Despite holding the fourth-ranked Gators to a meager 41 yards through the first three quarters of the Sept. 4 game, the Miami University football team failed to capitalize on numerous opportunities against Florida, ultimately falling 34-12.
Miami jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead after capitalizing on the first of eight fumbles by Florida, who struggled snapping the football to the quarterback throughout the game.
However, a few miscues by the RedHawks opened the door for the Gators to come back with 21 unanswered points in the second quarter, starting with a 67-yard interception return by junior cornerback Janoris Jenkins just under two minutes into the second quarter.
“We made crucial mistakes offensively (against Florida),” Head Coach Michael Haywood said. “The most devastating interception was the one that was returned for a touchdown. (Jenkins) cut off a hitch route that we ran, and it is a learning experience for (Zac) Dysert. He needs to methodically go through his reads and progressions because three of the interceptions were due to the emotion and adrenaline from the game.”
It was the first of four interceptions that redshirt sophomore quarterback Dysert threw in the game and is something Miami must improve upon as the season progresses.
“He bounced off his reads too early,” Offensive Coordinator Morris Watts said. “We need to work on the things that we struggled with in the game. Having patience in the pocket is key more than anything else, and he will develop that throughout the season.”
A field goal right before halftime brought the ‘Hawks to within 15 of the Gators heading into the locker room, and two more field goals by senior kicker Trevor Cook cut the margin to 21-12 early in the fourth quarter.
“Cook has gotten a lot better,” Haywood said. “He got an early challenge at the beginning of camp (this offseason) and it has really helped him. (Offensive Line) Coach (Bill) Mottola has done a good job with the PAT and with the field goal unit.”
However, Florida’s speed and athleticism proved to be too much to handle down the stretch as junior running back Jeffery Demps broke away from Miami’s defense for a 72-yard touchdown run with just over 12 minutes left in the game. This was followed by a tipped touchdown reception by redshirt junior wide receiver Chris Rainey with just over a minute left in regulation, capping off the game for Florida.
“The Demps run was a mental error (by the defense) due to the rotation of the coverage,” Haywood said. “But we made great strides in pursuit of the football (in this game). We consistently had eight to 11 guys around every tackle, and the most impressive thing was how our guys were delivering physical blows on defense.”
This new attitude from the RedHawks is something that Haywood has instilled in this team and is something that fans can expect to manifest itself even more as the season progresses.
“The level of the bar has now risen to a higher level,” Haywood said. “The players are building confidence within themselves and they need to continue to become more dangerous and relentless on the field.”
However, two of the low-points in the game came off of two mental errors by senior wide receiver Armand Robinson and by senior running back Thomas Merriweather. Robinson was called for a personal foul on a fourth-and-inches play on the goal line, forcing the RedHawks to settle for a field goal in the second half, and Merriweather was called for a personal foul and was ejected after Dysert’s second interception Saturday, setting up a first-and-goal at Miami’s two yard line.
“Each of those plays were really disturbing,” Haywood said. “That is the culture that we are changing. Merriweather’s play was a lack of discipline play that cannot be accepted within the program and it was the same thing with Robinson.”
Merriweather will be out until the 8:51 mark in the second quarter against Eastern Michigan Sept. 11, which will mean more playing time for some of the young players, including freshman running back Tracy Woods, who stepped in nicely in Merriweather’s absence.
“Woods did a good job of running the football (against Florida),” Haywood said. “I am looking forward to seeing some of the other guys run the football (this Saturday).”
In addition, Miami ran two controversial trick plays early in the game against Florida. Not once, but twice the Red and White ran a fake punt against the Gators, converting once for a big first down and failing to convert the second time, giving Florida great field position at the Miami 21-yard line that eventually led to a touchdown.
“We had no intent of running a fake punt the second time,” Haywood said. “Florida lined up 10 people in the box and we decided to audible, although we didn’t have the right personnel on the field.”
Miami made great strides both offensively and defensively in this game though, which should help them once they get into conference play. The RedHawks only suffered one injury on Saturday, which was to redshirt sophomore linebacker Luke Kelly, who will be out for about two weeks.
The Red and White return to Oxford for their Mid-American Conference opener against Eastern Michigan. Kickoff is set for 2 p.m. Sept. 11 at Yager Stadium.