While October 27, 2012 may not seem like a very long away, for the Miami (Ohio) football team that day seems like an eternity.
It was the last time the RedHawks won a football game.
Jumping out to a 20-7 lead early in the first half, Miami’s Kaleb Patterson connected with a game-winning field goal in the final minutes for a 23-20 win over then No. 23, and in-state MAC Rival, Ohio.
Since that day, 16 games have passed all resulting in a Miami loss and the Oxford community is hoping to return to the ways of 2003, where Ben Roethlisberger commanded the RedHawks to a 13-1 season and a top-10 finish.
But 2014 brings several new looks for this struggling football team eager to get back to its winning ways.
Chuck Martin was hired as the programs 36th head coach and inherits a program searching for any signs of life. Martin spent his last four years at Norte Dame where he worked as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach (2012-13) and as the defensive backs coach and recruiting coordinator (2010-11) while serving under head coach Brian Kelly.
During Martin’s tenure of play calling, the Fighting Irish finished 20-5 including an appearance in the BCS National Championship against Alabama in 2013. His unit averaged 26.4 points per game with a balanced offensive attack that tallied 170 yards rushing and 235 yards passing per contest.
However, Miami is nowhere close to Norte Dame’s production leaving Martin with a serious uphill battle.
Miami is picked to finish sixth in a seven team MAC East division after a 0-12, 0-8 MAC 2013 season. Another serious problem with the outlook from this season, while there are several returning members of the offense, their performance last season was far from stellar.
In seven of the RedHawks 12 games last season, they were held under 14 points while eclipsing 300 yards only once (Akron 303). Overall, Miami averaged 3.7 yards per play and just under 226 yards a game including touting the third worst rushing attack in the nation (1219 yards). More importantly, it only converted third down 41-of-167 (25 percent) of the time.
The defense was not much better.
Coming in at 108th in the nation last season, Miami’s defense could not get off the field as opponents converted 80-of-166 (48 percent) third down chances including 9-of-12 (75 percent) fourth down attempts.
Miami allowed 428 points last season—including three games it surrendered over 50—while scoring only 117 points of its own.
Needless to say, major work is needed to right the ship in Oxford.
I will preview each position and how Miami stacks up on both sides of the ball.
After losing starting quarterback Austin Boucher to injury in late October last year, true freshman Austin Gearing had to command the ship. Gearing struggled mightily going 24-of-54 for 188 yards with no passing touchdowns and three interceptions. He was also sacked 22.9 percent of the time he dropped back to pass. The upside to Gearing, he could run. He led the team in rushing, totaling 478 yards on 145 carries. Both quarterbacks last year suffered with a shaky at best offensive line and lacked a go-to guy that could make a big play.
With the addition of Gearing, Drew Kummer returns to the mix as well as redshirt freshman Tom Tupa who was recruited after being high-touted in high school. With three able bodies ready to battle for the starting position, someone forgot to tell Norte Dame transfer Andrew Hendrix that three’s company and four is a crowd.
Hendrix enters as a fifth-year senior after spending four years as a backup under Martin’s system in South Bend but has yet to prove his is a proven leader on the field. Hendrix finished 25-of-58 with 360 passing and a touchdown during his time as the Fighting Irish’s backup. He also ran for 229 yards and another score.
Should Hendrix earn the starting nod this season, he best have his running shoes laced up tight as the RedHawks’ offensive line allowed 49 sacks last season. Hendrix has the athletic ability and a familiarization with Martin’s system which makes him a favorite for the starting nod.
After looking at a stat sheet from last season, it is no wonder the RedHawks were ranked 125th in the nation in rushing. The team’s leading rusher was the quarterback with a wide receiver occupying the second position. Spencer Treadwell returns as the team’s leading ‘running back’ after a dreadful 2013 season. Treadwell amassed 171 yards on 56 carries with his lone score coming against Marshall. Not exactly something to write home about.
However, the running back stable appears to still be empty entering the 2014 campaign.
