Saturday’s Miami-Minnesota game is a matchup of two teams in very different positions two weeks into the 2018 season.
The RedHawks have stumbled out of the gate with losses to Marshall and Cincinnati. Their 0-2 start is largely due to missed opportunities and ill-timed mistakes against talented opponents.
Senior offensive lineman Sam McCollum believes he and his teammates will be able to bounce back and correct those crucial mishaps.
“I think there’s some stuff we have to clean up, obviously,” McCollum said. “Self-inflicted mistakes, those can definitely hurt us, but I think we’ll clean those up and we’ll just play our game.”
On the other hand, Minnesota is 2-0 after beating New Mexico State and Fresno State to begin the year. The Gophers, under second-year head coach P.J. Fleck, are viewed as up-and-comers in the Big Ten Conference.
Fleck is well-known at Miami, as he was the head coach of Mid-American-Conference-rival Western Michigan from 2013-2016.
“[Minnesota’s offense] is very similar to what they did when they were at Western Michigan, so there is some familiarity there, which is nice,” Martin said “I’m sure they’re saying the same thing from their end.”
Fortunately for the RedHawks, they don’t have to game plan for the Gophers’ most explosive offensive weapon.
Redshirt senior running back Rodney Smith was ruled out for the season after suffering a leg injury against Fresno State last weekend. Smith had run for over 2,000 yards and 19 touchdowns combined in the previous two seasons. He was off to a hot start in 2018 as well, picking up 153 rushing yards in a Week One victory.
With Smith out, walk-on freshman quarterback Zack Annexstad will be tasked with carrying the offensive load going forward. Annexstad has played well so far, throwing for 395 yards and two touchdowns, while not turning the ball over in the first two weeks.
Redshirt sophomore wideout Seth Green will be another Gopher who will be leaned on without Smith. Green, a former quarterback, has taken multiple wildcat snaps in each of the first two games this season. He has responded with four rushing touchdowns on just 13 carries. At 6-foot-4, 240 pounds, he’s been the go-to goal line ball carrier for Minnesota.
Unlike Minnesota, Miami has escaped the first two weeks without any major injuries.
Both redshirt senior quarterback Gus Ragland and redshirt junior running back Mo Thomas are back healthy after dealing with injuries a year ago. While Ragland has been the focal point of the MU offense to this point, Thomas has struggled to see the field, picking up just five carries so far this season.
Martin recognizes Thomas’ limited opportunities and said he plans to get him on the field more.
The RedHawks will need all the offensive weapons they have against the Minnesota defense – a unit holding opponent to 12 points a game in 2018.
“They’re big, physical and what you think of when you think of Big Ten football,” Martin said.
The strength of the Minnesota defense is the secondary, led by redshirt sophomore Antoine Winfield Jr. Winfield’s dad, Antoine Sr., played 14 years in the National Football League.
“One of their most electric guys, not a returning starter, is the Winfield kid,” Martin said. “He already has a punt return for a touchdown. He has very good genes. He’s an electric defensive player and, then, electric returner.”
The Gophers’ talented secondary makes it a tough matchup for senior wide receiver James Gardner, as Winfield will attempt to neutralize his deep-threat abilities down the field. Gardner had seven catches for 80 yards against UC last weekend.
Even with the slow start and the third consecutive tough opponent, the RedHawks’ mindset remains the same.
“I think we’re pretty confident, but we just need to, like I said before, focus on our mistakes and correct those, before focusing on our opponents,” McCollum said.
Martin believes his team is better than its record indicates.
“I still like my team,” Martin said. “I’m not wavering on my team. I like this group. I think we have enough talent. I think we have a chance to be a really good football team. We’re not there yet, but we’re not bad. We’re not playing chopped-liver teams either.”
Miami has a chance to prove his point in Minneapolis on Saturday. The game is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. and will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network.