It was quite the journey but the Miami RedHawks (7-5, 6-2 MAC) claimed their first outright MAC East title under Chuck Martin in 2019, and will represent the division against the Central Michigan Chippewas. Miami faced a long, arduous road early in the season but this particular road helped craft a resilient, gritty squad that is more than capable of taking home the conference title for the first time since 2010.
The nonconference slate for the ‘Hawks in 2019 did them no favors as three of the four games were against teams who went on to be ranked (and in Ohio State’s case, became the national frontrunner). Miami began the campaign at Iowa City where Brett Gabbert became the first true freshman to start at quarterback in program history, but ultimately fell 38-14 after a strong start.
After routing Tennessee Tech 48-17, Miami fell to rival Cincinnati 35-13 despite having a 10-0 lead in the first quarter. The RedHawks ended the nonconference schedule in an anticlimactic fashion as they got walloped 76-5 by the Buckeyes (which doesn’t seem quite as bad in retrospect since OSU has walloped everyone this year).
The following week, Miami opened MAC play in dominant fashion as it held Buffalo to 89 passing yards and took the ball away four times en route to a 34-20 victory. Turnovers played a big role the following week as Gabbert threw three interception as Miami fell to Western Michigan 38-16.
The following three-game stretch was the turning point in the season for the ‘Hawks as they earn one-possession victories over Northern Illinois (27-24), Kent State (23-16), and Ohio (24-21). During that stretch, Gabbert didn’t throw a single interception, the defense recorded four turnovers, and Sam Sloman made all three of his attempts in the fourth quarters of those games.
Miami could do no wrong against Bowling Green in its 44-3 romp, and a loss by Buffalo clinched the MAC East title for the RedHawks. The offense had a bit of a hangover against Akron, but a program-record sacks (six of those from Ivan Pace) won the day for the RedHawks in a 20-17 nailbiter. It was the opposite scenario the following week as the Red and White seemingly had no answer for a good Ball State offense, as the Cardinals came away with their first Redbird Rivalry victory by a final margin of 41-27.
Players to Watch
One key player to watch for in the MAC Championship Game is quarterback Brett Gabbert. Gabbert has certainly improved as a passer over the course of the season as he boasts a 7-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio since the WMU game and was on pace for a career day against Ball State (6-8, 116 yards, and a touchdown) before being sat down for the second half, which is the right call when you’ve got a conference championship to play for. The key for Gabbert against CMU is to not force the ball into tight coverage against a defense that has registered 11 interceptions in conference play, which is tops in the MAC.
Two players that will have their work cut out for them against the number-one passing offense in the MAC are Doug Costin and Travion Banks. Costin is a disruptive force on the defensive line with his 9.5 TFLs in MAC play, while Banks’s three interceptions and five pass break-ups have been assets in the Miami secondary. There are many more RedHawk defenders that can have an impact Saturday (Pace, Sterling Weatherford, Manny Rugamba, Bart Baratti, etc.) but those are the two that have to make their presence felt.
- Passing totals: 149-of-279 (53.4 percent), 2,051 yards, 7.35 yards per attempt, 13.95 yards per attempt, 10 touchdown and 10 interceptions. 170.9 yards per game average (115th in FBS)
- Rushing totals: 461 carries for 1,654 yards, 19 rushing touchdowns. 3.59 yards per attempt, 137.8 yards per game average (99th in FBS)
- Redzone offense: 34-of-39 total, 21 touchdowns (15 rush, six pass), 13 field goals (48th in FBS)
- First downs/third down conversion rate: 179 first downs (84 rush, 78 pass, 17 penalties) (128th in FBS); 56-of-172 (32.6 percent) on third down (117th in FBS)
- Scoring offense: 24.6 points per game (96th in FBS)
- Opponent passing totals: 213-of-367 (58 percent), 2,427 yards, 23 touchdowns, 10 interceptions (t-54th in FBS), three pick-sixes (t-3rd in FBS), 6.61 yards per attempts, 11.39 yards per completion, 202.3 yards allowed per average (36th in FBS)
- Opponent rushing totals: 513 carries for 2,164 yards, 21 rushing touchdowns, 4.22 yards per attempt, 180.3 yards per game average (87th in FBS)
- Sacks/tackles for loss: 35 sacks for 217 yards, averaging 2.92 per game (t-18 in FBS); 102 tackles-for-loss for an average of 8.5 TFL per game (5th in FBS)
- Redzone defense: 35-of-44, 27 touchdowns (15 rush, 12 pass), eight field goals (38th in FBS)
- First downs/third down conversion rate: 263 first downs (126 rush, 112 pass, 25 penalties) (t-t-90th in FBS); 70-of-174 (40.2 percent) on third down (77th in FBS)
- Scoring defense: 28.8 points per game (t-72nd in FBS)