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2023 Miami RedHawks Positional Previews: Offensive Skill Positions

Brett Gabbert is back for his fifth season as Miami (OH)’s starting quarterback.

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

Miami (OH) has quietly been the model of consistency in the MAC for almost a decade. The RedHawks employ the longest-tenured coach in the conference in Chuck Martin, who is set to enter year 10 of his reign. Both Miami coordinators also prepare for their 10th year as part of Martin’s staff. And the RedHawks have become a staple in bowl season, finishing .500 or above in the regular season for five consecutive years and .500 or above in MAC play for seven consecutive years.

The RedHawks aim to clinch their first MAC championship since 2019, but in order to do so, they’ll need a boost from their offensive skill position players. The team still rattled off six wins last season despite trotting out the nation’s 113th ranked scoring offense at 20.2 points per game. Miami only eclipsed the 30-point barrier once last season, and they won games with scores like 17-14 and 18-17, propelled by its 35th ranked scoring defense.

The RedHawks were 10th-to-last in offensive yardage per game, ranking 122nd in the country in passing offense and 84th in rushing. But offensive health could become offensive wealth in 2023 for Miami, which was bereft of its starting quarterback and starting left tackle for the majority of the season.

With improving offensive output as the focal point for 2023, here is a preview of Miami’s skill position players this fall:


Miami Ohio v Kentucky
Injuries in 2022 snubbed Brett Gabbert of his typical preseason watchlists, but the quarterback has won a MAC title and bowl game at Miami, while appearing on the All-MAC team.
Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Guess who’s back. For the fifth season, Brett Gabbert is slated to be Miami’s Week 1 starting quarterback. There was a brief period in late November and early December when Gabbert tested the market of the transfer portal, but he quickly exited the portal and decided to remain grounded in Oxford. Gabbert battled injuries last year and was limited to four games, which helped preserve a redshirt. Even after returning from a Week 1 upper-body injury, he looked like Gabbert of old. He finished the 2022 campaign with four touchdowns and zero interceptions on a 64 percent completion clip, sustaining his efficiency from an excellent 2021 season.

In 2021, Gabbert added bowl MVP honors to his trophy case, capping off an All-MAC season with Miami’s first bowl victory since 2010. That season featured 2,648 passing yards, a pair of 400+ yard explosions, and an impressive touchdown-to-interception ratio of 26-to-6. If Miami can receive that version of Gabbert in 2021, the RedHawks are instant conference title contenders. After all, they won the league before with Gabbert anchoring the offense in 2019, albeit a rawer, true freshman version of the now-polished passer.

Not only do the RedHawks tout a veteran All-MAC, conference title-winning quarterback in that room, but they roster the most experienced backup in the conference in Aveon Smith. Gabbert’s elongated absences last fall forced Smith to start nine contests including the 2022 Bahamas Bowl. While Smith’s completion rate could markedly improve from the 49.8 percent mark he posted last season, he took excellent care of the football and distributed 11 touchdowns to just five interceptions in those nine starts. Smith presents a more dangerous rushing threat from the quarterback position, as demonstrated by his 553 rushing yards and six rushing scores from a year ago. Gabbert should retain his usual starting role, but Smith’s expertise in the mobility department could make him a viable threat in wildcat or goal line packages.

Even the projected third string quarterback for Miami has FBS experience. Maddox Kopp was part of Colorado’s mass exodus this offseason, and he enters MAC country with one start under his belt. He fired 28 passes against Utah last November, completing 15 for 123 yards and one touchdown without a turnover. There are some colleges out there, including the defending national champion Georgia, without one FBS start in the entire quarterback room, but Miami has the luxury of three players with this designation.

The quarterback room is rounded out with Henry Hesson, Ben Tarpey, Orin Edwards, Matt MacLeod, and true freshman Blake Lichtenberg. Among these, Hesson is the only one to see in-game snaps as a participant in the wins over Robert Morris and Ball State in 2022.

Running back

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 23 Frisco Football Classic Bowl - North Texas v Miami (OH)
Keyon Mozee has been the RedHawks’ leading rusher from the running back position for two years running and enters his third year with the program.
Photo by Matthew Pearce/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It seems like Miami never has a feature workhorse running back. Under Chuck Martin, the RedHawks usually send out a stable of running backs, some which specialize in a traditional rushing role, and others which are useful third down receiving threats.

Miami rotated four tailbacks last year, and three of them return to Oxford for 2023. Among them is Keyon Mozee, who led all running backs in rushing yards a season ago with 471. Mozee was essential to Miami’s September win over Northwestern with a 171-yard outing in Big Ten territory. The former Kansas State commit has led all RedHawk backs in rushing attempts for two years running and is poised to extend that streak to three this year.

Still, a handful of carries will be allocated to Kevin Davis and Kenny Tracy, who contribute a lot more to the receiving aspect than Mozee. Davis logged 54 carries for 285 yards last year, but added 19 receptions as Miami’s fifth-most utilized receiver. Tracy fielded 37 handoffs for 153 yards, and showed his versatility with 12 receptions. The two were both 300-yard rushers and significant receiving threats in 2021 as well, so don’t expect Miami to reinvent itself at running back with these three vital pieces returning for another season.

