As the weather gets colder, the #MACtion gets hotter as we’ve got a conference tilt that has ramifications for both divisions. The Miami RedHawks (2-3, 1-0 MAC) are one of three unbeatens in conference play in the MAC East (with Ohio and Kent State being the other two) while the Western Michigan Broncos (3-3, 1-1 MAC) would like to get back on track after a loss to Toledo. The two teams locked horns last year in a thriller, with the game being decided by a missed Miami field goal at the end of the game.
For Miami, the general health of the team is the biggest concern right now. The ‘Hawks paid the price for victory against Buffalo as multiple players exiting the game, to the point where three freshmen were playing on the offensive line. However, the bye week has been beneficial per Chris Vinel of The Miami Student so we should expect a Miami team that’s fairly close to full strength.
If you’re a Miami fan, the match-up you need to pay close attention to is the RedHawk rushing attack vs. the defense of the Broncos. Last week, WMU got gashed for 275 rushing yards against UT and the defense has looked like a liability in the early going of the season. On the flip side, Miami could only muster 145 rushing yards against a good-not-great Buffalo defense. Stopping the run has to be a priority for the Broncos as giving the Miami offense balance and allowing Brett Gabbert opportunities for big plays off of play-action is not a recipe for success.
After seeing the RedHawk defense surrender 300+ yards on the ground against Buffalo, LeVante Bellamy and the Broncos’ offense have to be looking forward against testing the defense on the ground. Bellamy has 629 rushing yards and eight touchdowns this season, and WMU’s offense revolves around the run game so containing Bellamy and forcing Jon Wassink to test the opportunistic secondary of the ‘Hawks has to be the objective for Miami’s defense.
Special teams may prove to be the difference in this game. Western’s units struggled against UT with averaging 36.8 yards per punt and having a field goal blocked. Keith Mixon Jr. is a dangerous return man with 95 yards on three kickoff returns against the Rockets. Meanwhile, the third phase is a big reason why Miami beat Buffalo as Kyle Kramer pinned the Bulls inside their own 20-yard line five times, Sam Sloman had seven touchbacks on kickoff, and the punt coverage was solid with 20 yards allowed on two return attempts. If the game turns into a field position battle, the RedHawks have a decisive advantage.
Ultimately, the game will come down to who can take better care of the ball. With WMU’s experience in these types of games, Wassink should have the advantage over a true freshman quarterback. However, if Miami’s defense can continue to force offenses into making mistakes like it did against Buffalo, the RedHawk offense can score off of those turnovers and put WMU in a bind with field position. The game should make for an entertaining match-up as we march further into MAC play.