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2023 MAC Football Week 7 Game Preview: Miami RedHawks at Western Michigan Broncos

The RedHawks and Broncos play in Kalamazoo on Saturday, and it could be a shootout!

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 30 Miami (Ohio) at Kent State Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Chuck Martin is in his tenth season as the Miami RedHawks football coach and he’s been through a lot. His early tenure at Miami was marked with one-score losses, including the 2016 season, which had had four of them. The RedHawks started Martin’s third year 0-6, then ripped off six straight wins to get bowl-eligible. They tied for first in the MAC East, but Ohio held the tiebreaker to go to the championship game.

Three seasons later, the RedHawks finally got to Detroit and won the conference championship with a 7-5 regular season record. That 8-6 final record is the high water mark for the RedHawks under Martin, but they’ve been a consistent contender for the MAC East since that season.

2023 is setting up to be the year the RedHawks can set the bar higher. They are off to a 5-1 start with non-conference wins over Cincinnati, UMass and Delaware State. They’ve taken care of business against the low end of the MAC East, giving up three combined points to Kent State and Bowling Green. A road trip to Kalamazoo is their opportunity to get bowl-eligible and remain unbeaten in the MAC.

Chuck Martin has not beaten the Broncos in four tries as the Miami head coach. This Bronco squad has strung together three games of scoring at least 28 points and could make Miami work for win number six. Can the Broncos derail— or at least delay— the RedHawks’ pursuit of a ten-win season and another MAC Championship?

Let's get into it!

Game notes

  • Time and date: Saturday, October 13th, 2023 at 3:30 p.m. Eastern time
  • Location: Waldo Stadium in Kalamazoo, Michigan
  • Network: ESPN+ (A valid subscription is required.)
  • Gambling considerations: Miami is favored by 8.5 points and the over/under is set at 47, per DraftKings Sportsbook.
  • All-time series: Miami leads the all-time series 37-24-1 over Western Michigan, but the Broncos are on an eight-game win streak dating back to 2006.
  • Last meeting: WMU spoiled the return of Miami QB Brett Gabbert from an early-season injury in a 16-10 defensive struggle on Oct. 22, 2022.

When Miami has the ball:

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 16 Miami (Ohio) at Cincinnati

On paper, it looks like Miami should be able to score however they want to on Saturday. Their biggest weapon is their explosive passing attack led by fifth-year starter Brett Gabbert. He leads the MAC in yards per pass attempt with at least 30 passes thrown this season. He’s helped in large part by an excellent find in the transfer portal, Gage Larvadain.

He transferred to Miami from Southeastern Louisiana over the winter and has lit up almost every opponent he has faced. Through the first two games of the season, he had 16 catches for 353 yards and three touchdowns. Against Cincinnati, he had one catch, but it was a 79-yard touchdown catch and run. His longest play of the year was a 99-yard touchdown catch against UMass.

He has missed the last two games with an injury, but Chuck Martin makes it sound like he could be back any week. The other receivers are productive as well, but haven’t shown the top end speed like Larvadain has. Joe Wilkins Jr and Cade McDonald have a combined 31 catches for 464 yards with three touchdowns for the RedHawks.

Ironically, the RedHawks aren’t great in passing situations but they keep out of them pretty well. That’s the only statistical leverage that the Broncos have on paper before the game is played. If the Broncos can get to Gabbert with their front seven, they can get the RedHawks off the field.

One criticism of Martin is his risk management— or rather, his total aversion to taking them. His offense and defense have great field position numbers and that’s in part due to Martin’s willingness to punt in midfield. But it also results in a lot of field goals which can keep opponents in the game for longer than necessary. The Broncos need to keep the ball out of Gabbert’s hands and getting to fourth down will end drives.

Outside of that, it’s pretty bleak for the Bronco defense. Miami holds a significant edge in success rate, their ability to finish drives, rushing PPA and field position. Miami doesn’t have an every-down running back but between Rashad Amos and Kenny Tracy, they find the hot hand. Amos leads the team with 75 carries, but they aren’t close to being evenly distributed across the games. Kenny Tracy has 27 rushes with five passes caught so far this season. He’s been far more productive on a per-touch basis.

The Bronco defense needs to get off the field to give their offense a chance. The more plays Miami runs, the more likely they are to find a big play somewhere. Safety Tate Hallock leads the team in tackles, interceptions and passes broken up so far this season. Linebacker Donald Willis and linemen Mason Nelson each have four tackles for loss and three sacks, plus Marshawn Kneeland is back from injury and this would be a great chance for him to assert himself. If they can’t keep Miami behind the chains, the Miami receivers are going to find space.

When Western Michigan has the ball:

Western Michigan v Syracuse Photo by Bryan Bennett/Getty Images

This is where the Broncos are going to be fun this season. It’s unlikely that the defense holds an opponent under 14 points so every game has the chance to turn into a shootout.

The advanced stats are a mixed bag for the Broncos. It’s important to understand why to understand this team. Early in the year, including the FCS game when stats can get ballooned a bit, the Broncos were running the ball well with huge performances from Jalen Buckley and the offensive line. That hasn’t stopped, but they really struggled to throw the ball efficiently until the Ball State game.

Up to that point, Western Michigan had landed the occasional big play touchdown pass, but that was it. Opponents loaded the box to contain the running game and the Broncos couldn’t break the defense. Against Ball State, quarterback Treyson Bourguet finally completed more than 60 percent of his pass attempts for more than six yards per attempt.

Against Mississippi State, Hayden Wolff started at quarterback for the Broncos and showed why he started at Old Dominion for the last three seasons. The Bulldogs have allowed completions to every quarterback they have faced, but he was exceptional. The quarterback position was Bourguet’s prior to last week but watching Wolff work has shaken that foundation.

Miami’s defense holds the advantage in the passing game, for now, due to the havoc rate caused by the secondary. Yahsyn McKee and Raion Strader have broken up seven passes each and linebacker Ty Wise and lineman Caiden Woullard have four sacks each to disrupt the passing game. The RedHawks do not make the quarterback’s life easy.

Western Michigan seems to prefer to run the ball anyway and they should find some success. That probably doesn’t look like eight-yard rushes every other play, but it will look like third-and-shorts and going for it on fourth down. The Broncos will need to be able to create some big plays as it’s likely they will be starting deep in their own territory frequently.

Both teams do well with havoc plays. When and where (or if) they happen when Western has the ball will be a very decisive factor. Western Michigan needs to stay ahead of the chains and out of passing situations. Avoiding havoc plays is something they’ve done well, but they need to be good again.

The last matchup of consequence is what happens in scoring opportunities. The Broncos have turned their last 11 scoring opportunities into 10 touchdowns. Miami is a top-half team in the nation in limiting points in those opportunities. If the RedHawks hold the Broncos to field goals, they will win this game.


Western Michigan’s margin for error is low in this game. Their defense is likely unable to hold Miami to under 24 points and a bad half from the offense is probably too much to overcome.

Who is going to start at quarterback for the Broncos? Is Bourguet healthy or does Wolff get the start after only throwing eight incomplete passes against an SEC team? If Jalen Buckley and Anthony Sambucci are healthy that’s a big bonus, but the Broncos cannot fall behind.

I think this game is back and forth but the RedHawks are too explosive and one or two critical WMU drives stall out and create the difference. Make it:

Miami 38
Western Michigan 31