FOOTBALL IS BACK TOMORROW. The Miami University [they don’t go by Miami (Ohio) anymore, at least officially] RedHawks are coming to town in an attempt to defeat our beloved Iowa Hawkeyes. But chances are, you don’t know very much, if anything, about RedHawk football, other than the fact that Ben Roethlisberger was their quarterback so long ago. So, we enlisted help from Jordan Rinard, the Miami RedHawk editor at SB Nation’s #MACtion blog Hustle Belt.
Max: The last time the Hawkeyes saw the RedHawks, Big Ben was at the helm. What's been going on with this team since then?
Jordan: Miami's gone through some peaks and valleys since 2003. The RedHawks turned into bottom feeders as soon as Terry Hoeppner left for Indiana in 2005, but won the MAC title in 2010 in Michael Haywood's second year. After losing Haywood to Pitt (where he was fired before he ever coached a game for the Panthers), Miami hired Michigan St. OC (and MU alum) Don Treadwell, and he was fired midseason in the 2013 debacle where MU averaged 12 points a game on offense and 36 on defense. Notre Dame OC Chuck Martin took the job in the winter of '13 and has been rebuilding the program through recruiting, with a few classes in the top three in the MAC already. So there really hasn't been much consistency at Miami since Ben left.
Max: Miami went 0-12 just three season ago, and has seen their win total increase from 0 to 2 in 2014, and 2 to 3 in 2015. Is this team still trending upwards, or are they expected to stay on par with last season?
Jordan: This is a team that has the potential to make a bowl in 2016 with the talent that's there and their schedule. Last season, Miami lost four games that were within one possession in the fourth quarter, the result of having 24 freshman getting significant playing time. This season, there still aren’t a lot of juniors and seniors on this team, but last year's experience will be huge for the sophomores that make up most of the offensive skill positions.
Max: What should Iowa fans know about the offense? In what ways are the RedHawks going to attack Iowa?
Jordan: Miami wants to be able to run the ball, and this is the first year that they may be able to physically do it with six offensive linemen over 300 lbs. The 'Hawks may not be able to run inside on Iowa, so expect a lot of jet sweeps and outside runs to force the linebackers to make plays in space. In the passing game, there will be some intriguing match-ups with three receivers that are at least 6'5". Having a true sophomore at quarterback is not ideal, but Billy Bahl has all the physical tools to be a great college quarterback, and played good ball in the last four games of last season with six touchdowns to three interceptions.
Max: Who are the key players on both sides of the ball for Miami?
Jordan: Bahl is obviously a guy to watch on offense, as is the stable of running backs with Alonzo Smith (the inside runner) as well as the speed tandem of Kenny Young and Maurice Thomas. On defense, J.T. Jones is one of the premier pass rushers in the MAC with nine sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss last season, and Heath Harding is an all-conference caliber player at corner despite missing most of last season due to injury.
Max: Miami is a huge underdog in this game. What would they need to be able to do in order to pull off an upset?
Jordan: This is a given, but they have to win the field position and turnover battle. If Iowa constantly gets short fields like Wisconsin did last year, this won't be a competitive game. Miami also has to find a way to run the ball like we talked about earlier and not have Bahl throw every down. Finally, the RedHawks have to get pressure on C.J. Beathard and force him into mistakes, which they may have an opportunity to do since he was sacked 29 times in 2015.
Max: Alright, prediction time. What's your pick?
Jordan: Iowa wins, but Miami will cover the 28.5-point spread. The 'Hawks are able to move the ball but not enough to really challenge the Hawkeyes.
Thanks to Jordan for his time and insight! Of course, I hope the Hawkeyes throw a hundred points on your team. For more on Miami University football (and all things #MACtion), check out Hustle Belt’s blog and follow them on Twitter at @HustleBelt. Happy football.