- Time and date: Saturday, September 9 at 3:30 p.m. ET
- Network: ESPN+
- Location: Warren McGuirk Alumni Stadium — Amherst, MA
- Spread: Miami (OH) (-7)
- Over/under: 44
- All-time series: Miami (OH) leads, 3-1
- Last meeting: Miami (OH) 20, UMass 13 — November 21, 2015
- Current streak: Miami (OH), 2 (2014-15)
Setting the scene
It’s an old MAC “rivalry.”
While UMass’ four-year run in the MAC was not ample enough time to establish any legitimate rivalries, the Minutemen faced Miami (OH) all four years as members of the conference. And as the longest tenured head coach in the MAC, Chuck Martin of the RedHawks is certainly familiar with UMass and Saturday marks his third meeting against the now-independent program.
Miami (OH)’s matchup against Miami (FL) in Week 1 did not unfold in ideal fashion, as the RedHawks were completely removed from the end zone in a 38-3 defeat. Led by a veteran quarterback in Brett Gabbert, the RedHawks look to ignite their offense against a UMass squad surrendering 44.5 points per game.
Meanwhile, the Minutemen have already matched their win total from 2022 after taking out New Mexico State in a 41-30 shootout in Week 0. UMass has two games under its belt and couldn’t recapture that magic against Auburn, which dominated the Minutemen in a 59-14 decision. But by defending its home turf Saturday, UMass can register multiple FBS wins for the first time in a season since 2018.
Miami (OH) RedHawks outlook
Miami (OH) strolled into Miami Gardens, FL last Friday to battle Miami (FL) in a dream matchup for broadcasters, but the result was more nightmarish for the RedHawks. The RedHawks sunk one 48-yard field in a 38-3 defeat, and not much else was going for the offense. Miami (OH) didn’t cross the Hurricanes’ 30-yard line until its final possession of the night and the inability to sustain offensive drives wore the defense down throughout the night.
While the RedHawks remain on the road, it’s a new dawn for Chuck Martin and Co. This week, the emphasis is establish a strong rushing attack in order to better complement quarterback Brett Gabbert and the passing game. Against the Hurricanes, Miami (OH) registered just 51 rushing yards on 20 attempts and no individual exceeded 30 yards. The RedHawks typically utilize a running back by committee approach, which should be on display at UMass. But South Carolina transfer Rashad Amos appears to be the most frequented option, fielding a team-high eight carries in Week 1. But Keyon Mozee, Kevin Davis, and Kenny Tracy should play integral supporting roles.
Although the sample size is diminutive, UMass has the eighth worst rushing defense in college football through two contests. That could give Miami (OH) a much-needed boost in the run game — thus preventing more 3rd and long situations for Gabbert as a passer. Gabbert, a MAC champion and All-MAC quarterback, completed just 12-of-21 passes for 167 yards last Friday, but the typically-efficient gunslinger saw his sixth consecutive start without an interception.
One of the most pressing questions entering this season involved who would be Gabbert’s No. 1 target. An overwhelming favorite emerged at Hard Rock Stadium as newcomer Gage Larvadain corralled eight receptions for 80 yards, while no other RedHawk secured more than two. Larvadain looks for another stellar performance, and Miami (OH) will support the FCS transfer receiver with surrounding talent such as Miles Marshall and Cade McDonald, as well as a viable tight end pairing of Jack Coldiron and Nate Muersch.
Defense was the strong suit of Miami (OH) in 2022, and the RedHawks return the majority of that unit this year. The unit held firm in the first half against Miami (FL), allowing an opening drive touchdown but preventing the Hurricanes from another end zone appearance until the third quarter. But the end result was not efficient, as the Hurricanes averaged 9.7 yards per pass and 6.9 per rush.
This week, Miami (OH) aims for increased defensive line pressure, which should be primary courtesy of defensive ends Caiden Woullard, Brian Ugwu, and Corey Suttle. First-level stops were hard to come by last week, but the RedHawks present a reliable linebacker who counters at the second level in Matt Salopek. Salopek eyes his third consecutive All-MAC selection and third consecutive season featuring 100+ tackles, and he’ll be needed to stifle a UMass ground game averaging 5.3 yards per carry.