Miami returns sophomore Grant Niemiec and Specer McInnis and welcomes freshman Paul Moses into the backfield with Treadwell. Collectively Niemiec and McInnis had 48 touches for 147 yards and one touchdown. With a position that is a must to help alleviate the pressure from a struggling passing game, keep looking if you thought this was the hidden clue to solving this puzzle.
Leading the way for the RedHawks will be senior Dawan Scott who returns as the team’s leading receiver and second leading rusher. Scott pulled in 28 catches for 425 yards and 2 TD’s and 231 yards on 37 carries. Joining Scott in the receiving unit is fellow senior David Frazier who was second on the team in receiving with 28 catches for 302 yards and 2 TD’s in only eight games.
Redshirt junior Alvonta Jenkins and sophomore Rokeem Williams look to provide an additional target within the unit. Miami adds two big bodies in the receiving core this season with hopes of improving its 10-of-19 (53 percent) redzone touchdown production from last season.
Redshirt sophomore Sam Shisso and freshman Chris Hudson stand 6-foot 5-inches 214 pounds and 6-foot 6-inches 259 pounds, respectfully, have received positive reviews for their production in the redzone during camp. Shisso had one catch for two yards last season in seven games. Hudson was a tight end at Hazard High School (KY) but has converted to a wide out in his first year at Miami. The true freshman caught 13 touchdowns his senior season which was third best among Kentucky Division 1A tight ends.
This is a position that is a total unknown for this season. Exiting is Steve Marck who played all 12 games while catching 12 passes for 133 yards and 2 TD’s and Dustin White’s 9 catches for 84 yards and a touchdown in 12 games.
Who is poised to take over? Notre Dame transfer Alex Welch stands at the head of the class. Welch played in 22 games in four seasons for the Irish catching only one pass for eight yards. He also turned in six special teams tackles. He much like Hendrix understands Martin’s offensive game plan.
Junior Orlando David looks to join Welch on the field after working on the practice squad last season. David played in 11 games and caught seven receptions his freshman year.
There is one word to sum up Miami’s offensive line last season, bad. With no blocking up front, the RedHawks saw the defense in the backfield almost as often as its own players. Not only was blocking an issue, finding a combination that worked well together never happened. Altogether, Miami used six different combinations in its first nine games.
Gone from the line is center John Anevski who started 11 games while Anevski started nine.
Senior Marcus Matthews looks to take over at center after playing in five games, three of which he started. Trevan Brown and Jeff Tanner returns as the most experienced linemen at left guard and tackle respectfully, playing in all 12 games and starting 10.
While the RedHawks return an experience left side, the right is not as fortunate. Collin Buchanan played in 10 games behind Lewis could be in line for a starting spot at right tackle while Wesley Scott, Brandyn Cook and Julian Green will compete at right guard, none of which played more than nine games last year.
Just like the old saying “speed kills”, so can an undersized line. Miami returns three defensive tackles whose average weight is 275 pounds. While this is not the worst problem to deal with, the defensive ends only average 234 pounds. Giving up 50-plus pounds on the ends could spell disaster for the RedHawks chances of controlling the line of scrimmage.
Junior Bryson Albright recorded a team-high five sacks last season and 55 tackles—11.5 for loss—returns to one defensive end while sophomore J’Terius Jones (Brown) provided three sacks and 26 tackles of his own. Collectively, the tandem accounted for 8-of-14 of the team’s sacks.
This biggest issue with the defensive line, it struggled much of the season to get a push into the backfield. Without anchors on the outside, much of the same can be expected from last season.
Working the middle of the line will be senior Mwanza Wamulumba, Jimmy Rousher and Mitchell Winters. Although all three played significant minutes last season, their tackling numbers were non-existent.
Considering the team’s three leading tacklers were two linebackers and a corner, the offense was able to bust past the undersized RedHawks defensive line.
Miami has two freshmen coming in this season but they appeared to be at the same level as what is already there. Games are won and lost at the line of scrimmage and until Miami upgrades its defensive line, several more losses are in its future.
