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2023 Miami RedHawks Positional Previews: Defensive Front Seven

Two-time All-MAC selection Matt Salopek headlines a RedHawk unit aiming to return to the MAC Championship Game.

NCAA Football: Cincinnati at Miami (Ohio) Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami RedHawks always seem to fly under the radar, quietly becoming the model of consistency in the MAC. Miami has become a staple in bowl season as of late and the team routinely finishes .500 or above in MAC play. When quarterback Brett Gabbert suffered a Week 1 injury and missed the majority of the season, the RedHawks still remained afloat, primarily because of their potent defense.

Miami finished 35th in scoring defense in 2022, allowing 22.6 points per game. The next best scoring defense in the MAC belonged to Toledo, which finished 55th in the country at 25.1 points per game, so there was a degree of separation between the RedHawks and the rest of the conference. The team also fielded the 44th ranked run defense which ranked supreme in the MAC, yielding 136 yards per game on a 3.9 average. Miami was typically sturdy around the line of scrimmage, as the RedHawks still attained those impressive run defense numbers despite 14th-to-last in tackles for loss per game nationally.

But Miami found other ways to cause havoc, ranking in the upper 50th percentile in the country by averaging over two sacks per game and finishing tied for 22nd in fumble recoveries with 11 on the season. Interestingly enough, no player on the roster forced more than one fumble, as the turnover battle was a collective effort in Oxford, OH.

The RedHawks didn’t need to win in shootout fashion, as scores like 18-17 and 17-14 still resulted in victories. Miami stifled six different opponents to fewer than 18 points and only allowed more than 24 once in MAC play. Overall, it was an applause-worthy unit, and fortunately for Miami, most of the defense returns for 2023.

Bill Brechin retains his defensive coordinator duties this fall in his 10th year on staff and his second year as the program’s DC. He’ll work alongside assistants Corey Brown and Joe Bowen to sustain the dominance of the front seven — or front six, as Miami runs a 4-2-5 base defense — heading into the new season.

Defensive line

Miami Ohio v Kentucky
Kobe Hilton returns for his third consecutive as a primary starter for Miami, lining up alongside a familiar face in Austin Ertl.
Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

While position battles are typically held in fall camp regardless of returning talent, Miami can be at ease knowing it essentially returns its full defensive line for 2023.

Austin Ertl has been a starting defensive tackle for three years running. The Wisconsin native has collected 30 starts in a lengthy tenure with the RedHawks and he will retain his role heading into 2023. Ertl has posted nearly identical numbers each of the last two seasons, and he’ll look to slightly boost his production this year in order to earn his first All-MAC selection.

Like Ertl, Kobe Hilton’s time at Miami dates back to 2019. The upcoming season will be Hilton’s third as a primary starter, as he first claimed a starting defensive tackle spot alongside Ertl in 2021. Hilton registered 32 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss last season, owning the gaps well in the MAC’s top-ranked run defense.

Caiden Woullard and Brian Ugwu are expected to retain their starting defensive end jobs from last season. In his first season as a full-time starter, Woullard contributed 29 tackles and four sacks. Ugwu also got to the quarterback several times, ranking second on the team in sacks with five. Ugwu transferred in from Rutgers prior to the 2022 campaign and wound up leading the RedHawks in tackles for loss (10.0) while ranking first among Miami defensive linemen in total tackles (43).

Outside of Woullard and Ugwu, Miami should provide plenty of reps to Corey Suttle. The former Iowa State defensive end logged four starts for the RedHawks last year and totaled 31 tackles. Suttle led the entire defense with 6.0 sacks, and his potent pass rushing abilities will be needed in his second season on campus.

Anthony Collier and Nasir Washington are the most experienced defensive tackles outside of the projected starters. Collier has 10 starts as a RedHawk — two in 2020 and eight in 2021 — and has career totals of 15 tackles and 2.0 tackles for loss. Washington made 12 appearances last season, recording seven tackles and recovering a fumble against Akron.

The defensive line is rounded out by redshirt sophomores Jacob Snell and Dalton Norris, 2022 redshirts Logan Neu (DE), Josh Lukusa (DE), Malachi Clark (DT), and true freshmen Colin Schultz, Roosevelt Andrews III, and Ethan McDowell. Andrews, a three-star edge rusher out of Barbeton, OH, is widely regarded as the top recruit of the incoming freshmen.


Cincinnati v Miami Ohio
Matt Salopek aims for his third consecutive 100+ tackle season and All-MAC appearance in 2023.
Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Matt Salopek has been a star on this defense for quite some time. He enters his redshirt junior season as a two-time All-MAC selection with two monstrous seasons under his belt. The tackling machine racked up 112 tackles and 7.0 tackles for loss in 2021, and amplified those numbers to 124 and 9.0 in 2022. Salopek also managed a career-high 3.5 sacks last year, proving his versatility. Before switching to linebacker, he used to line up as a safety and thus carries over those coverage skills into the heart of the defense. Another 100+ tackle season and All-MAC honors has become the expectation for No. 15, who hopes to spearhead a stellar defense once again in 2023.

Ty Wise operated a hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker combo last year, so the edge rusher could be listed under either position group. In his first season in Oxford after a previous stop in Indiana, Wise started five games and collected 24 tackles and 4.5 tackles for loss across eight contests. Wise is similar to Ugwu in the fact that they both arrived to Miami as seldom-used defenders in the Big Ten, but both witnessed instant upticks in production with the RedHawks. As 2022 Second Team All-MAC selection Ryan McWood graduates from the program, expect Wise to be the premier candidate to join Salopek at the other linebacker spot in Miami’s 4-2-5 scheme.

Two other linebackers were inserted into the starting lineup multiple times in 2022 — Oscar McWood, the younger brother of Ryan McWood, and Dominic Nardone. Oscar missed the first two-thirds of the season dealing with an injury, but he made two starts toward the end of the year and shined in his first exposure to college football. The younger McWood chipped in nine tackles in the regular season finale against Ball State and five in the hard-fought Bahamas Bowl loss to UAB. Meanwhile, Nardone recorded two starts and 17 tackles — amassing 10 of those tackles in one afternoon against Buffalo.

Wrapping up the RedHawk backers with starting experience, Blaine Riley managed one start in 11 games, finishing the year with three tackles.

Looking at the rest of the linebacker depth chart, Camden Rogers is among the most utilized with 12 appearances and nine tackles in 2022. Corban Hondru operated as a special teams mainstay last year, seeing in-game action on 12 occasions. Miami also landed a JUCO transfer in Cameron Williams, who posted 21 tackles at Garden City Community College in Kansas last year. Prior to his community college stint, Williams served as a special teamer at Indiana from 2019-21.

Linebackers with zero collegiate experience include returning redshirts Adam Trick, Eli Coppess, Grant Lyons, Luke Myers, and Jackson Kuwatch (an Ohio State transfer, who walked on with the Buckeyes) and true freshmen Malcolm McCain, Christian McKinney, Malik Ray, Brock Uihlein, and Tyler Dikos.