After a roller coaster season, the Miami RedHawks (6-7) had plenty of highs (six-game winning streak, bowl eligibility, co-MAC East champions) and lows (0-6 to start the year, a slew of injuries, crushing loss in the 2016 St. Petersburg Bowl), but the ‘Hawks have plenty to build on as we head into a 2017 season where the expectations have never been higher in Chuck Martin’s tenure in Oxford.
Miami started the season off with a 45-21 loss where Billy Bahl was able to make some throws but was unable to string enough successful plays together to stay on the field and help the defense out. The following week, the ‘Hawks fell 21-17 at home to a tough Eastern Illinois team as the situational woes popped up again as they went 5-12 on third down and 1-3 in coming away with red zone touchdowns.
The struggles on offense continued against Western Kentucky, as MU rushed at a 2.2 yards per carry clip and Bahl tossed 21 incompletions in the 31-24 home defeat. In yet another nip-and-tuck Battle for the Victory Bell, the defense kept the Red and White in the game but situational offense done them in again as they went 2-11 on the money down and only scored one touchdown four red zone opportunities in the 27-20 loss.
The start of MAC play brought the Battle of the Bricks to Oxford, the offense let the defense down yet again with three turnovers that were turned into 10 Bobcats points as Miami lost 17-7. Bahl was injured in the effort, leaving true freshman Noah Wezensky as the lone healthy quarterback and things went as expected against the Zips as Wezensky tossed two picks and the team went 1-12 on third downs in the 35-13 rout.
Sitting at 0-6 with their offense in total disarray, Martin turned to Gus Ragland for Kent State six months after tearing his ACL in spring ball, and Ragland delivered Miami its first win of the season with Ragland delivering a 55-yard go-ahead TD pass to Kenny Young with 1:34 left in the game as it held on to win 18-14. MU had a nice team win in a 40-26 victory at Bowling Green as Ragland threw three touchdowns and the defense recorded three interceptions.
The road got tougher for the ‘Hawks with consecutive games against bowl teams, and they delivered a pair of double-digit victories. Miami won on third down in The Factory as the defense held Eastern Michigan to 4-14 on the down while it was more efficient by converting four of nine attempts in the 28-15 win. Ragland had a monster game against Central Michigan with 278 total yards and four passing scores in the 37-17 home triumph to get the team within striking distance in the MAC East.
The RedHawks took care of business in Buffalo as they beat the Bulls 35-24 in a game that wasn’t as close as the score suggests as the road team held a 35-10 lead with less than ten minutes remaining in the game. De’Andre Montgomery had two defensive TDs as the team rushed for 204 yards on the day. MU clinched a bowl berth and a share of the MAC East title in dramatic fashion as it overcame a ten-point halftime deficit to Ball State to win 21-20. Ragland put the team on his back with 380 passing yards and a trio of scores while the defense did its job in the red zone holding the Cardinals to one touchdown in four red zone trips.
A dropped Akron touchdown pass against Ohio kept the Red and White out of the MAC Championship game, but they made their 11th bowl game in program history with a date with Mississippi State in the St. Petersburg Bowl. Miami had an ample amount of opportunities to pull off the upset, but situational football came to haunt the team with MU converting on 33% on third down while the Bulldogs came through on half of their attempts, Miami scoring two TDs on four red zone possessions, MSU getting three points off of two turnovers, three dropped INTs, as well as dumb penalties. The ‘Hawks were lucky it was only a 17-16 loss with as many drops as the ‘Dogs had that prevented scoring opportunities for them.
We would be remiss if we didn’t discuss the job that the Miami staff has done on the recruiting trail for the 2017 class, which is shaping up to be a pretty good one. As of this writing, there are 17 commits for the RedHawks with a little over a month until National Signing Day per 247Sports.com. The class is headlined by eight three-star prospects, including South Carolina QB Jackson Williamson who played in the Shrine Game that aired on the ESPN family of networks recently.
The loss in St. Pete left a sour taste in the mouth of many a Miami fan, but let’s keep things in perspective: the program went from being the worst team in the country to being competitive against a SEC team in a bowl game in three years. This team finally has a foundation it can build on for next season with only a handful of departures in the offseason. The RedHawks ought to be one of the favorites in the MAC next season, and fans should expect a more satisfying conclusion than a loss to a 5-7 team on a baseball field.