By Coburn Gillies, Assistant Sports Editor
After starting the season 0-6, the Miami University football team has gone on a tear and finds itself on the verge of being bowl eligible for the first time since 2010.
Gus Ragland threw for 105 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for another score as the RedHawks (5-6) extended their winning streak to five games, something they have not achieved since 2010, beating the University of Buffalo (2-8) 35-24 on the road.
The redshirt junior added to his perfect touchdown-to-interception record, bringing his total to 12 touchdowns to zero interceptions. Since Ragland took over as starter, MU have gone 5-0.
Both of the quarterback’s touchdowns were connections with wide receiver Jared Murphy. This was the redshirt junior’s third-straight game with a touchdown reception. Redshirt sophomore running back Alonzo Smith contributed 91 yards on seven attempts, including a 70-yard run that set up Ragland’s seven-yard scamper to put the ‘Hawks up two scores in the first quarter.
Wide receiver James Gardner, who leads the team in receptions and yards, inched his way even closer to full-strength against the Bulls. The 6-4 wide receiver caught one pass for 15 yards in his first taste of action since catching nine balls against Bowling Green.
“James Gardner got back out there for a little,” head coach Chuck Martin said. “We’ll be looking forward to him being even closer to 100 percent.”
During pregame warmups, both starting offensive tackles came down with injuries as redshirt freshman Matt Skibinski and senior Collin Buchanan were sidelined. Despite the injuries, Martin’s team found a way to secure the victory.
“There’s something to be said for having as many injuries as we have, and kids are just kind of numb,” Martin said.
With Saturday afternoon’s win, the RedHawks improve to 5-2 in Mid-American Conference play, holding down second-place in the East Division. Buffalo falls to 1-5 in conference, and is in a deadlock for ownership of last place in the East Division with Bowling Green.
This marks the second game in three weeks in which the RedHawks have raced out to a 13-0 lead in the first quarter. Both times have occurred on the road, as it also happened two weeks ago when MU visited Eastern Michigan.
Throughout this win streak, Miami has been anchored by its MAC-best defense. Saturday, sophomore defensive back De’Andre Montgomery put together his best game of the season.
First, Montgomery intercepted a screen pass from UB’s redshirt freshman Jackson Tyree and returned it 20 yards for a score. On the ensuing possession, the defensive back scored again, taking a recovered fumble 92 yards for a touchdown to increase the RedHawk’s lead to 22 in the third quarter.
As a result of Montgomery’s back-to-back scores, the MU offense didn’t even take the field in the third quarter.
“Offense, obviously, enjoyed watching the defense in the third quarter because they didn’t play at all,” Martin said. “They just kept scoring and we kept cheering them on.”
While Montgomery was the star of the show, the defense as a whole did its part to hold its opponent to under 30 points for the third consecutive week.
“Defense played great,” Martin said. “Obviously, the whole game. You know, didn’t blink when we gave up an offensive touchdown, got stops.”
Buffalo head coach Lance Leipold’s offense has scored less than 30 points in all but one game this season, and that didn’t change on Saturday. Offensively for UB, it was the two-headed rushing attack of running backs Jordan Johnson and Jonathan Hawkins that did the damage. The senior and sophomore combined for the only two offensive touchdowns, rushing for 136 yards on 36 carries.
Defensively, linebacker Ishmael Hargrove spearheaded the Bulls’ efforts. The junior had six tackles, five assisted, one solo and helped stop a runner in the backfield for 0.5 tackles for a loss. Senior defensive lineman Brandon Crawford had five tackles, all of which were solo, including two tackles for a loss.
Miami’s two defensive scores proved to be the difference in the game. Without those touchdowns, the RedHawks would have fallen short 24-21. This dependence on defense showed, as the Red and White lost the first down battle 27-11, the time-of-possession duel 31:08 to 28:52 and were outgained 380 yards to 309 yards.
By beating UB, the ‘Hawks snapped a four-game losing streak against the Bulls.
Next week, Miami will play a pivotal home game against Ball State University to determine whether or not the RedHawks will be going bowling for the first time since 2010.
Kickoff for the Tuesday night MACtion game is scheduled for 7 p.m. next Tuesday, Nov. 22, and will be televised live on ESPNU.