If there is one shining spot on this team, this is it. Last season, the linebackers were responsible for 351-of-988 team tackles (35.5 percent). While Miami loses middle linebacker Chris Wade, the team’s fourth leading tackler, it returns a full collection of linebackers in juniors Kent Kern, Josh Dooley and Tyler Tucker.
Kern led the team in tackles with 98 including five for loss and Dooley finished third with 87 tackles. Tucker finished inside the top-10 with 50 tackles. The upside of their performance, although the rushing attack frequently busts into the second level, Miami’s linebackers tackle well, preventing the break-away run.
Miami allowed only one run of 50-plus yards (53 vs Ohio) and one of 40-plus (45 vs Kent State). The bad part of their performance, not a single interception was recorded and only a handful of pass breakups were made. If anything must change in this unit, this is it. Too many big plays happened through the air.
Much like the linebackers, several players return from 2013 in the RedHawks secondary. That is a good thing for a team searching for some form of consistency. However, possibly the biggest playmaker on the defensive side of the ball is gone in Dayonne Nunley. Nunley was second in tackles with 88 and had an interception to go along with 13 pass breakups. How big was Nunley? His 13 breakups were over one-third of the team’s total of 37.
With Nunley gone from the secondary, the duty of controlling the corner position falls solely on sophomore Heath Harding and senior Chrishawn Dupuy. Harding had a team-leading three interceptions and 56 tackles while Dupuy had two interceptions and 25 tackles. Of the team’s 10 interceptions last season, five belonged to Harding and Dupuy.
Another person who plans to throw his name into the mix at corner is Notre Dame transfer Lo Wood. Wood played in 32 games during his four seasons with the Fighting Irish, recording 19 tackles with his lone interception being returned for a 57-yard touchdown in a win over Maryland. Wood may not bring best stats, but he spent time with Martin at Norte Dame which benefits every member of a secondary unit that gave up several deep balls last year including one for 54 yards at Marshall, a season-long 88 yards at Kentucky and 75 yards at Ball State.
Should the trio of corners be able to lock down opposing receivers on the outside, safeties Brison Burris and Jay Mastin could take away the deep balls that showed itself in nearly every game last season. Both had an interception last season with Mastin’s coming against Marshall. With a combined 137 tackles, only 1.5 for a loss, says that the tandem was responsible for halting another score for the opposition.
Marshall Taylor returns to the secondary after redshirting all of last season. Taylor played in all but one game, starting 5-of-7 as a true freshman in 2012 in which he led all freshman with 40 tackles.
On a team that desperately relies on its kickers, 2014 brings yet another position with complete uncertainty. Gone are punters Zac Murphy and kicker Mason Krysinski. Murphy sailed 79 punts averaging 46.6 yards per kick. Murphy placed 25-of-79 punts inside the 20 while earning 18 fair catches and seven touchbacks
Krysinski had a lesser of a duty as he only tallied 30 kickoffs while averaging 54.3 yards per kick.
After the RedHawks special teams finished in the top-50 last season, place-kicker Kaleb Patterson finds himself the man who must carry the special teams forward. The junior was a perfect 12-of-12 on PAT’s and 7-of-11 on field goal attempts including booting a season-best 52-yard attempt that sailed through the uprights. Patterson has been cool under pressure his entire career at Miami. In his freshman season, Patterson connected on a game-winning field goal in the final two minutes to knock of No. 23 Ohio.
Reports from camp have Patterson consistently connecting from 50-plus yards which provides some hope for an offense that struggled to break 100 points all season. Patterson may not be the answer to all of the RedHawks problems, but he certainly will help.
The return team consists of senior J.J. Greenwood and sophomore Fred McRae. Greenwood split kickoff returns with McRae while McRae handled 12-of-15 punt returns last season. While neither did anything extraordinary in the return game, McRae possesses the speed to break off a big gain if he finds daylight in front of him.
Miami opens its season August 30th as it plays host to Marshall. While Marshall struggled early with Miami in last season's matchup in Huntington, the Herd pulled away after being tied at 14 at the half for a 52-14 win.