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2022 MAC Football Positional Previews: Miami RedHawks offensive skill positions

As an All-MAC QB, a MAC champion, and a bowl MVP, Brett Gabbert is ready to make the MAC his conference in 2022.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 23 Frisco Football Classic Bowl - North Texas v Miami (OH) Photo by Steve Nurenberg/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

There are plenty of reasons to hype the 2022 Miami RedHawks, but the main one dons a No. 5 jersey. Brett Gabbert is the most established quarterback in the conference, and when MAC teams exude sensational QB play, they’re often on the shortlist of contenders. Gabbert attained All-MAC honors last season after posting 2,648 yards and an impressive touchdown-to-interception ratio of 26-to-6 in 10 games, and he’s the only quarterback in the league to claim all-conference status.

Gabbert led the RedHawks to a MAC championship as a true freshman in 2019, and last December he ushered in the team’s first bowl victory in more than a decade — winning MVP honors with 230 yards and a pair of touchdowns. In that Frisco Football Classic against North Texas, the third-year starter completed 71 percent of his passes which might be a promising sign of things to come.

If Gabbert wants to take another leap and potentially attain NFL status like his older brother Blaine, accuracy must become a point of emphasis. Gabbert attempts a bevy of deep shots and has a rather-challenging throw profile when compared to other MAC quarterbacks, and his career completion percentage is 57.8. Gabbert does an extraordinary job at avoiding turnovers and he throws it away at the proper moments, but if he can escalate that completion rate well into the 60s, Miami’s offense could be lethal on a national level.

Another aspect the junior quarterback has to adjust to is life without Jack Sorenson. Sorenson was responsible for roughly 31 percent of Miami’s receptions and receiving touchdowns and 39 percent of the team’s receiving yards last year. In 2020, he constituted 50 percent of the RedHawks’ receiving production, so it’s no secret he’s been a longtime favorite of Gabbert.

Without Sorenson, the RedHawks have a new No. 1 wideout in waiting. Mac Hippenhammer transferred from Penn State in the spring of 2020 and experienced a breakout campaign last fall in his second season in Oxford. Hippenhammer complemented Sorenson’s game to a T with 786 yards and five touchdowns. After a mundane September, he witnessed a sharp increase in his role when he accrued 170 yards on eight receptions in a comeback win over Central Michigan.

Gabbert helped Sorenson cross the century mark in seven of Miami’s final eight games in 2021, so as the new No. 1 option in the offense, expect Hippenhammer to become more familiar with 100-yard receiving outings in 2022.

Miami-Ohio v Minnesota
Mac Hippenhammer is ready to take on the role as Brett Gabbert’s top receiving target after registering 60 or more yards in seven games last season.
Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

Filling in another starting receiver role will be Jalen Walker, whose time at the university predates Gabbert. Walker has been a steady contributor for years, serving as a viable tertiary option in 2019 (418 yards, two touchdowns) and 2021 (398 yards, four touchdowns). The seasoned RedHawk has made a name for himself as a deep threat with half of his career touchdowns stemming from more than 30 yards out — an optimal receiver in this offense given Gabbert’s tendency to survey downfield.

Outside of Hippenhammer and Walker, Miami doesn’t exhibit too much experience at wide receiver. No incumbent receiver on the roster recorded 40 receiving yards last year, but the team did hound the transfer portal for additional help by snagging Miles Marshall from Indiana (22 receptions, 311 yards in 2021).

In terms or returning talent, Devon Dorsey notched receptions in three separate games and Jeremiah Batiste earned playing time in the Frisco Football Classic when Hippenhammer was out, so those are prime candidates to emerge into key receiver roles alongside Hippenhammer, Walker, and Marshall. Additionally, six redshirt freshmen and three true freshmen are listed on the roster, so we could witness a youth movement at the position in Oxford.

While the number of experienced receivers is low, Miami utilizes tight ends more frequently than most FBS teams. Jack Coldiron served as a valuable threat on tight end seams last year, gaining 293 yards on 16 receptions — an astounding 18.3 yards per catch for his position. Nate Muersch was often called in to block in multi-tight end sets, but the emerging red zone threat also demonstrated his hands by collecting four touchdowns on five receptions last season.

Additionally, Miami utilizes the running backs in the aerial attack to a noteworthy extent. Kevin Davis and Kenny Tracy ranked fourth and fifth on the roster in receptions last season in addition to combining for 646 yards and six touchdowns as rushers. But the main observation from the RedHawks’ running back room is that there is no feature back. The top of this depth chart fits the ‘running back by committee’ description as much as any team’s in the country. Five players returning for 2022 have eclipsed 300 rushing yards while suiting up for Miami, yet none have reached 750.

Jaylon Bester and Tyre Shelton formed the dynamic duo from the 2019 MAC title season, and both halfbacks remain on the roster after facing adverse, injury-riddled roads to return to the gridiron. Bester’s return was brief last season but he displayed his capabilities as a No. 1 back three years ago to the tune of 741 yards and 14 touchdowns. Shelton similarly came back from injury in October last year after missing the entirety of 2020. He posted 245 yards and two touchdowns while leading the RedHawks in rushing twice in seven appearances.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 07 MAC Championship Game
Jaylon Bester dealt with injuries the past two seasons, but the halfback was named the team’s Offensive MVP after serving a pivotal role in Miami’s 2019 MAC title run.
Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Davis and Tracy should play a major part on passing downs, while Bester and Shelton should excel on first downs and in short-yardage situations. But the running back expected to receive the bulk of the carries is Keyon Mozee, who led the group in rushing yards and touchdowns in his first season after transferring from Kansas State. Mozee possesses a 5’7”, 179 pound frame and his shiftiness makes him a difficult catch for defenders. While Mozee should be on track for another productive season, expect all five halfbacks to constantly rotate and share the field.

Miami’s rushing numbers were among the average in college football last year, but the passing statistics raised some eyebrows. The RedHawks averaged a MAC-best 278.5 passing yards per contest, firing touchdowns at a higher rate than all but 15 teams in the country. Thanks largely due to a lack of interceptions, they produced fewer turnovers than every MAC team except Toledo. With the architect of both the passing numbers and turnover prevention back in the lineup, Miami has potential to become one of the more lethal skill position groups in 2022.