What more could a MAC fan ask for on the last Saturday regular season game of the year than heated rivals squaring off in a contest with major MAC East division implications?
That’s just what we have this week when the Miami RedHawks (6-2, 3-1 MAC) head to Athens to face the Ohio Bobcats (6-2, 3-1 MAC), with the winner of the game taking a chokehold lead on the division due to tiebreakers. Buffalo is also in the mix with a 3-1 record and remaining games against Ohio and Miami.
Adding context to what a lead would mean, according to ESPN’s “Matchup Tracker”, both Miami and Ohio are heavily favored in their last three games, so the loser in this one will have an uphill battle to say the least to make up the two games to win the MAC East crown.
We take a look at what each squad brings to the table after some game notes.
- Time and date: Saturday, October 28th, 2023 at 3:30 p.m. Eastern
- Network: CBS Sports Network (A valid cable subscription is required.)
- Location: Frank Solich Field at Peden Stadium, in Athens, Ohio
- Gambling considerations: Per DraftKings, Ohio favored by 7.5 points, with an over/under of 39,5, per DraftKings.
- All-time series: Miami leads Ohio with a 54-42-2 record, but the Bobcats have won the last two games— and 13 of the last 16 contests.
- Last Time: Ohio triumphed by a final margin of 37-21 on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022.
Getting to Know The Miami RedHawks
Miami came into last week’s 21-17 loss to the MAC West leader Toledo riding a wave of momentum. After an opening week loss to the Miami Hurricanes, the RedHawks reeled of six straight wins, beating up the FBS competition in the process by a combined score of 156-76, including a signature win over the Big 12’s Cincinnati Bearcats 31-24 in OT.
Disaster struck the RedHawks though versus Toledo, when, in the midst of a second half comeback, QB Brett Gabbert was lost for the season with a leg injury as he attempted to run a ball in for a touchdown.
In this way the RedHawks face the tough question Ohio faced late in 2022: how to cope with the loss of a star QB in a championship run?
Ohio lost QB Kurtis Rourke last year but still found a way to win the MAC East and gave Toledo all it could handle in the Rockets win in a defensive battle in the MAC title game.
While the loss of Gabbert is a major blow given he was having a MAC MVP-caliber season, leading the league in passing yards and touchdowns, the RedHawks still have a lot to offer starting with one of the league’s best defenses and special teams units.
Defensively, the RedHawks come into this one similar to their Ohio counterparts displaying strong team defense without major weakness as evidenced by their ranking second in the MAC with just under 20 points per game. Opponents have put some yards on the defense from time-to-time but the bend don’t break bunch is one of the MAC’s better units allowing only 17 total touchdowns in eight games.
The RedHawks also feature one of the league’s premier pass rushing attacks ranking first in the MAC in sacks with 22. Leading the charge in this area so far are a dynamic trio who have combined for 14.5 sacks in defensive linemen Caiden Woullard and Brian Uwgu and linebacker Ty Wise.
The RedHawks pass rush should face some strong competition in this area though as the Bobcats are the second-ranked in the Conference by allowing only five sacks this year.
At the heart of the defense is linebacker Matt Salopek, who leads the crew with 79 tackles.
In a game shaping up to be a defensive battle where points are at a premium and field position is king, Miami has a feather in its cap, featuring some of the best special teams in the MAC. Kicker Graham Nicholson is not only a perfect 14-14 on field goals this year but has exhibited great range, hitting half of those 14 attempts from over 40 yards.
Two-time 2023 MAC East Special Teams Player of the Week punter Alec Bevelhimer and the punt cover team are first in the conference with a net 44 yards per boot.
Offensively, Miami will turn to sophomore QB Aveon Smith to cover for Gabbert. For a young player, Smith has significant experience starting eight games for an injured Gabbert in 2022 while also starting last year’s bowl game.
Of those nine games under Smith, Miami came out a winner in five. Based on 2022, Smith will run the ball more than Gabbert totaling over 550 yards and six scores on the ground. Smith continues to develop as a passer where in 2022 he completed 49.8% of his passes with a touchdown to interception ratio of 11:5.
