Football and war have a lot in common.
In fact, the two share so much in common that war terminology has transcended from its initial home on the battlefield to find its way onto the gridiron.
Cross midfield during a football game and suddenly you’re in “enemy territory.” Quarterbacks can throw the “bomb” or opt to “fire a bullet.” The “triggerman” can also get “sacked,” often times the result of an opponent’s “blitz.” Naturally, this all happens on the “battlefield.”
But phrases aren’t the only link between the two.
In terms of strategy, one critical similarity resonates more clearly than anything else between football and war – battles are won and lost “in the trenches.”
While this truism might’ve been more readily apparent for war in the pre-Vietnam era, the 2006 Miami University football team learned the hard way how applicable it is between the sidelines.
More than botched field goals, more than red zone failures, more than costly turnovers, the most glaring reason for the team’s dismal 2-10 record was horrendous play on the offensive and defensive lines.
Miami is now nearing the end of its NCAA-allotted 15 spring practices, and the football faithful now have just 10 more days to wait for the annual spring scrimmage. For many, the most anticipated sight will be seeing if the big brutes that play on the lines can look just a tad prettier.
For an offense that had consistently ranked among the best in the nation in the five years prior to 2006, the breakdown along the offensive front was the overriding factor in the RedHawks’ inability to generate the type of big-play capability they should’ve showcased.
After all, the ‘Hawks entered last year boasting the Mid-American Conference’s top offensive arsenal. Spearheaded by the darting running of 1,000-yard halfback Brandon Murphy, the stable of running backs was legitimately four-deep.
The awe-inspiring speed of receiver Ryne Robinson was the headline act in the aerial assault, with Patrick O’Bryan being a more than adequate second option. Even Mike Kokal, a quarterbacking neophyte at the college level, displayed the moxie to have people believe that the offense could roll like always.
But a strange thing happened on the offense’s way to another banner season.
The offensive line forgot how to block. Even with the mobility that would be the envy of most every Mid-American Conference quarterback, Kokal was rarely given more than a cursory glance at the defense before collapsing under relentless pressure.
The 49 sacks the line allowed ranked 118 out of 119 teams nationally, besting only lowly Stanford.
Meanwhile, the vaunted ground game was all but grounded. A nagging foot injury to Murphy shouldn’t be discounted, but even with the RedHawks’ superior depth, the line was routinely out-muscled at the point of attack.
At the season’s end, Miami stood alone as the nation’s only team that lacked a 300-yard runner.
Fortunately, the porous line play was likely a one-year aberration for Miami.
For those that subscribe to the theory that experience leads to improvement, the return of seven linemen with starting experience is being counted on to restore pride to the unit.
Charlie Norden and Matt McKeown, two players who were shuffled in and out of the 2006 lineup with various ailments, remain sidelined for spring but are expected to be back for the start of fall camp.
The return of those stalwarts should solidify two spots on the line, but the other three vacancies will see battle-royal competition throughout fall camp.
Zachary Marshall’s 6-7, 323 pound frame blocks out the sun, and the Maryland transfer is itching to get back on the field after sitting last year.
He will hopefully be able to fill up a large hole in Miami’s line, and give some much needed protection to Kokal.
The eagerly anticipated arrival of touted freshman Brandon Brooks will also be a welcome addition, after the man-child spurned the likes of Wisconsin to play in Oxford.
Regardless of the combination, and there will be inevitable changes throughout the season, the line needs to be restored.
It’s a war out there, and Kokal needs his shield.