The RedHawks visit Camp Randall Stadium for a matchup against a University of Wisconsin football team that lost 35-17 to then-No. 3 and 2014 Southeastern Conference champion University of Alabama last weekend. It’s the first-ever meeting between the two schools, and Miami enters the game as a 33-point underdog.
“We’re mindful of that,” junior cornerback Heath Harding said. “But that’s awesome for us because no one expects us to do anything. We’re just gonna go in there and play our hearts out and hopefully pull the upset.”
Redshirt senior quarterback Drew Kummer shared the sentiment.
“We believe in our talent,” he said. “We believe in our plays and coaching. We’ll take it one practice at a time, and take it from there.”
Wisconsin (1-0), a historically rush-heavy program, was held to 40 rushing yards in the Alabama loss.
The Badgers averaged 320.1 yards per game on the ground last season, which was fourth-highest in the FBS. Miami head coach Chuck Martin anticipates the Badgers to use this weekend’s matchup as an opportunity to redeem themselves.
“They pride themselves on smashing people in the mouth,” Martin said. “There’s no better time than when a MAC school comes into town after you’ve played Alabama to get back to running the ball.”
However, UW may be out junior running back Corey Clement, who is listed as questionable after sustaining a groin injury in last week’s game. Clement hopes to play though, and redshirt senior wide receiver Alex Erickson can be used as a threat on the ground. Erickson led the Badgers with 25 rushing yards last Saturday.
“We know they’re Wisconsin so they’re gonna run heavy on us and, obviously, play action pass off that,” Harding said.
UW redshirt senior quarterback Joel Stave finished 26-of-39 for 228 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.
Defensively, Wisconsin will monitor the secondary with the questionable status of Michael Caputo. Caputo left early in the Alabama game with a concussion. Senior Joe Schobert poses a threat at outside linebacker, after leading the Badger defense with a game-high 13 tackles, including four TFLs and two sacks.
“They’re a tough opponent,” Kummer said. “They’re big, but we just gotta play our game … they play two different fronts, which we’ve been working on … we gotta be able to put our bodies on their bodies.”
Miami (1-0) enters the weekend after beating Presbyterian College 26-7 in its first season-opening victory since 2007.
Despite the win, it was sloppy: the team was flagged 13 times for a loss of 162 yards.
“They were very immature, overzealous, trying-to-do-too-much penalties that should have never happened,” Martin said.
The high penalty count was due in part to the team’s inexperience. Of the 69 RedHawks that played in the Presbyterian victory, 23 were freshmen.
“A lot of it was young guys getting out there for the first time and thinking they were gonna hit somebody,” Martin said. “And a number of them I couldn’t even tell who they called it on. We had two or three hits from behind on the same guy in the same return and you’re like ‘who’d they get?’ Just a lot of overzealous, overaggressive stuff that cost us major field position. In a different game, it could have affected the outcome.”
However, several positives showed themselves in the season-opener.
In his first career start, Kummer completed an efficient 14-of-19 passes for 255 yards and two touchdowns. Redshirt freshman running back Alonzo Smith also made his first career start and led the team in carries (12), yards (86) and touchdowns (2).
Redshirt freshman receiver Chris Hudson hauled in a 10-yard touchdown catch and later added a 38-yard reception, which he brought down to the 1-yard line to set up another touchdown.
On the defensive side of the ball, senior linebacker Kert Kern led with nine tackles, redshirt senior defensive back Brison Burris had six tackles and one TFL and redshirt junior defensive back JT Jones had four quarterback hurries. Sophomore DB Tony Reid saved two Presbyterian touchdowns, one with a fumble recovery, and one with an interception. During Reid’s pick, nine MU backups were on the field.
Despite the promise his team shows, Martin knows the Badgers will be a major test for his group.
“We gotta try to get the game into halftime somehow,” Martin said. “And if you do, maybe the pressure gets more on them … that’s how upsets happen. Usually the game’s a little closer than it should be, then you make some uncharacteristic mistakes.”
Miami has lost 17 consecutive away games (the last win was a 56-49 victory at University of Akron on Sept. 29, 2012) and 11 consecutive games against Big Ten teams (the last win was against Northwestern University, 44-14, on Sept. 13, 2003).
Meanwhile, Wisconsin is 68-7 (.907) at home since the start of the 2004 season, which includes 32 consecutive non-conference home games.
As for an answer to solving the Badgers’ team, Martin offers two:
“One, you have to play your obviously very best football. Probably play a little bit above your head. Two, they have to play their not very best football … and then you hope that they make some mistakes.”
The team realizes the challenge ahead, and Harding embraces it.
“You just come in with the same game plan you come in with for every other team,” Harding said. “You watch film, you prep, you practice, and you go in there expecting to win. It’s not a different scenario; it’s just a bigger team.”
And for Kummer, the approach is even simpler: “We’re winners. We want to win.”
Kickoff is 12 p.m. in Madison, Wisconsin.