The topsy-turvy nature of the MAC this season continued Saturday as the Miami RedHawk offense that was dormant in the first half against the Northern Illinois Huskies registered 20 points in the second half to take the 27-24 victory in the Mallory Cup. However, what does the game mean to both teams moving forward?
One of the keys of the game Saturday was the play of Miami’s defense. As a team, it recorded nine TFLs, five pass break-ups, and a pair of sacks in game where it made more plays than NIU’s defense (four TFLs, two PBUs, and a sack). When you hold teams to 2.7 yards per rush and under seven yards per pass attempt, you’re going to have a chance to win most games.
Brett Gabbert certainly made things happen as he went 15-28 for 273 passing yards and a score while also leading the team in rushing for 42 yards. Being able to hit the big passing plays made a difference as the team had nearly 10 yards per attempt through the air with Jalen Walker and James Maye being the beneficiaries with 200+ receiving yards on nine receptions between them. Running for only two yards per carry isn’t going to be sustainable for success, but Miami let Gabbert loose and found a way to win.
With the unfortunate injury to Ross Bowers in the second quarter, Marcus Childers kept the Huskies in the game with 144 yards passing and a score along with 27 yards on the ground. Were it not for a missed field goal for NIU, Childers might’ve had a chance to win the game in overtime so QB play didn’t let the Huskies down. Bowers’s health will be something to watch going forward and it’ll be interesting to see how NIU handles the QB situation.
When you have an injury to your starting quarterback, you need your other capable players to step up to lift your team and that didn’t happen for NIU Saturday. Tre Harbison was held to 83 yards on 26 carries while the defense got ate up by a true freshman quarterback, and you can’t afford to miss field goals when you’re shorthanded. This was a team loss and the Huskies have to right the ship quick in a loaded MAC West.
Miami now has a fascinating slate of games now that it has a share of the MAC East lead. The next two weeks, the ‘Hawks hit the road to take on fellow division leaders in Kent State and Ohio while a home game with a capable Bowling Green squad looms after those games. After Akron, Miami concludes the regular season with a Ball State team who has yet to lose in MAC play. Meanwhile, the home stretch for NIU will define its season since after Akron, it hits the road for CMU and Toledo before finishing the season at home with EMU and WMU.