As heavy underdogs in Mobile, AL, the Miami RedHawks put forth a valiant effort against the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns. But costly fourth quarter mistakes ultimately prevented the MAC champions from winning their first bowl game in nine years. Louisiana emerged on top after college football’s penultimate game, besting Miami (OH), 27-17 in the LendingTree Bowl.
Gabbert delivers best performance yet
No stage is too big for the true freshman, and Brett Gabbert proved that Monday night. He completed 16 of his first 17 passes, accumulating 121 yards through the air on such attempts. He was often called upon to face contact on 3rd and short situations, and he ran the QB sneak fairly effectively behind the RedHawks’ offensive line. Overall, Gabbert threw for 248 yards (his third best of the season) on 71% completions (his best of the season, min. 10 attempts). He didn’t deliver a touchdown pass, but set up all of Miami’s scoring drives by consistently throwing first down balls. He also didn’t throw an interception in his bowl debut.
Bester’s carry controversially overturned as fumble
Miami never trailed in the first half until 65 seconds were left on the second quarter clock. The RedHawks’ defense stuffed Louisiana’s typically-dominant rushing offense through the early going of the LendingTree Bowl. But the Ragin’ Cajuns offense finally gained a rhythm and scored touchdowns on three-consecutive drives to end the second quarter and start the third.
Still, the RedHawks managed to withstand this scoring barrage by chipping in 10 points on their first two drives of a quick second half. By forcing a three-and-out while trailing 24-17, Chuck Martin’s team earned a golden opportunity to aim for the tie. The hopeful-tying drive gained 26 yards before approaching a 3rd and 2 from the Miami (OH) 46. The RedHawks handed it to Jaylon Bester, and the running back gained one yard on the ground, bringing up 4th and 1. The offense remained on the field, but the play was under further review.
Here's all the angles they showed on the TV broadcast, for what it's worth. A potetially HUGE created turnover awarded to UL-Lafayette, previously called a down runner for Miami. pic.twitter.com/tUS1HXbAO5— Hustle Belt (@HustleBelt) January 7, 2020
After minutes of referees replaying the tape, the play was shockingly overturned into a Miami fumble recovered by Louisiana. Considering officials need conclusive, indisputable evidence to overturn such a call, the decision was a surprise to many. After the fumble, the RedHawks never received the ball within one score of the Ragin’ Cajuns again.
It certainly wasn’t the first controversial call involving Bester’s knee being down, as one of his touchdown runs was previously overturned. However, he scored on the ensuing play, making his overturned touchdown all for naught.
Here’s what Twitter had to say on Bester’s carry which was ruled a fumble:
Oh my heavens is replay broken. Another terrible overturn in this Miami/Louisiana game. Ruling on field that runner was down before fumbling. No way to tell on every angle, yet they call it a fumble. Miami gets jobbed.— Matt McCoy (@MattMcCoyRadio) January 7, 2020
Miami bit by a bad replay overturn call. Found a fumble where there wasn't one.— Jason Arkley (@JasonAmessenger) January 7, 2020
Ruled down initially, then it became a turnover.
Worst call of the entire 2019-20 @NCAAFootball Bowl Season so far goes to @Martin_Miami_HC. Down 27-17 vs @RaginCajunsFB with 4th & Goal at the 1 YD line & over 3:00 to play, he elects to go for it and the snap is a disaster resulting in a fumble. #GameOver— Rick Henderson (@Florida_Owl) January 7, 2020
Maye withstands tackling effort until jersey elastic gives in
Here's the whole 63-yard passing play from Brett Gabbert to James Maye to set up the RedHawks inside the Ragin' Cajuns two-yard line! #LendingTreeBowl pic.twitter.com/KjmXumc5oI— Hustle Belt (@HustleBelt) January 7, 2020
It was the longest play of the LendingTree Bowl. The previously play featured an interception, but a pass interference call on Louisiana extended Miami’s drive and gave the RedHawks new life. They made the most of it.
Gabbert received adequate protection and air mailed one to wide receiver James Maye. Maye slightly reduced his speed to secure the ball, allowing a Ragin’ Cajun defender to catch up. The defender dove for Maye, holding on to the back of his jersey. The jersey continued to stretch and Maye kept the legs driving, but ultimately the force of the defender on the ground was too much for Maye to overcome. The thrilling 63-yard play set Miami perfectly in field position, trailing by 10 with roughly four minutes remaining.
If Maye powers through the jersey elastic and reaches past the goal line, the entire landscape of the game changes.
Absolute meltdown by the goal line
Maye’s catch seemed certain to transition into a Miami score with the way the RedHawks moved the ball in short yardage situations earlier in the night. Bester already trudged through contact to score each of the RedHawks’ touchdowns, and his team only needed two yards to register another touchdown.
First down, incomplete pass. Second down, incomplete pass. Third down, Bester picks up one yard. And then, fourth down arrives.
Here’s Miami’s disastrous sequence, summarized and in video form: https://t.co/Xntpl4XcB9— Hustle Belt (@HustleBelt) January 7, 2020
Miami lines up in the pistol formation. Bester is the only back behind Gabbert. One receiver is wide and three other receivers/tight ends are stacked on the left side near the line of scrimmage. Whatever was supposed to happen here will remain a mystery.
A low line-drive snap flies right past Gabbert, and the quarterback stumbles as soon as the ball travels past him. Bester leads a pack of seven players hunting for the ball (two RedHawks, five Ragin’ Cajuns), scoops it up and is immediately tackled before he can escape the horde of Louisiana defenders. With four shots from the 2-yard line, the RedHawks come up empty-handed and lose 22 yards in the process. The meltdown after Maye’s highlight catch served as a brutal end to a promising season for the MAC champions.
Regardless, the RedHawks finished with a winning record for the first time since 2010 at 8-6. Three of the team’s six losses were to team’s bound to finish in the AP Top 25 (Ohio State, Iowa, Cincinnati). Even with the crushing loss to Louisiana in the LendingTree Bowl, Miami attained the pinnacle of its success thus far in the Chuck Martin era and did so with a young roster. Until at least next December, the RedHawks are the kings of the Mid-American Conference.