Wednesday night is a rivalry night as the Ohio Bobcats (6-3, 4-1 MAC) heads to southwest Ohio to take on the Miami RedHawks (3-6, 3-2 MAC) in the 95th game in the Battle of the Bricks rivalry. It is a rivalry that has been dominated by Ohio since Frank Solich arrived in Athens as he boasts a 11-2 record against the Red and White despite Miami having a 52-40-2 edge over the course of the series. The 2018 game has big implications for the MAC East as both teams are trying to keep pace with a Buffalo squad that has yet to taste defeat in conference play this season. The game is particularly significant for the RedHawks as a loss ends any hope of a bowl game this season.
Ohio has been playing great football since its crushing 24-21 loss to NIU as it has eviscerated everyone else since then by downing Bowling Green (49-14), Ball State (52-14), and Western Michigan (59-14). OU has done it with balance as the duo of A.J. Ouellette and Maleek Irons have combined for 148.2 rushing yards per game in MAC play while Nathan Rourke has established himself as the most efficient passer in the league with 1,028 yards, 11 touchdowns, and three interceptions in those games in addition to being a rushing threat himself. Papi White is the go-to receiver for the ‘Cats with his 42 receptions for 706 yards and seven scores.
Defensively speaking, the Bobcats are opportunistic as they have forced a MAC-high 14 takeaways in league games this season. Evan Croutch is a playmaker in the middle of that defense with 6.5 TFLs, two picks, and a sack while his 55 tackles tie with safety Javon Hagan for most on the team as Hagan also adds two interceptions into the mix.
Meanwhile, Miami has been playing well offensively since it entered MAC play as the fewest amount of points it scored in a league game was 31 against Kent State. Gus Ragland has been his efficient self this season with 60.2% of his passes complete to the tune of 2,082 yards, 15 touchdowns and three interceptions. The return of Alonzo Smith in the backfield provided a lift for the RedHawk running game as the team rushed for 140 yards and five scores against Buffalo. Also, Jack Sorenson and Kenny Young have been big-play targets in the passing game as they have combined for 73 catches for 901 yards and six touchdowns.
Miami’s defense will be a handful for Ohio as the ‘Hawks boast the league’s second-best run defense in MAC play with 3.2 yards allowed per carry despite injuries in key spots (i.e. defensive tackle Nate Trawick, inside linebacker Junior McMullen, defensive back DeAndre Montgomery). Brad Koenig has been having a special season at inside linebacker as the former walk-on has registered 82 tackles, nine TFLs, four sacks, three interceptions, three forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery in 2018. The back end of the defense has struggled against some of the better MAC offenses but Joshua Allen and Zedrick Raymond have been solid all season with five pass breakups each.
As far as special teams are concerned, no team has a distinct advantage in the third phase. Both teams have explosive kickoff return units (Miami: 28 yards per return, Ohio: 24.2 yards per return) and have fantastic coverage units (both are top two in the league in net yards on kickoff and punt in MAC games). However, neither team has done much on punt return this season (Miami: 2.6 yards per return, Ohio: 4.8 yards per return) so both offenses will likely have to face long fields in order to score.
For Ohio to win, it needs to take away the inside run of Miami to force the RedHawks to be one-dimensional and it needs to have some success throwing the ball to keep the defense and the pass rush off-balanced. Miami can win this game if it’s able to contain the multiple rushing threats of Ohio and make the smart safe throws to sustain drives. This is a game that Ohio should win on paper, but I would not be shocked at all if Miami showed out with its back against the wall in a rivalry game. 23-17 Ohio in a defensive struggle.