With all the storylines from last weekend in the MAC, it was easy to forget about the Miami RedHawks as they had their bye week last week. Miami returns to action this weekend on the road against a Western Michigan team that put up a good fight against Toledo last Saturday. To get caught back up with Miami football, we talked with Chris Vinel, sports editor of The Miami Student, to get a sense of where the program is and where it is likely headed.
Hustle Belt: How is the buzz on campus for Miami football at this point in the season?
Chris Vinel: Miami football is not the hottest topic on campus. Hockey season started last Sunday, so any sports buzz has shifted to that. Most students lost faith in the football RedHawks after the 76-5 beatdown at Ohio State. The following week, the attendance for their home game against Buffalo was putrid. The athletic department released an attendance figure of 18,419, but my eyes told me it was about a third of that. To bring attention back to football, Miami will have to make a run at the Mid-American Conference title.
HB: How things shaping up on the injury front for the RedHawks?
CV: Earlier this week, Chuck Martin told me his team’s bye week paid off. His team is the healthiest it has been since the opening week. Several players remain questionable for Western Michigan. Some will miss the game.
Redshirt junior wide receiver Jack Sorenson was a limited participant in practice Tuesday, but he wasn’t wearing a brace on the leg that’s been bothering him. He sported a helmet but didn’t wear pads and didn’t partake in any contact. Martin said the offensive line could be missing three starters or it could be at full strength. He wasn’t sure yet, but he said redshirt senior Matt Skibinski is the closest to returning.
Bottom line: The injury situation that Martin called “horrendous” a couple weeks ago is rapidly improving. Miami is its most complete since Week One.
HB: As someone on the football beat, what has been your experience in working with the coaching staff?
CV: In terms of them being receptive to my questions, they’ve been fine. Chuck Martin is the only coach I deal with on a regular basis, but he’s the most underrated interview in college football. Everyone knows about his “recess’ quote about Ohio State a few weeks back, but he offers golden nuggets in almost every press conference and interview. So, from my perspective, he’s been great. He tries to guard only injury information, but he’s open on most other topics.
HB: In your opinion, what has been the biggest surprise for Miami so far in 2019?
CV: Inconsistent defense. Period.
Entering the season, I expected Miami’s passing game to struggle under the leadership of a first-year starting quarterback. I didn’t think it had enough weapons to appropriately support the new signal-caller. The offensive unit has performed slightly better than I thought it was going to.
I thought the experienced Miami defense would anchor the team, but it’s been suspect so far. The only exception is the RedHawks’ victory over Buffalo two weeks ago. That day’s unit racked up five turnovers, allowed just 20 points and performed closer to what I expected it to look like. It bent – the Bulls rushed for 309 yards – but it didn’t break, and that’s the perfect strategy for this defense. The pass rush has been solid in spurts this season, and when the coverage hangs with the receivers for a couple seconds, it has posed problems for opponents. Other than the two matchups with Big 10 teams, the pass defense has been decent. The run stoppers have allowed every team not named FCS Tennessee Tech to rush for more than 200 yards. This week, Western Michigan tailback LeVante Bellamy will be a good litmus test to gauge the unit’s effectiveness in the MAC.
Many of the struggles are due to the competition from the first four weeks, so I expect it to even out as the season goes on.
HB: How do you see the season shaping up the rest of the way this season?
CV: I think Chuck Martin makes another Chuck Martin-esque run through the MAC East. Miami shook off rough starts in 2016 and 2018, and challenged for the MAC East crown. This year, I think the RedHawks will do the same thing. Six or 7 wins is completely reasonable. They won six games last year, and without the injuries they suffered, they probably would’ve won seven or eight. Now that this year’s RedHawks are getting close to full strength, health remains the key. If Jaylon Bester and Bart Baratti go down against the Broncos and miss a few weeks, Miami will suffer and probably not reach that six or seven win total. If the team stays relatively healthy, they have a shot at topping the division.