yards. Three turnovers (two lost fumbles and one interception) proved costly for Eastern Illinois.
● Kimble, a redshirt junior, completed 18 of 29 passes for 323 yards, with two TDs and one interception.
● The Panthers totaled 102 yards rushing. Three backs had at least 10 carries, with Devin Church leading the way (12 carries, 42 yards).
● Linebacker Seth McDonald posted nine stops, while LB Nick Horne registered six tackles and one tfl.
Miami RedHawks (0-1, 0-0 MAC)
● Miami finished near the bottom of the MAC last year in turnover margin, and it had three more against Iowa. The good news is that none were interceptions, which were a significant problem through much of 2015. Two of the fumbles Saturday came on quarterback hits. Another came from a running back after a missed block. Although young, the RedHawks ability to improve their record this year will likely correlate to cleaning up the turnovers.
● While the RedHawks offense was something of a pleasant surprise for the circumstances, the defense struggled at times. Much of the Hawkeyes early success came on the perimeter with running plays that managed to turn the corner or bubble screens that turned into big gainers.
● Sophomore James Gardner, who had a good fall camp, continued to shine in the RedHawks opener. He had six catches for 95 yards and two touchdowns. Senior Rokeem Williams owned six receptions for 113 yards with a long of 67.
● Williams' long gainer moved Miami to the Hawkeyes eight-yard line, but MU failed to produce points when Anthony Nelson hit Bahl from the blindside two plays later. Iowa recovered and covered 81 yards in two plays to establish a 21-0 lead with 5:41 remaining in the first period. It was a 14-point swing in a matter of three plays.
● Entering 2016, Miami was replacing veterans in the kicking game. Freshman Samuel Sloman attempted a 52-yard field goal at Iowa. His kick had the distance but was just right. Nick Dowd converted three extra points, while Justin Martin handled punting duties (2 punts, 39.0 average with long of 41).
● DB Tony Reid had five tackles, along with Paul Moses and Brad Koenig. Defensive tackle J.T. Jones and linebacker Junior McMullen each recorded one sack.