At Smith’s disposal is a group of wideouts who have caught over 20 passes each in Gage Larvadain, Joe Wilkins Jr., and Cade McDonald. Despite missing two games with injury, Larvadain is the MAC’s most productive and explosive wideout, leading in total receiving yards with 572 and yards per catch with 19.
When they go to the ground, the RedHawks feature a triple threat in Rashad Amos, Kenny Tracy, and Keyon Mozee. Amos is a load at six-foot-two and around 235 lbs and leads the club in yards with 421 and touchdowns with four.
Getting to Know The Bobcats
Ohio dispatched Western Michigan 20-17 last week, securing bowl eligibility in the process with their sixth win of the season.
The ‘Cats head into the contest this week with one of the top defenses, if not the top defense, in the Group of Five allowing just 13.9 points per game for 6th best in the FBS and 260 yards allowed per game which is fourth in the FBS.
The operation starts with staunch run defense which is eighth in the FBS at 80 yards per game allowed.
Anchoring the crew is a defensive line and rotation that is playing lights out led by Rodney Mathews, Rayyan Buell, Bradley Weaver, and Vonnie Watkins.
With the line doing its thing, the players behind the line have been able to bottle up opponents by generally keeping things in front of them, not allowing frequent big plays.
One of the defensive leaders is linebacker and captain Keye Thompson, whose 11 first half tackles last week helped hold WMU scoreless in the first two frames.
Key to the operation is a defense that does not consistently allow yards after catch by quick, effective tackling. Ohio’s 4-2-5 base defense puts nickel DB Adonis Williams Jr. around the box and he put on a clinic last week with eight stops, snuffing out WMU’s short passing game on screens and the like with regularity and some impressive open space tackling.
Offensively, the Bobcats are sixth in the MAC in scoring offense with 22.5 per game and fourth in yards per contest with 350.
After scoring just six points in the four quarters leading up to the end of the first half of last week’s game, Ohio found its stride in the second half, scoring 14 points and finishing with a total of 440 yards offense.
The running game had its most productive outing of the year last week against FBS competition posting 185 yards and 4.7 yards per carry, about a yard above their average.
If the success in the ground game continues, it is in the hands of the hard-charging duo of Sieh Bangura and O’Shaan Allison. Bangura, last season’s Freshman of the Year, leads the ‘Cats with 448 yards rushing, with three touchdowns, and 4.1 yards per tote.
The passing game starts with QB Kurtis Rourke, who has thrown for 1,343 yards this year while hitting on over 62 percent of his throws with a 9:5 touchdown to interception ratio.
Rourke was red hot to his favorite target last week in wideout Sam Wiglusz, who finished the day with 10 catches for a career best 150 yards receiving.
The ‘Cat signal caller has a few other regular wideout targets in Myles Cross and Tyler Walton with Cross leading the charge with 338 yards and a team best four touchdowns.
On special teams, freshman kicker Gianni Spetic has hit about 67 percent of his attempts this season (10-15), generally hitting from inside 40 yards while converting only 1-of-4 over 40 yards.
Ohio seems to have gone a new direction at punter since the early going of the Kent State game, with Jack Wilson stepping in to the role. Wilson was named this Week’s MAC Special Teams Player of the Week averaging 48 yards per boot.
Based on the defenses in this one and assuming the teams avoid a number of self-inflicted wounds, the over/under of 39 points feels right. The game figures to be more of a defensive battle between evenly-matched foes where the team that can get to 20 points should win.
The Bobcats defense is the premier unit in the contest and the new Miami starting quarterback Smith, who historically leans on the run, faces a tough task against an Ohio crew with one of the Group of Five’s best run defenses.
The Bobcats also have the home field advantage. The stands should be near capacity for a Saturday rivalry game and the ‘Cats are 10-0 at home since the field was dubbed ‘The Frank’ at the start of the 2022 season in honor of former head coach Frank Solich.
The Bobcats have not usually run up the score in 2023 but are always capable of finding the scoreboard with 2022 MAC MVP QB Rourke at the helm.
Riding the momentum of a strong defense, home field advantage, and just enough offense, Ohio 20, Miami 17.