After a disappointing start that had fans seriously discussing whether Don Treadwell should be replaced with an unemployed Mike Haywood in December, the Miami RedHawks find themselves tied atop the MAC East and in control of their destiny: winning out means a division title and a shot at repeating as MAC champions. They say that a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step, and on Thursday, the RedHawks take that first step against Akron. After the jump, we take a look at the (completely subjective) top five storylines going into tomorrow's game.
Has Miami discovered an offense? After suffering a losing streak going back to the Bush administration, Miami offensive coordinator John Klacik is 3-1 in his last four games, with two of those wins -- Army and Buffalo -- featuring an offensive explosion, at least by Klacik standards. In fact, Saturday's win against Buffalo was an offensive explosion by any standards, with Zac Dysert tying Sam Ricketts' and Ben Roethlisberger's Miami record by throwing five touchdowns as the RedHawks steamrolled the Bulls for a 41-13 win. Although the characteristically tight-lipped Don Treadwell hasn't broached the topic in press conferences, there's widespread speculation that he might have taken play-calling duties away from Klacik. But even if that's the case, there were a few puzzling decisions. First, Erik Finklea, previously the lead man on the RedHawks' tailback-by-committee, didn't see a single carry against Buffalo, and there's been no word on why that happened. Second, with Dysert perfect on the game in the second quarter, Austin Boucher came in for one series. He handed the ball off twice and nearly threw an interception. The coaches had planned to get Boucher some reps last week, but why they chose to do it when Dysert was 9/9 for 3 TDs and over 180 yards is beyond me. A repeat of last week's performance against a Zips team that, as Elton Alexander might say, is not exactly stellar defensively would go a long way toward restoring confidence in the offense.
Just how bad is Akron? The Zips come into tomorrow's game at 1-7, the only team without a conference win, their lone victory coming against the awful-even-by-I-AA-standards VMI Keydets. The Zips are giving up 33 points a game in MAC play, and rank near the bottom of the conference with 419 total yards allowed per game. (Curiously, they're second in conference play in passing yards allowed per game, but that probably has something to do with their allowing 234 yards each week on the ground.) And the offense isn't much better: the Zips have scored at a 17.5-point clip in conference, surpassing only lowly Kent State, and come in next-to-last to Kent State in total offensive yardage as well. (Miami comes in third-to-last, but, as we said above, that might be turning around.) Although MAC parity rears its ugly head every single week, it's safe to say that an Akron win here would be a head-turning upset, and it would certainly go a long way toward helping Rob Ianello stick around for a third year.
What about Miami's schizophrenic defense? The RedHawks held a solid Mizzou team to a respectable 17 points, then the wheels fell off: they gave up 29 to a terrible Minnesota team (living in Minneapolis, I've watched the Gophers all season; Iowa notwithstanding, they are a bad team), let Bowling Green and Cincinnati go up and down the field, and couldn't defend Army until a late comeback. But the defense looked like world-beaters against Kent State, then turned around and let Toledo hang 49. And then last week happened: after the first four possessions made it look like Buffalo and Miami would have a Toledo-NIU shootout, the RedHawks went into total lockdown mode, shutting out the Bulls over the last three quarters. It's impossible to say in advance which Miami defense will show up tomorrow, but Akron's anemic attack is about the best the RedHawks could hope for in this short week.
Will the development of Clayton Moore continue? Jawon Chisholm, rightly so, gets the most notice on the Zips' offense. He's getting 90 yards a game in conference play as a freshman, and will likely only do better in years to come. But Clayton Moore (Hi-yo Silver!) is the quarterback, and the more interesting story. Moore originally committed to Ole Miss, had his scholarship offer revoked after an altercation with his high school coach, threw himself at Syracuse but didn't get an offer, went to Ole Miss as a walk-on, left for junior college, and ended up at Akron, where he could immediately play for multiple-Heisman-winner Ron Powlus's offense. But the season has been one of growing pains for Moore: though he was trained as a spread quarterback and played in junior college as a spread quarterback, the Zips run a pro-style offense. That said, although he's not about to be All-MAC, he's definitely come along this season. A solid effort against a Miami defense coming off arguably its best performance of the year so far could be a milestone development in Moore's career, and would definitely bode well for Akron going forward.
The incestuous MAC coaching world. In 2000, Akron tied for a MAC division title for the first time, the Zips' bright spot under head coach Lee Owens, who was subsequently fired and took over at D-II Ashland. Miami's quarterback that season was Mike Bath, who went on to become an assistant in the Shane Montgomery regime before Mike Haywood's house-cleaning. Things worked out well for Bath, though, because he went from being the RedHawks' tight ends coach to being the offensive coordinator at . . . Ashland, under Lee Owens. Mike Haywood's house-cleaning, of course, led to Shane Montgomery being dismissed, but he stuck around in the MAC too, catching on as offensive coordinator at . . . Akron, under J.D. Brookhart. It's all one tangled web between Miami and Akron.
And a prediction? The line opened at Miami -14.5. I say the RedHawks win 35-13.