Miami faces an FCS opponent in what might be their most winnable game of the year. EKU is a team that went 6-6 last season and only returned 12 starters. In their first game against Robert Morris, Kentucky transfer Dyshawn Mobley ran for 142 yards on 25 carries. On the other hand, the RedHawks faced what's predicted to be the top G5 team in the country and Rakeem Cato. Miami's defense held Cato to 261 passing yards while Andrew Hendrix threw for 318 and ran for another 46 yards. We're going to break down what you can expect from both teams in this match up.
Miami O-line vs. EKU D-line
On 75 offensive plays by Robert Morris, including 51 pass attempts, EKU managed only two sacks. On the other hand, against Marshall's strong defensive line and 49 pass attempts, Miami allowed 4 sacks. EKU's returning sack leader only had 2.5 sacks last season. Looking at it from a rushing perspective, however, EKU had 3 tackles for loss on 22 rushing attempts. That's in contrast to 4 tackles for a loss on 32 attempts allowed by Miami. Given the fast paced tempo of this offense, I'm guessing we'll see more passing than rushing so I'm giving the edge to a Miami line that will be a lot tougher, faster, and stronger than a Robert Morris team that only gave up two sacks.
Miami Passing vs. EKU Pass Defense
EKU has always been a run defense based team and in that process, they've neglected defending the pass. This week, EKU will have their hands full. Hendrix managed to dissect Marshall for 318 yards through the air. That was after a halftime where Miami's receivers couldn't get past Marshall's physical defensive backs to run their routes. After Miami began to get more physical, they exploded for several large plays, including a 41 yard touchdown by Rokeem Williams and 47 yard catch and run by David Frazier. EKU's defensive backs are much smaller and will have a hard time handling the speed and size that the RedHawks bring. The tallest cornerback on the two-deep for EKU is a 6'0" freshman who weighs just over 160 lbs. Moving on to the linebackers and tight ends, EKU will have an even harder time keeping Hendrix from utilizing his large, athletic tight ends: Alex Welsh and Orlando David. I'm not sure EKU has the size, speed, and strength to contain Miami's receiving core.
Advantage: Strong Miami
Miami Rushing vs. EKU Rush Defense
As mentioned earlier, the strength in the Colonel defense is how they handle the rush. This week will be interesting for Coach Martin as he'll have the tough decision of figuring out if he wants to air it out and attack EKU where they're weakest, or try to get the run game going to get ready for the stronger challenges that lay ahead. Last week, ignoring the sacks, Miami ran for 127 yards on 32 carries. That averages to just under 4 yards per carry. I would expect Martin to see what some of the freshman can do, such as Kenny Young, Alonzo Smith, and Paul Moses. Regardless, I wouldn't expect a much different performance than last week, so I'll give EKU the advantage here.
EKU O-line vs. Miami D-line
Against Robert Morris, EKU managed to have their way rushing, winding up with 427 yards on the ground. Even when you're playing a non-scholarship program, a non-scholarship program that tends to lose to other non-scholarship programs, that's hard to do. Miami's defensive line was able to put in some solid plays against Marshall, however it was occasionally inconsistent. Miami will need to play well to keep EKU in check. Because we haven't seen Miami's defensive line really stop a team in some time, I'll give the advantage to EKU. If Miami plays like they did in the second half against Marshall, Miami will have the upper hand, but that's an if and we aren't counting those.
Advantage: Slight EKU
EKU Passing Offense vs. Miami Passing Defense
If EKU wants a chance to stay in the game, this needs to be a non-factor for them. Between their two quarterbacks against Robert Morris, they wound up going 17-30 with 3 interceptions. On top of that, Miami has a lot of size at corner back to counter the height of the Colonel receivers. The leading returning receiver only had 34 receptions last year, and that tied for the lead on the entire team. Miami gets the strong nod here and EKU better hope they don't need to air it out down the road.
Advantage: Strong Miami
EKU Rushing Offense vs. Miami Defense
This will be the real battle this game. Can Miami turn the corner and stop a power rushing team, even an FCS one? Marshall had trouble finding holes, but were able to have just enough long runs to keep their yards per carry at a high level. After handling Devin Johnson last week, the RedHawks will have to handle Dyshawn Mobley, a Kentucky transfer playing his first year at EKU. Mobley is a skilled back who had several solid performances for Kentucky but a dispute with the coaching staff led to a transfer. EKU has larger but less skilled lineman than Marshall and the battle will lead to an interesting chess match between the size of EKU and the speed of Miami's linemen. In order to stop the run, Miami will have to lean on Bryson Albright, Kent Kern, and a rotation of defensive tackles. If Miami can stop the run, this game won't be much of one. If they have a hard time, this could be a long game for the 'Hawks. Based on the performances so far, EKU gets the nod here, but I'll be interested to see if the 20 lbs gained by most of the defensive lineman over the offseason will make a difference.
Miami should come away with this one, but a lot of things can make this a tough game. This might be one of the most prolific rushing attacks Miami will face all season, so it will be a good measuring stick to see what to expect for the rest of this season. Unfortunately for EKU, they don't have the size and strength that caused Miami issues in the first half of their game.
Note: Damon Washington is the only RedHawk expected to miss the game due to 'a lower body thing', in the words of Coach Martin.