This season’s Battle of the Bricks features two teams that would like to get back on track as the Miami RedHawks (0-4) and the Ohio Bobcats (2-2) have had their fair share of struggles in 2016. Miami’s young team have lost three one-score games in a row while Ohio had to deal with the departure of J.D. Sprague prior to the season as well as a rash of injuries during the Tennessee game.
Miami had some great individual performances in 2016, but have yet to put it all together as a team. James Gardner is off to an incredible start with 18 receptions for 336 yards and five touchdowns while Billy Bahl has made some big plays on his way to 1,103 yards, eight TDs, and two interceptions. However, the offensive line play has been inconsistent with 15 sacks given up and less than 100 rushing yards for the first time against Cincinnati.
The defense for the RedHawks had its moments this season, but hasn’t had those timely stops you need to have when you want to be a good team. Brad Koenig and Junior McMullen have been playmakers at linebacker with 6.5 tackles for loss, two sack, and a pick between them while Tony Reid leads the team with three pass break-ups. The red zone defense has been a big problem for the ‘Hawks with 80% of red zone possessions resulting in points, and 60% of those resulting in touchdowns.
Meanwhile, Ohio has been very good at managing the game and winning the field position battle as its average starting field position has been at the 34-yard line. Greg Windham and Quinton Maxwell have both seen snaps at quarterback due to Sprague’s departure and they have done an admirable job, combining for 1,100 yards passing, 317 rushing (excluding sacks), 10 total scores, and three turnovers. The rushing attack has been good too, as four ballcarriers each have 20+ rushes for 100+ yards.
The Bobcats’ defense has the ability to be great, but giving up 10 red zone touchdowns in 12 trips has to be disappointing for that group. Quentin Poling is a threat to be MAC Defensive Player of the Year with 28.5 tackles, four TFLs, half of a sack, and a forced fumble. The ‘Cats have a couple more playmakers in Tarell Basham and Javon Hagan, who have three sack and three picks respectively.
For Miami to get their first win of the season, it has to manage the game on offense. Losing the turnover battle or the field position battle would be devastating for a team that struggles to methodically move the ball. The RedHawks also needs to finish drives in the red zone and give their defense some room for error for once.
In order for Ohio to start MAC play on the right foot, it needs to commit to the ground game early. Miami’s run defense has yet to play a complete game this season, and the Bobcats should have plenty of opportunities on the ground. Defensively, OU needs to take the big play away and make the RedHawks sustain long drives to beat them. That offense is not quite ready to put a lot of methodical drives together, so taking players like Gardner away will be crucial down the stretch.