Saturday’s matchup in Oxford, OH between Miami (OH) and Toledo was the most conference anticipated matchup Yager Stadium saw in the Chuck Martin. The two best records in the MAC converged into one stadium, both riding 6-game win streaks in a potential preview of the 2023 MAC Championship Game.
But the energy was completely sucked out of the stadium with 1:31 remaining in the third quarter. Miami (OH) quarterback Brett Gabbert was sandwiched in between Toledo defenders on a run near the goal line. When the whistle was blown, Gabbert realized his season was in jeopardy, removing his helmet in frustration while writhing in pain. There was blood on his right sock while his right leg remained pinned to the field in an immobile state.
“It was not a good injury,” head coach Chuck Martin said in his Monday press conference. “We’re not gonna talk about what it was or what it wasn’t. There’s all sorts of privacy involved here, but people on the field — our guys — saw it was bad. It wasn’t something you ever want to see in your life.”
Gabbert was removed from the field on a stretcher wearing an air cast. He demonstrated movement in his upper body as he was transported into an ambulance. Martin confirmed that Gabbert will miss the remainder of the season with a right leg injury. He already underwent surgery.
“His surgery did go well, according to (Associate Athletic Director of Human Performance and Wellness) Dr. (Stephen) Dailey,” Martin said. “He’s hanging in there. He lives for these two weeks. He lives for Toledo and OU. He lives for UC. He lives for Miami (FL). He likes all those games. This is what that kid is. Even hearing that we didn’t win (against Toledo) is a blow to him because he’s saying before that play we had them.”
Gabbert is currently the MAC’s leader in passing yards and touchdowns with 1,634 and 14, respectively, on the season. Prior to injury, Miami’s fifth-year starter offered quite the résumé in his tenure with the RedHawks, winning a MAC championship in 2019, winning the Frisco Football Classic in 2021 for Miami’s first bowl win since 2010, and claiming All-MAC and bowl MVP honors in 2021. Gabbert ranks third all-time in Miami history in passing yards and touchdowns, and there is still potential he suits up in Oxford again — holding junior status due to a COVID redshirt in 2020 and a redshirt for only participating in four games in 2022.
“It’s next man up. That’s what it is. That’s life. That’s reality,” Martin said. “But losing him is a huge deal. If you say, ‘It’s no big deal...’ No, it is a big deal. He’s probably with four games left in position to put himself in position to win the conference player of the year award. If he didn’t win, he was clearly gonna be on the ballot with probably two other kids in the league who are having similar years. So you’re taking that off your team.”
Aveon Smith is the experienced backup who now emerges into the starting role. Gabbert dealt with injuries throughout 2022, and Smith started nine games as a result, including the 2022 Bahamas Bowl. Smith finished with 1,299 passing yards, 11 touchdowns, and five interceptions last season, adding a dimension of mobility with team-highs 553 yards and six touchdowns as a rusher. Smith will start Saturday’s contest at Ohio, a matchup between the top two teams in the MAC East with massive conference championship stakes.
“Aveon’s been running this offense all year,” Martin said. “Things won’t change much on offense as far as structure and all the stuff we’re doing. We have a backup whose been repping all along. He’s been practicing all year, hasn’t played much all year, but he’s been practicing all these things. He’s an improved thrower by a wide margin and now he’s gonna have the chance to go out in a game and show everybody he’s an improved thrower now. It’s a great opportunity for him.”