For the first time since 2004, the Miami RedHawks (6-1, 3-0 MAC) can claim a victory over the Western Michigan Broncos (2-5, 1-2 MAC), as the boys from Oxford shed a noxious 17-year losing streak in style with a 34-21 road triumph. Prior to today’s game, WMU had won the last eight contests, dating back to 2006.
As a result of the win, Chuck Martin gets his first career win against Western Michigan in his fifth attempt since taking over the program, and the Miami RedHawks secured a postseason berth early thanks to their sixth-straight victory.
Miami jumped out to a 14-3 lead early, let the game get within a possession in the second half and then sat on the lead until time expired in a game where the score could have been a lot worse than it was.
The Broncos received the opening kick off and Treyson Bourguet started for Western Michigan at quarterback a week after Hayden Wolff gave Mississippi State a scare. After one third-down conversion, the Broncos ran a direct-snap fake punt on fourth down and were stopped just short.
Miami started with the ball in plus territory and turned the great field position into points in six plays. Brett Gabbert found wide receiver Gage Larvadain for their first touchdown connection of the game.
Western Michigan responded with a long, sustained drive to the Miami 11-yard line. The Miami defense made them drive 64 yards in 13 drives, but that was the blueprint for WMU to stay in or win this game. The drive ended in a field goal that made the game 7-3.
The Broncos popped the ball into the air on the next kickoff, and Miami returned it to their own 47-yard line. It was a curious decision that didn’t pay off. It took the RedHawks another six plays for Gabbert and Larvadain to connect for their second touchdown of the game. Larvadain would finish with five catches for 49 yards and two touchdowns.
The Broncos had turned the momentum two drives later when cornerback Keni-H Lovely intercepted an overthrown ball from Gabbert. The Broncos had the ball on the Miami 28-yard line when the drive started, and it quickly stalled. Western Michigan faced a fourth-and-one and went for as they usually do. They lined up in their T-backfield formation and gave the sweep to running back Zahir Abdus-Salaam, who scored untouched.
The Bronco defense forced another turnover on the RedHawks' next drive and they were in position to take the lead before halftime. Unfortunately for the Broncos, Miami’s defense is a serious unit and forced a field goal attempt after three plays. Western Michigan missed the 46-yard field goal and the score remained 14-10.
In Miami’s last serious drive of the half, they hit a big play down the right sideline where Miles Marshall made a circus catch to get within the five-yard line.
Gabbert would keep a read option on the next play and score on a four-yard touchdown run. He really drove the offense for the RedHawks in this game. They didn’t score unless he had a hand in it. At halftime, the score was Miami 21, Western Michigan 10. The Broncos had thrown for 3.33 yards per pass and they made a change for the second half.
Hayden Wolff took the ball for the Broncos and drove them down the field for a field goal after the defense forced a Miami punt. He threw the ball seven times for 33 yards, already improving, albeit slightly, on Bourguet’s passing average.
The Bronco defense should have been off the field twice, but penalties gave the RedHawks first downs on back-to-back third-down plays. Good coverage on third and six forced Gabbert to scramble short of the line to gain, but a defensive holding bailed them out. On the next 3rd and eight, the Broncos sacked Gabbert but with a hand on his facemask. Gabbert used defensive errors to get the ball into scoring position and run the ball in for his second rushing score of the game.
The Broncos would add a touchdown on their next drive, but that would be as close as they would get. Once the Broncos couldn’t be balanced, the Miami defense was too good for the Broncos to maintain drives.
The door was left open slightly when Chuck Martin chose to be extremely conservative and play for a field goal that would only make it marginally more difficult for the Broncos to win. In the end, it didn’t matter, and the RedHawks are the only MAC East team that is undefeated in conference play.
What Decided the Game
Based on the advanced analytics, the RedHawks had a significant advantage in explosive plays. The RedHawks’ offense has been getting them all season and the Bronco defense has been burned by them.
