The Miami RedHawks have their talons full against Western Michigan, if Monday’s weekly press conference is any indicator.
Head coach Chuck Martin and redshirt senior running back Alonzo Smith both commented on Miami’s (1-3, 1-0 Mid-American) impending Saturday afternoon matchup with the Broncos (2-2, 0-0 MAC) and the ’Hawks getting their first win of 2018 last weekend against Bowling Green.
Here are the five biggest talking points heading into Week Five:
1. “It felt good to start MAC play with a win,” Smith said. “You always want to get off to that good start, especially in conference play. I think we’re going to keep moving forward from here on out, as long as we keeping doing the things we’re doing in practice with that focused mindset.”After losing three straight to tough out-of-conference competition the first three weeks, it had to feel great for the RedHawks to get back to winning ways against Bowling Green. When Miami scored a first-quarter touchdown to take a 7-0 advantage, it was the first time the ’Hawks held a lead this season.
The resurgence of the running game paved the way for the victory, with Smith and co. rushing for a season-high 289 yards. Smith earned MAC East Offensive Player of the Week for his 164-yard effort.
Martin said before the game that he really wanted to get the running game going again to allow his offense to reach its full potential. The offense seemed to do just that, putting up a season-high 38 points.
Going forward, the spotlight on running should continue. Western Michigan has surrendered 204 yards per contest and 10 touchdowns on the ground. Its defense has been better stopping the pass than the run, so look for Miami to continue to establish its running game.
2. “I would say most of the guys that didn’t play last week are doubtful for this week,” Martin said. “Most of the injuries aren’t season-ending, but they’re bumped and bruised. It’s not good, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to be good for another couple weeks.”The RedHawks played without eight of their normal starters – five on offense, three on defense – because of injuries against BG.
They were missing key offensive weapons such as redshirt senior running back Kenny Young and senior wideout James Gardner, but still managed to tally 38 points.
Their offensive effort (and run game) is even more impressive considering that the starting right side of the offensive line didn’t suit up because of different ailments.
The good news is those two linemen will be back and starting against Western Michigan. That should give the resurgent run-game even more of a lift.
The bad news is they’re probably the only returners.
Many of the other wounded RedHawks will be out for the next few weeks, according to Martin.
3. “[Western Michigan’s] had an interesting schedule,” Martin said. “They played a couple really high-end opponents […] They’ve played a couple other teams that they really had a huge advantage against. They’ve had two where they were, probably, physically up against a little bit, and then they’ve had two where they were physically dominant. A couple games they’ve looked like the [New England] Patriots.”The Broncos, like Miami, didn’t give themselves any warm-up laps out of the gates in 2018, playing Syracuse and Michigan, in Week One and Two, respectively.
After losing a 55-42 shootout to the Orange, they were dominated by the Wolverines, 49-3.Starting in Week Three, Western Michigan flipped the script. It blew out two lesser opponents – Delaware State and Georgia State – by a combined score of 102-15.
From a talent-standpoint, the ’Hawks are probably the most evenly matched opponents the Broncos have faced so far, making for an interesting and, potentially, down-to-the-wire game.
4. “Their number one formation, that they’ve run more plays out of than any other formation this year, they’re averaging 9.85 per play,” Martin said. “I’ve never even seen that. If you’re averaging five yards per play in your number one formation, that’s pretty dang good.”
A spread-attack firework show is to be expected from the gifted WMU offense, especially after averaging 52 points per game the last two weeks. The unit’s top formation is a simple one-tight end set from the shotgun. But whatever the Broncos are doing out of it is working and resulting in chunk plays.
They have run several plays for more than 60 yards, including a season-long 71-yard rush by redshirt senior tailback Jamauri Bogan last Saturday against Georgia State.The team has averaged over 36 points per game and 6.7 yards per play this season. In comparison, Miami has scored 17.25 points per game and gained 4.9 yards per play.
5. “They have tremendous tailbacks that are game-breakers,” Martin said. “Every single week, at least, since I’ve been in the league, they’re breaking off touchdown runs of over 50 yards. They kind of know they have game-breaking backs, and they figure like, ‘If we get the ball in their hands 40 times, there’s going to be a couple creases.’ And when they get creases, they go the distance.”
Junior running back LeVante Bellamy is WMU’s leading rusher. So far in 2018, he’s tallied 389 yards and three touchdowns while averaging 7.8 yards a pop. Martin called him “crazy fast.” His longest rush this season is 64 yards.
Brogan has run for 240 yards and three touchdowns while averaging 6.2 yards per carry.And just when the defense keys in on those two speedsters, junior quarterback Jon Wassink throws it deep.
Wassink has thrown for 984 yards with a solid 8-to-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio. His season-long pass is 84 yards, which is the Broncos’ longest play from scrimmage this year.
Miami kicks off against the Broncos at 3:30 p.m. in the friendly confines of Yager Stadium. A bigger crowd than usual can be expected as it’s family weekend for Miami students. The game can be watched on ESPN+.