On the back end, the primary RedHawk to watch is nickelback Michael Dowell. A former Michigan State Spartan, Dowell racked up 97 tackles in his first year with Miami and he started his 2023 off in strong fashion with an interception — helping the RedHawks win the turnover battle 1-0 in the Sunshine State.
UMass Minutemen outlook
The 2023 season is already UMass’ best since 2018. This program has fallen on hard times, and 2018 marks the last time the Minutemen exceeded one win in a year. After producing a 3-37 record over a 4-season span, UMass jumped out of the gate with one of its best performances since obtaining FBS status 11 years ago. The Minutemen posted 41 points in a double-digit road win at New Mexico State, recording their highest scoring output since Nov. 3, 2018.
UMass was a longshot to improve to 2-0 when taking a road trip to Auburn, and while the Minutemen had the score 7-7 in the late first quarter, the Tigers went nuclear with 45 unanswered points before the dawn of the fourth quarter. The rushing game still thrived with 5.2 yards per carry in a 59-14 defeat, but UMass struggled on critical downs, faring 1-of-9 on third down and 0-of-2 on fourth.
The run game is thriving through two contests thanks to the playmaking ability of Kay’Ron Lynch-Adams. The running back launched his junior campaign with 79 yards and two touchdowns against New Mexico State before ramping it up to 101 yards on Auburn’s defense. He’ll be the focal point of the Minutemen offense, looking for another respectable outing with the assistance of a far-improved offensive line.
Through the air, UMass attacks with Clemson and Georgia Tech transfer Taisun Phommachanh. But the Connecticut native is a proven runner as well as exhibited by his 96 rushing yards in the opener. Containing a mobile quarterback was not on Miami (OH)’s defensive agenda last Friday, but that strategy needs to be installed into the defense this week in order to prevent another UMass offensive explosion. Phommachanh hasn’t registered 20 passing attempts in a game this year as the Minutemen prefer to dice opponents with their ground game, but when dropping back, his favorite target is Anthony Simpson.
Simpson recorded 89 receiving yards and a touchdown against Auburn and 65 yards against New Mexico State. He currently averages 22.0 yards per reception, demonstrating big play explosiveness with his tremendous speed.
Defensively, the Minutemen haven’t shown as much promise through two games. They surrender 44.5 points and 475 yards per game through a small sample size with a notable inability to limit the run. But not all has been grim for the independent program. UMass collected three sacks in the opener and utilized that pressure to win the turnover battle 3-0.
The passing defense is holding opponents to a 57.7 completion percentage, but that is similar to the numbers the unit produced in that aspect last year. But due to the porousness of the run defense, teams just usually spam the ground game on UMass and the Minutemen defense was subject to the fewest passing attempts in the entire FBS in 2022.
A notable name to keep an eye on in this area is Isaiah Rutherford. The cornerback began his college career at Notre Dame before transferring to Arizona, where he totaled 24 tackles and four pass breakups. In Week 1, Rutherford attained the highlight of his college career, running back his first interception for a 55-yard pick six. The 6’1”, 190 pound corner likely draws the assignment of Miles Marshall from Miami (OH), looking to limit the receiver’s touches in an aerial-centric RedHawk offense.
Both teams are facing significantly different competition than what they drew in Week 1.
Miami (OH) struggled against Miami (FL) in many departments, but the RedHawks should experience a much stronger week without a suffocating Hurricane defense on the other side. Although UMass has pieced together a quality pass defense thus far, Brett Gabbert should be in store for more than 12 completions and 167 yards. Additionally, the RedHawks can finally ignite their running game against a ground defense which hasn’t seen much success containing quarterbacks or running backs this season.
UMass looks vastly improved from the 2022 iteration of the program, but Don Brown’s team remains a work in progress until more potency is established in the passing game and in the run defense. The Minutemen should make a few appearances on the scoreboard, but Miami (OH) bounces back to gather momentum after a brutal opener.
Prediction: Miami (OH) 30, UMass 17