Throughout the first five weeks of the 2018 campaign, the Miami RedHawks perplexed fans and analysts alike.
Sitting at 1-4 with a rash of injuries and team-wide inconsistency, Miami didn’t look as bad as its record suggested, but its once-promising season was fading quickly.
The Hustle Belt wrote, “This is a game that Akron should win fairly easily.”
College Football News picked the Zips to win, claiming “it’s going to be a lost year if [Miami] can’t pull off the win over an underappreciated Akron squad.”
Brad Koenig disagreed.
The redshirt senior linebacker picked off two passes and forced and recovered a fumble in the fourth quarter, allowing the RedHawks (2-4, 2-1 Mid-American) to blow the game wide-open and pick up a 41-17 victory over last season’s MAC East Champions on Saturday.
“How many plays can one guy make in one game?” head coach Chuck Martin said about Koenig. “Between rushing the quarterback and causing turnovers, [he’s a] tremendous football player, tremendously underrated.”
Led by Koenig, the entire defense upped its play from the previous weekend’s loss to Western Michigan, when the RedHawks surrendered 40 points.
Miami held the Zips to 56 net rushing yards on 28 carries, while only giving up 203 passing yards and one touchdown through the air.
The success is even more impressive given Miami played in Akron (2-2, 0-1 MAC) – the Zips went 5-1 at home in 2017 – and without three defensive starters.
“[It was] a really, really gutsy win,” Martin said. “We bounced back on defense. We gave up seven points the whole game against an explosive, explosive offense. Our offense moved the ball better than all year.”
After a scoreless first quarter, the RedHawks took a 7-0 lead on a three-yard touchdown run by redshirt senior running back Alonzo Smith.
Miami didn’t wait long to extend its advantage either, forcing an Akron three-and-out, before redshirt senior quarterback Gus Ragland tossed a seven-yard touchdown to, a now healthy, redshirt senior running back Kenny Young.
The RedHawks were playing well and held a 14-0 lead with less than five minutes before halftime. Then, as is bound to happen to Miami in 2018, it all disappeared.
Akron stormed back, scoring 17 straight points to take a 17-14 lead early in the third quarter.
First, AU sophomore quarterback Kato Nelson found sophomore wideout Nate Stewart for a 17-yard touchdown. Next, Ragland threw an interception the Zips turned into a field goal right before intermission. Finally, Miami fumbled a punt, allowing Akron to scoop it up and run it back for a touchdown.
Trailing for the first time in the game, Miami stayed calm. The 17-point Akron comeback was the result of self-inflicted errors rather than being outplayed.
The RedHawks fired back on their next drive, capping off a six-play, 57-yard possession with a Young rushing touchdown to push ahead 21-17.
A field goal by junior kicker Sam Sloman extended Miami’s lead to 24-17.
Following Young’s third touchdown of the day, the RedHawks’ defense forced turnovers on four consecutive Akron possessions. The ’Hawks turned the three interceptions and fumble recovery into their final 10 points to secure a 41-17 statement win.
Miami outgained Akron 422-259 in total yardage.
Ragland threw for 214 yards with a touchdown and an interception, but the running game propelled the offense.
Sparked by Kenny Young’s return from injury, the ’Hawks rushed for 208 yards and four touchdowns on 38 carries. Young had a game-high 78 rushing yards and three total touchdowns.
Martin called Young “one of our best football players.”
“Every time he’s on the field, he’s a great football player,” Martin said. “Very rarely does he not make a huge impact on a game. Obviously, he made a huge impact in today’s game and can do so many things.”
After catching his first collegiate reception and first two touchdowns against Western Michigan, sophomore wide receiver Dominique Robinson led Miami with five grabs for 77 yards.
Nelson was the only Zip to gain any traction on offense, and even he was held in check. He finished with 203 yards and a touchdown through the air and paced Akron with 30 rushing yards. He threw three interceptions and was sacked three times.
Though senior safety De’Andre Montgomery finished with a team-high seven tackles, Koenig made the biggest impact for the RedHawks’ defense.
He had four tackles (one for loss) to go along with his two picks and one forced fumble.
Despite the tough start to the season, Martin and his team remain confident going forward.
“We haven’t given up belief,” Martin said. “Everybody just looks at our record and says, ‘you’re 1-4 and you suck.’ We’re 1-1 in the league and we feel like we should be 2-0. We almost pulled one out a week ago.
“Our kids have proven through time they’re resilient, and we’re going to keep pushing. We’re going to keep trying to play good football. When you play good football in this league, you’ve got a chance to win. They’re all winnable, they’re all losable. It doesn’t matter who you play.”
Miami returns home to Yager Stadium on Saturday to play Kent State (1-5, 0-2 MAC). The contest is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. and will be broadcast on ESPN+.