JM Rieger, Staff Writer

The RedHawks take the field Dec. 3 in the MAC championship game at Ford Field. Up next for the Red and White is Middle Tennessee State University. (MICHAEL GRIGGS | The Miami Student)

Coming off of its first conference championship since the 2003 season, Miami University will now make its first bowl appearance since 2004.

The RedHawks (9-4, 7-1 MAC) will face off against the Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) Blue Raiders (6-6, 5-3 Sun Belt) of the Sun Belt Conference in the Bowl (formerly the GMAC Bowl) Jan. 6.

The nation’s most improved team will look to notch its sixth straight win of the season, which would tie June Jones’ 1999 Hawaii record for the best single season turnaround in NCAA history.

Mid-American Conference (MAC) Coach of the Year Michael Haywood will look to prepare his team once again for what will likely be another tight matchup. The Red and White are 7-0 in games decided by seven points or fewer this season and have won the time of possession battle in all but one game this year.

“Coach (Haywood) has had us running and lifting this week,” senior cornerback Brandon Stephens said. “The coaches will have us prepared regardless, but we obviously do not want to end the season with a loss.”

Another strong defensive performance from the RedHawks will be one of the keys against the Blue Raiders. MTSU has won three straight games and is led by redshirt senior running back Phillip Tanner, who is averaging more than 70 yards rushing per game and leads the 34th best rushing attack in college football.

Miami is ranked 27th in stopping the run and will likely try to shut down the Blue Raiders’ ground attack, forcing senior quarterback Dwight Dasher to throw the ball.

Dasher has six touchdowns to go with 14 interceptions, and pressure up front by redshirt sophomore defensive lineman Jason Semmes, who leads the team in sacks, along with sophomore defensive lineman Austin Brown will be crucial.

Meanwhile, the ‘Hawks’ two leading tacklers, redshirt junior linebacker Jerrell Wedge and sophomore linebacker Evan Harris, must have big games in order to make the Blue Raiders one-dimensional offensively.

On the offensive end, Miami has been led all season by the passing attack, which is 24th in the nation, and especially by the stellar play of redshirt freshman quarterback Austin Boucher.

Redshirt sophomore quarterback Zac Dysert was expected to miss four to six weeks after suffering a lacerated spleen Nov. 10 at Bowling Green State University, and could get the start if he is healthy.

Otherwise, expect Boucher to make his fourth career start for the RedHawks.

However, it is the running game and the play of a healthy offensive line that has led the way the past four games for the Red and White. Senior running back Thomas Merriweather has 408 yards in his last three games, and has scored at least one rushing touchdown in each of his last five games.

One factor of Merriweather’s success has been the outstanding coaching job done by offensive line coach Bill Mottola. He has had to use five different lineups this season due to injuries, and his ability to maintain unity among the front five has been a key for the RedHawks. This focus and determination will be very important for Miami as the team faces a month-long break before the next gridiron matchup.

“It is going to be a short December break for us,” redshirt freshman offensive lineman Josh Harvey said. “We need to stay focused and stay in shape (during the break).”

Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. Jan. 6 at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Ala. Fans can watch the game on ESPN or visit for travel packages.