Saturday night’s weather was a perfect representation of how the Miami RedHawks have played this season: sloppy.
With pouring rain at Paul Brown Stadium, the Cincinnati Bearcats physically and mentally beat Miami for four quarters. The RedHawks never gained momentum in the 21-0 shutout.
“When you don’t score any points, any mistake is going to cost you the game,” Head Coach Chuck Martin said. “So, we had one mistake on defense, one mistake on offense.”
But it wasn’t just two – it was a three-touchdown blowout. Being disciplined and correcting their self-inflicted mistakes could’ve kept them in the game.
It’s the same story. When Miami football plays big games, discipline disappears.
Martin knew that coming into this season. His MU teams are 5-18 in one-possession games and he’s never beaten Cincinnati or Ohio during his time at Miami.
“Last year, I would definitely say, at times, we were worried about the big picture,” Martin said before the season. “We were worried about the result more than we were worried about grinding through to get to the result.”
He spent the offseason preaching discipline and physical and mental toughness. So far this season, it hasn’t shown.
The first MU offensive snap of the year resulted in a false start against Marshall last week. Before the offense even snapped the ball against the Bearcats this weekend, the play clock ran out. Both penalties pushed the RedHawks back five yards, putting themselves behind the 8-Ball in both games.
In the loss to Marshall, Miami was flagged eight times, costing it 71 yards. None was bigger than a holding call on its last offensive drive.
Down by seven with three minutes left, the RedHawks took over with good field position at their own 43-yard line. After a first down incompletion, the ’Hawks were flagged for a holding penalty on second down, pushing them back to their own 33 and effectively killing their comeback chances by making it second-and-20. The drive and, essentially, the game ended with an incomplete pass on fourth-and-15.
Against UC, it wasn’t the amount of penalties that hurt, but the timing of them. Miami only committed four infractions, including a contest-opening, delay-of-game penalty.
The first MU offensive drive resulted in a three-and-out.
Trailing just 7-0 in the second quarter, the RedHawks finally got a momentum boost when Redshirt senior running back Kenny Young caught a punt on the MU 47-yard line and returned it well into UC territory. With two-and-a-half minutes left in the second quarter, this was a great opportunity for Miami to tie the game before heading into intermission.
Except the punt return was called back. A block-in-the-back penalty was called on the RedHawks, pushing their offense from near the red-zone to their own 37-yard line. The drive resulted in a punt after three plays totalling minus-eight yards.
The only thing that changed after halftime was Miami’s deficit.
A third-quarter offensive pass interference robbed the RedHawks of a red-zone chance – something they didn’t have once on Saturday night.
The only turnover of the game had to give Miami fans flashbacks to last season’s epic “Battle of the Bell” meltdown. In the fourth quarter, the RedHawks had their backs near their own end zone. Redshirt senior quarterback Gus Ragland looked to his right and threw a bullet pass into traffic.
You know where this is going.
The pass was picked off. Cincinnati returned it to the MU one-yard line and punched it in for a score on the next play. 14-0 UC with 13 minutes to play.
Still time, still hope, but Miami needed a defensive stop.
And it came close to getting one.
The ‘Hawks forced a third-and-eight just outside of Cincinnati’s field goal range. All they had to do was prevent a first down to give their offense a chance to make it a one-possession game.
UC freshman quarterback Desmond Ridder threw deep down the right sideline. However, the pass was well underthrown, forcing his receiver to retreat for the ball. All MU senior corner Deondre Daniels had to do to grab a possible interception was turn around. He didn’t. He collided with UC’s receiver to draw the foul.
The Bearcats would ice the game at 21 with a touchdown a few plays later.
One play, or even several, didn’t cost the RedHawks the game. However, by correcting a few of these, their chances of winning would have increased.
“This year, I think we’ve come out of the shoot good in terms of mental discipline and toughness,” Martin said, when asked about lack of discipline.
The evidence would suggest otherwise. And this isn’t new.
Last season, the ’Hawks were criticized for late-game mental mishaps and a conservative, “playing not to lose” style.
This season, that attitude and those mishaps have extended to most of the game – Miami has yet to hold a lead in 2018.
Yet, Martin maintains that his team is better than its record shows.
“I still like my team,” Martin said with a pained grin Saturday night. “I’m not wavering on my team. I like this group. I think we have enough talent. I think we have a chance to have a really good football team. We’re not there yet, but we’re not bad. We’re not playing chopped-liver teams either.”
Many fans would agree. This is undoubtedly the most talented team Martin has had in his five seasons at Miami. He’s done a great job recruiting and rebuilding the program after it went 0-12 the season before he arrived.
But, with talent, comes higher expectations. It’s been 13 years since the ’Hawks beat the Bearcats and six since they beat Ohio. Fans are antsy for a rivalry win.
“I mean you have two rivals that you haven’t beat in a while,” Martin said. “Obviously, they’re good teams, but we’ve had some close games with them, but I think fans should be fans and get restless and disappointed. That’s what I would be, so trust me, they’re no more frustrated or disappointed than we are.”
Missing opportunities and falling short in big games is a recurring trend. On paper, thanks to the rebuild, the RedHawks have the talent to win. On game day, they just seem to be holding themselves back.