It seems to happen every week for the Miami RedHawks; the game is nail-bitingly close, the offense is clicking and the defense is stepping up in key situations - enter the untimely self-inflicted error.
To be fair to quarterback Andrew Hendrix and the offense, two of Miami's nine penalties were committed due to highly-questionable pass interference calls that "were major, major, major, major, major, major in the outcome of the game," according to head coach Chuck Martin. And he's right. But the fact remains: 102 penalty yards is far too many. Factor that into a 40 percent third-down efficiency, two lost fumbles and an interception, and you don't exactly have a recipe for success. Martin will be the first to tell you that effort is great, but execution is the name of the game.
It's been Miami's focus all along this season, but it's much more urgent now that they're staring down the 4-2 Northern Illinois Huskies. They have been a force in the MAC up until last wee's embarrassment at the hands of Central Michigan. It halted the Huskies' 28-game home win streak and 24-game MAC win streak, Central's statement couldn't have come at a worse time for Miami. To paraphrase Martin, that's just bad luck.
NIU will be in the hunt for the conference championship this year, and it's due to something Miami has trouble with - holding onto that football. The Huskies might only have a +2 turnover margin on the year, but they haven't coughed up the ball more than once in a single contest all season. Their multi-pronged running attack tucks the ball away tight, and quarterback Drew Hare has done his best to step out from under the shadow of former Heisman-hopeful Jordan Lynch. He's thrown for just shy of 1000 yards on the year with 10 touchdowns and a lone interception to boot, while racking up 235 yards on two TD's on the ground.
The backfield, however, is where things get interesting. While most teams opt to spread the ball around through the air, the Huskies choose to do so on the ground. Cameron Stingily might lead the Huskies with just 280 yards on 56 carries (5.0 YPC), but he's one of five players to have triple-digit yardage, and one of six to register double-digit carries. That doesn't bode well for a RedHawk squad that has permitted five running backs 100+ yard rushing games this season.
Still, if history can lend any benefit to Miami (it probably doesn't, but as a sports writer I like these stats, so deal with it), the RedHawks can look to their record against the Huskies as some sort of inane encouragement. In 15 total meetings between the two programs, Miami holds an 8-7 advantage over NIU including the last meeting in the 2010 MAC Championship, a game that Miami pulled out 26-21.
But as I said, those stats are ancient history in this sport. Miami will have to rely on more recent positives, such as Hendrix's 2,131 passing yards (8th nationally), 17 passing touchdowns (9th nationally) 324.6 yards of total offense per game (16th nationally). Coupled with David Frazier's crazy stat line of 707 receiving yards (7th nationally) and 101 yards per game (16th nationally), and the RedHawks might just pull out their second win of the year through sheer offensive will alone. They'll put that potent "O" to the test this Saturday at 5:00 p.m. in DeKalb, Ill.