The running back who fielded the second most rushing attempts last year was Tyre Shelton, who is no longer with the program. But the main candidate to fill this role arrives from South Carolina via the transfer portal. Across two games in 2022, Rashad Amos totaled 99 rushing yards on 18 attempts for the Gamecocks. The 6’2”, 227 pound running back should find a spot in the rotation, likely splitting carries with Mozee on early downs. But Miami is equipped with a deep stable of running backs, and there are several established options for any given situation.

Jordan Brunson (7 rushes, 15 yards against Robert Morris) is the only other running back with experience on the roster, and the remainder of the position group consists of redshirt sophomores Nate Milanowski and Danny Dunlop.

Wide receiver

Bowling Green v Notre Dame
Joe Wilkins Jr. caught 11 passes at Notre Dame and hopes for an expanded role in his new home of Oxford, OH.
Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images

In the skill positions, there is one glaring loss Miami dealt with over the offseason. Mac Hippenhammer did it all at wide receiver last year. The Second Team All-MAC wideout finished with 54 receptions. The next closest RedHawk had 28. Hippenhammer attained 769 receiving yards. The next closest RedHawk had 390. Lastly, Miami threw 15 touchdown passes the entire season. Hippenhammer caught nine, nobody else corralled more than two.

Hippenhammer dominated as a No. 1 receiver, and now it’s Miami’s mission to find a new candidate to step into that role. When Hippenhammer first arrived in Oxford, he was an underutilized reserve receiver at Penn State, looking for increased playing time. So it makes sense the RedHawks brought in several transfers who can be starting-caliber options immediately.

Among these transfers is Joe Wilkins Jr., who caught 11 passes for 124 yards and two touchdowns across the 2020 and 2021 seasons for Notre Dame. Wilkins’ playing time should exponentially ramp up this season, and like Hippenhammer, he could quickly develop into a No. 1 option in a new-look receiving corps. Cade McDonald is another incoming transfer hoping for a similar spike in numbers. McDonald hauled in five receptions for 46 yards at Michigan State while also doubling as a punt returner from time-to-time.

While Wilkins and McDonald come from prestigious programs with College Football Playoff appearances, looking for more opportunity, another potential starter in the receiver room is an accomplished transfer who dominated the FCS level. Gage Larvadain was the Southland Conference Freshman of the Year in 2021 at Southeastern Louisiana and saw an uptick in production as a sophomore in 2022 with 731 receiving yards and two touchdowns.

Those three transfers will likely compete for two starting spots, as the other starter in the unit will be Miami’s second fiddle from last season, Miles Marshall. Like the aforementioned players, Marshall was a transfer once upon a time, relocating from Indiana to Miami prior to the kickoff of the 2022 season. The former Hoosier finished second behind Hippenhammer in receiving yards and touchdowns and could find himself as Gabbert’s favorite option in his second go-around as a RedHawk.

Among the other incumbent receivers, Reginald Virgil has the most experience with one reception for 28 yards last September. Javon Tracy is the only other one with in-game experience. The returning roster members looking to crack the rotation, either on offense or on special teams, include Matthew Reardon, Sam Barry, Christian Schomer, Jackson Izzard, and AJ Mirgon. The rest of the receivers are true freshmen — Lynel Billups-Williams, Tommy Gallagher, Que Williams, Will Bradley, Ryan Sims, Cole Weaver, and RJ Dent. Sims, a three-star prospect, was widely regarded as the highest-rated recruit of these receivers and could see action as early as this season.

Tight end

NCAA Football: Miami (Ohio) at Minnesota
Jack Coldiron ranked third in receiving yardage on Miami (OH) last season with 286 yards on 24 catches.
Matt Blewett-USA TODAY Sports

Some MAC programs utilize tight ends often. Some don’t. Miami fits into the first of the two categories — with at least one tight end lining up in every set.

Unlike wide receiver, Miami flaunts vast experience at this position. Jack Coldiron is set to be one of Miami’s leading receivers again this year, finishing fourth on the squad in 2021 with 293 receiving yards and third in 2022 with 286. Tight end seams are quite common for Coldiron, who has posted single-game receiving averages of 20.0 or more on five occasions since 2021. The 6’5”, 236 pound tight end recorded five starts last fall and managed a catch in all 12 appearances, proving to be one of the most reliable pieces on offense.

Luke Bolden logged seven starts at tight end, but the former linebacker is typically sent out for blocking purposes rather than receiving. He managed one reception in his first season playing tight end, and it was converted into a 17-yard touchdown against Robert Morris. In his second year playing the position, Miami could look for additional ways to use him, as he excels in a variety of facets including special teams.

Nate Muersch should get plenty of run at the position as well. Muersch tallied four touchdown receptions in 2021 and caught nine passes for 93 yards as sophomore last year. He made 11 in-game appearances and was primarily used as a blocker, but his ability to make strong contested catches and win 50-50 jump-balls makes him an ideal threat by the goal line.

Jack DeJarld saw the field in eight contests last year, making him the RedHawks’ fourth tight end with substantial playing time. Chase Becker and Brian Shane are the remaining members that make up this position group, which did not receive any offseason additions from the transfer portal.