The few, and (perhaps) proud, RedHawk fans who braved the elements to take in the matchup of the Miami RedHawks and Ball State Cardinals Tuesday night were witnesses to a microcosm of the football team’s season.
While the first half treated those in attendance to the potential of what this season could have been for the RedHawks and their supporters, the second half demonstrated the disappointing reality that has been the prevailing story line for most of the year.
The Cardinals came into Oxford toting a 9-0 record and a 14th ranking on the national scene. The RedHawks greeted them with a 2-7 mark and many questions about what went wrong for a team that just three months ago seemed poised to improve on last year’s trip to Detroit for the MAC championship game. Unfortunately, the outcome was all too predictable on a cold Tuesday night, but the RedHawks certainly had their chances to surprise the Cardinals.
Miami moved the ball well up and down the field all game long, almost without exception. The RedHawks only punted twice all night, and one successful drive was cut short by a fumble. Where the RedHawks stalled was in the red zone as the team often failed to turn sustained drives into touchdowns, being forced to settle for field goals instead.
Three times in the second and third quarters, this was the case for the RedHawks as they kicked three field goals from inside the 20-yard line. Had the RedHawks been able to turn a couple of these field goals into touchdowns, eight points would have swung Miami’s way. If Armand Robinson doesn’t lose a ball in the lights late in the fourth quarter-a Dan Raudabaugh toss that looked like a sure touchdown-chalk another seven points up for the RedHawks. Eight plus seven is 15 and that was the margin of victory for Ball State.
That math is to some extent is misleading as football games are more complex than that. But the point remains-Tuesday night’s game was not far from swinging into the RedHawks favor, if only for the difference of a few plays.
Good teams live by the Harvey Dent maxim of “creating their own luck.” Witness Ball State’s ability to survive the trip to Oxford despite turning the ball over on downs at Miami’s one yard line on the first possession of the game. Too often in Tuesday’s game, and too often in the season in its entirety, the RedHawks have played from behind and needed every break to go their way-that doesn’t often happen over the course of a 60 minute football game.
Perhaps the most frustrating part of this season for RedHawk fans has been the knowledge that this team had the necessary talent to make noise in a weak MAC East. For whatever reason, last year’s success did not translate into wins in 2008. Too often this season, games have played out the way the latest one did Tuesday night.
Where do the RedHawks go from here? Questions will abound about the team and what needs to be fixed first, but it seems at this point as if there is no one correct answer. The conventional wisdom coming into this season was that the team would be able to lean on its defense, which was the best in the MAC last season-that certainly has not been the case. Whatever changes the offseason brings to this team, next year will present challenges to the RedHawks to at least the level that they were tested this season.