The Miami RedHawks (7-5, 6-2 MAC) won the MAC East title two weeks ago, courtesy of one of the biggest fourth-quarter comebacks in NCAA history when Kent State took out a 20+ point deficit to win their game against Buffalo courtesy of a 44-yard Matthew Trickett field goal. The RedHawks, who had a brutal non-conference slate that featured three ranked opponents in Iowa, Ohio State and rival Cincinnati, rebounded in conference play to secure the MAC East.
Their win on national primetime television against blood rival Ohio in the Battle of the Bricks to celebrate the 150th birthday of college football propelled them into the driver’s seat in the MAC East, with a 34-20 win over Buffalo in Week 5 already in their pocket.
They’ve won a lot of games the hard way: four of their seven wins were within eight points, with three of those wins coning in the midst of a five-game conference winning streak, which took the RedHawks from a middling 3-4 to 7-4 with the division in hand.
Their performance secured them their first MAC Championship bid since 2010, a year in RedHawk history which deserves a bit of a retrospective. (Especially if we want to understand the significance of CMU’s run this year.)
The 2010 Miami RedHawks were a team with no expectations. They were under a second-year head coach in Michael Haywood, and coming of a horrid 1-11 season in 2009. It was a bit of a surprise, then, when they came out 3-3 in their first six games, including two wins over MAC foes in Eastern Michigan and Kent State to give them the MAC East lead early in the season.
The RedHawks, after losing to rival Ohio to fall to 3-1 in conference play, the RedHawks went on an absolute tear, winning the remaining four games to finish 9-3 (7-1 MAC) to represent the East in the MAC Championship Game against the 23rd-ranked budding media darling NIU.
Leading the way at quarterback for most of the 2010 season was Zach Dysert. Dysert, only a sophomore at the time, finished the season 222-of-343 for 2,436 yards, 13 touchdowns and 12 interceptions on the season, but it wasn’t him who finished the year under center. Backup QB Austin Boucher took over for the RedHawks after Dysert lacerated his spleen during the victory at Bowling Green, forcing the redshirt freshman into action prematurely. With the MAC East in the balance, Boucher went 2-0 and helped the RedHawks secure the MAC East. He finished 99-of-155 for 1,120 yards, six touchdowns and three interceptions in 2010 over four starts (all victories) and five appearances.
The RedHawks were a team which liked to help keep balance on offense, as seen in the average snaps per play for passing and rushing. Thomas Merriweather shouldered the load on the ground; he finished the 2010 season with 921 yards on 176 carries and scored 12 touchdowns. Tracy Woods also helped as a spell back, with 376 yards for 94 carries and a rushing score. As a unit, Miami averaged about 98 yards per game on 31 carries, using it primarily as a way to keep possession.
On the receiving end, Armand Robinson was far-and-away the RedHawks’ best position player, picking up 94 receptions for 1,062 yards for six touchdowns in the 2010 season, 30 more receptions and 191 yards more than the second-leading receiver (Nick Harwell.) It was a passing offense which emphasized sharing reps; at least five different Miami receivers had more than 25 receptions on the season, with the unit collecting 17 touchdowns on the year. The RedHawks averaged 11.6 first downs through the air, which is a fairly productive number of conversions.
Defensively, the RedHawks were lead by linebacker Jerrel Wedge (101 tackles, 15 tackles-for-loss, 3.5 sacks, one interception, three forced fumbles and a fumble recovery) and battery mate Evan Davis (94 total tackles, 9.5 loss-for-tackles, two sacks), who led Miami as one of its best pass coverage players with six interceptions, incuding a pick-six, and three passes defensed.)
The secondary was one of the best at causing takeaways in the MAC, and was pace by future NFL’er Dayonne Nunely (51 tackles, six tackles-for-loss, six interceptions.) As a unit, the defensive backs collected 14 interceptions and 15 passes defensed in the 2010 season between Pat Hinkel, DJ Brown, Jordan Gafford, Anthony Kokal and Brandon Stevens, helping Miami gain a reputation as one of the better havoc defenses in the MAC.
On special teams, Miami had gone through a couple different placekickers and punters, but for the most part, Trevor Cook (16-of-23 on field goals) handled kicking duties and Zac Murphy (59 punts, 2,305 yards, 39.1 net yard average) handled punt duties.
It was a good bit of work to reach the 2010 MAC Championship Game, and the RedHawks faced the prospect of having to beat a nationally-ranked NIU squad with their backup QB in order to be able to claim the trophy.
It turns out, they were up to the task.
The RedHawks were first to score, with Thomas Merriweather converting on a one-yard run to put Miami up 6-0 after a failed PAT. (That came into account later.)
NIU responded with a quick score thanks to a nice 69-yard pass from Chandler Harnish to Martel Moore to put the Huskies up 7-6. Miami answered soon after, with a Tracy Woods seven-yard run to push the score to 13-7, a lead that would be instantly be dashed by another Harnish-to-Moore long pass to put NIU up 14-13 just before the end of the half.
Thomas Merriweather was the only score for either side in the third quarter, capping off a drive with a one-yard rushing touchdown to put Miami up 20-14 with 9:54 to go in the quarter, a lead they would hold until Harnish connected with Willie Clark from 39 yards out with 14:54 to go in the game to go up 21-20.
After a couple empty possessions for both teams, Miami found themselves having to lead a last-minute drive to win the game thanks in part to a legendary fourth-and-20 conversion:
Austin Boucher, the hero of the season, put up one of the best performances of his career, going 29-of-46 for 333 yards and a game-winning touchdown to Armand Robinson.
Three of Miami’s four touchdowns were on the ground, with Merriweather (85 yards on 11 carries) nabbing two, and Tracy Woods (26 yards on five carries) contrinuting one.
Robinson, as he had all season, provided a security blanket for Boucher, picking up 176 of the 333 passing yards on 14 receptions.
The defense came up stout in the passing game, with five passes defensed between four different players. Evan Harris and Ryan Kennedy picked up sacks for the Miami defense, while Jerrel Wedge (nine tackles) and Pat Hinkel (eight total tackles) led the team in tackles. The defense allowed only 373 yards, including 92 rushing yards on 32 carries with no touchdowns.
This game saw some of the first snaps of one Jordan Lynch for NIU, who saw five carries for 26 yards against the RedHawks wearing the #14 jersey as a redshirt freshman.
The RedHawks would go on to win the first edition of the GoDaddy.com Bowl in Mobile, Alabama against the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders to finish the season at 11-2, becoming the first team in FBS history to go from 1-11 to a 10+ win season.
The present-day Miami RedHawks will look to pull off the upset against the Central Michigan Chippewas, who seek to repeat the very feat the 2010 RedHawks pulled off, when they face one another at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan, at noon Eastern Saturday.