When Miami was able to stretch the field, they scored touchdowns. Miami’s first drive had plays of 14, 13 and nine yards while starting on the WMU 46. Gabbert wanted to throw the deep pass often and it paid off on their second drive when he connected with Cade McDonald for 42 yards to the WMU five-yard line.
During their third touchdown drive, Miles Marshall had two catches for 32 total yards including the incredible catch from above. Their last touchdown was aided by explosive plays by way of defensive penalties. That one is a little different but the point stands. Miami wasn’t successful when they needed to drive four yards per play, but they scored touchdowns when they got chunk plays.
Their first two drives were made easier by great field position as well. The failed fake punt and a short kickoff resulted in their first two drives starting in midfield.
The Miami defense was also able to keep the Broncos out of the endzone in scoring opportunities. Not every drive, but three times the Broncos had a first down inside Miami’s 40 and ended the drive with a field goal attempt. They were able to convert two of them, but field goals don’t generally win games.
Stats That Tell the Story
If Miami wasn’t as conservative as they are, the finishing drive stats would be even more pronounced.
Miami created, or were given, seven scoring opportunities. On four of them, they were trying to score a touchdown and succeeded. It seems silly to say that they weren’t trying to score a touchdown, but they weren’t on the last three.
After getting the ball at the 50 after forcing a WMU punt, they hit a 28-yard pass to get to the WMU 22. Then they parked the bus. Gabbert made one mistake to that point in the game, and Miami ran three straight runs right into the center of the line and kicked a field goal. It pushed the game to two possessions, but a touchdown would’ve cemented the game right there.
Their next drive was the same thing. They took over in a scoring opportunity after the Broncos turned the ball over on downs and they kicked a field goal after three consecutive runs up the middle. Their last drive was almost exactly the same, took over after a turnover on downs in scoring position, but ended after taking a knee on fourth down. Three kneel-downs took time off the clock, and the final one turned the ball over.
All that to say when Miami was in scoring position and wanted a touchdown, they got it. The RedHawks were firmly in control of the game’s pace from the first snap.
The Broncos could not manage even medium explosion plays to make first downs easy. Miami forced them into 11 third down attempts from three to six yards and only allowed four conversions. They didn’t allow any from seven yards or longer.
Miami’s offense was almost the opposite. They were six for nine on third downs three to six yards to go and two of six on seven or longer. That kept Miami’s offense on the field and forced the Broncos into difficult decisions all afternoon.
Important Going Forward
Miami is the now only undefeated team in the MAC East after the rest of the league results poured in.
Their important games are still in front of them, but sole possession of first is never a bad thing going into such a slate. The first tiebreaker is head-to-head record and the RedHawks have Ohio in two weeks. Assuming records hold, the winner of that game will lead the division.
It’s hardly a new phenomenon, but Miami’s risk aversion is going to bite them at some point this season. In today’s game, it let an inferior Bronco team hang around in the second half for too long. It’s obvious, but one touchdown and extra point is worth more than two field goals. Settling for field goals won’t get it done in tighter spots, and I don’t think Miami has an appetite to take any more risk than they did today no matter the opponent.
Hayden Wolff looks like he’s the quarterback for the Broncos going forward. It shouldn’t have taken until week seven to find that and the coaching staff is chronically late in getting him in the game. If he doesn’t take the field for the first drive against Ohio next week, I would be shocked.
Keni-H Lovely had an interception today and left the game with an injury. He’s the Bronco’s best corner and they can’t afford for him to miss a lot of time. The opposite corner, DaShon Bussell, is also out. Testing the corner depth is a frightening proposition for Western Michigan.
Anthony Romphf had a great game at cornerback today, so it might not be so bad. He was tested regularly by multiple Miami receivers and batted away four passes. He was always in the receiver’s hip pocket with his head turned around to find the ball, critical to avoiding defensive pass interference penalties. Without his play, Gabbert would have had a much more impressive day.
The Broncos head to Ohio to continue their tour of punishment next week and Miami hosts Toledo for a huge week eight matchup.