- Time and date: Saturday, October 15 at 12:30 p.m. ET
- Network: ESPN+
- Location: Doyt L. Perry Stadium — Bowling Green, OH
- Spread: Miami (OH) (-6.5)
- ESPN FPI: Miami (OH) has 67.0% chance to win
- All-time series: Miami (OH) leads, 46-24-5
- Last meeting: Miami (OH) 34, Bowling Green 7 — November 16, 2021
- Current streak: Miami (OH), 3 (2018-21)
Setting the scene
Saturday’s early slate features a MAC East matchup between two of the conference’s many bird mascots. Fresh off a quality upset over Kent State, Miami (OH) (3-3, 1-1 MAC) aims to improve to above-.500 territory in a road trip to Bowling Green (2-4, 1-1 MAC). But if the Falcons defend their home turf, they’re back in the thick of the MAC East race with a winning record in league play.
Both overall and recent history have sided with the RedHawks in this divisional matchup. Bowling Green hasn’t edged Miami since 2017, so head coach Scot Loeffler is still in search of his first win over Chuck Martin.
Miami RedHawks outlook
Miami’s season started in disastrous fashion, but not necessarily by losing 37-13 to Kentucky. The RedHawks lost their starting left tackle Sam Vaughan for the season and All-MAC quarterback Brett Gabbert in that game, and the team was forced to adapt without two key cogs on offense.
Yet, Miami sports a 3-2 record since that game. Without Gabbert, the RedHawks have undergone an identity change by becoming more run-oriented on offense. But it’s been a forceful defense which has guided the team to a .500 record at the regular season’s midway point.
The RedHawks currently trot out the nation’s 10th ranked rushing defense, limiting opponents below 89 yards per game at 2.8 per carry. The lethal linebacker duo of Ryan McWood and Matthew Salopek has contributed greatly in this department, combining for 103 total tackles and eight tackles for loss through six games. By virtue of this run defense, Miami was able to emerge victorious in low-scoring affairs against Northwestern and Kent State, despite scoring just 17 and 27 in those games, respectively.
While the aerial defense isn’t posting the same elite numbers, the RedHawks have seen ample production out of the secondary to prevent offenses from dominating. John Saunders Jr. and Eli Blakey both have six pass breakups and an interception this year. With the defensive backs doing enough to keep opponents in check, Miami has held each of its last three opponents under 25 points to solidify the MAC’s top scoring defense.
The offense remains led by Aveon Smith, who has a winning record as a starter in the wake of Gabbert’s absence. Miami strategizes for a different offensive game under Smith, and the run game plays a much greater factor than it did in Gabbert’s previous three years as a starter. Smith is mobile himself, obtaining 213 rushing yards on a 9.7 average in his last two starts. Chuck Martin and his staff haven’t required Smith to pass more than 26 times in a game this year and they got by with 14 passes in last Saturday’s victory over Kent State.
It’s been a mixed bag of results when Smith drops back to pass, but the quarterback delivered a clutch fourth down throw to tight end Jack Coldiron to seal the upset over the Golden Flashes. Coldiron has become one of Smith’s preferred targets but no Miami receiver rivals the production of Mac Hippenhammer. Hippenhammer’s 314 yards nearly triples that of any one else on the roster and the star wideout has secured four of the RedHawks’ six passing touchdowns this year.
Another skill position player emerging in this offense is Keyon Mozee, whose heroics helped Miami edge Northwestern. Mozee is the most frequented running back with 77 carries on the season, but the RedHawks like to rotate in other options including Kevin Davis, Tyre Shelton, and Kenny Tracy. This stable of running backs has propelled Miami to an average of 181 rushing yards per game — the most by this program in the 21st century.
Bowling Green Falcons outlook
Bowling Green’s undefeated MAC record was short-lived. After gliding past Akron in 31-28 fashion to open 1-0 in conference play, the Falcons faced a difficult reality check in their home stadium last Saturday in a 38-7 shellacking from Buffalo.
The Falcons entered the season well-equipped on the defensive side of the ball with All-MAC talent in all three levels of the defense, while adding several viable starters from the transfer portal. But Bowling Green has not lived up to expectations on that side of the ball. The Falcons fielded a top 10 passing defense in 2021, but that ranking has cratered to 129th one season later, allowing 311 yards per game. Bowling Green also ranks in the bottom five in scoring defense and total defense, nearing the nadir in a multitude of categories on that side of the ball.
There is one aspect of Bowling Green’s defense which has been impressive through six weeks. The Falcons are getting to opposing quarterbacks at a high clip, tied for fifth in the country in sacks per game. Reigning all-conference selection Karl Brooks has led the charge from the defensive line, absorbing quarterbacks in the backfield 4.5 times while totaling 7.5 tackles for loss on the season. It’s this backfield pressure Bowling Green will need to completely eradicate Miami’s passing game and keep the RedHawks one-dimensional Saturday.
The offensive side of the ball has surprisingly been Bowling Green’s specialty this year. Quarterback Matt McDonald is among the most improved players in the conference, and the third-year starter features one of the best touchdown-to-interception ratios in the nation at 14-to-2. The senior has become a much better decision maker this season, and he’s become the engine of a Bowling Green offense which has an affinity of airing it out north of 37 times per game.
Bowling Green hasn’t enjoyed much success in the running game in recent years, but that trend could turn with the return of Jamal Johnson to the lineup. Johnson missed three contests this season, but the running back has excelled in his limited availability with a 4.7 rushing average on 32 attempts. He’ll continue to split the backfield with Jaison Patterson, hoping to generate enough yardage to prevent frequent 3rd and long attempts against a stout Miami front.
When utilizing the passing game, Bowling Green spreads the wealth as well as any team in the conference. The top four targets on this team all have between 18 and 21 receptions this year, forcing Miami’s secondary to guard a slew of players rather than keying on one or two guys like it did against Kent State. Odieu Hiliare, CJ Lewis, and Tyrone Broden are the names to watch in the wide receiver corps, but All-MAC tight end Christian Sims and running back Ta’ron Keith also play a valuable role in this facet of Bowling Green’s offense.
Ever since the RedHawks lost Brett Gabbert, their games have been on the relatively low-scoring side. Miami often finds itself entangled in low-scoring rock fights, eating up time of possession with its run game and generating stops with one elite ground defense. This should remain the case against a Bowling Green squad which has struggled to establish a threatening rushing attack this season. The Falcons will still do some damage through the air and they’ll likely compile a more productive passing game than the ground-oriented RedHawks.
Overall, Miami should win this game by virtue of its fortified defense, which limited potent MAC East offenses like Kent State and Buffalo to 24 points apiece. While the defense does its job, Keyon Mozee and the run game are bound to churn out enough offense to leave Bowling Green with a victory.
Prediction: Miami (OH) 20, Bowling Green 17