Miami - MAC East Champions
by Jonny Gaunt
November 16, 2023
You could use any number of words to describe the now 9-2 Miami RedHawks, but "resilient" is one that comes to mind. The RedHawks punched their ticket to the MAC Championship with a 23-10 victory over Buffalo on Wednesday night, but in October, Miami lost their starting quarterback Brett Gabbert to a season-ending leg injury during their lone conference defeat against Toledo. That kind of injury to a star player the caliber of Gabbert would sink most teams across college football. Tight end Jack Coldiron has missed most of the season with injury and leading wide receiver Gage Larvadain also missed Wednesday's clash with the Bulls. However, the RedHawks have won all three games since Gabbert went down including a huge road victory against an Ohio team that won the MAC East in 2022.
Aveon Smith is an experienced signal caller and has proven to be invaluable for the RedHawks, who has been able to switch back to their run-heavy offensive attack that was used much of last season under similar injury circumstances. Smith may not provide the same consistency in the passing game as the veteran Gabbert, but his running ability makes him and star running back Rashad Amos a dynamic duo in the backfield.
The good news for Miami is that the offense doesn't need to hang 40 points on opponents to win games due to an experience-laden defensive team and very strong special teams. The RedHawks are one of only six teams in the FBS to have multiple shutouts this season and rank 24th in total defense. That side of the ball is full of upperclassman who returned from last year's stout defense and they've answered the bell, allowing just 17 points in the last 11 quarters. On the special teams side of the ball, kicker Graham Nicholson has been automatic on field goals with a perfect 22 of 22 mark.
Against Buffalo, Miami was in control of the game from the beginning. The ability to consistently create chunk plays on offense, especially on the ground, allowed the RedHawks to feel in command even when the lead was only 10-0 in the first half. Yet, more resiliency was needed when Buffalo successfully orchestrated a fake punt and converted on another fourth down conversion aided by a Miami offsides penalty. The Bulls eventually found the end zone and the lead was cut to 10-7. Never panicking, the RedHawks came out of the locker room at halftime and quickly reasserted their control of the game. However, late in the fourth quarter, when there seemed little doubt in the final outcome of the game, the Bulls hit on what appeared to be an 80-yard touchdown to cut the lead to 23-17. However, a replay review showed that defensive back Michael Dowell, who never gave up on the play and chased down the ball carrier, knocked the ball out right before the goal line, resulting in a touchback. It seems fitting that Dowell's resilient hustle play effectively ended the game and punched Miami's ticket to Detroit on December 2.
It hasn't been an easy season and in the MAC there is always some madness that ensues as the temperature drops in the midwest. Yet, the RedHawks have shown strength in their togetherness, fortitude, and resilience in how they've played this season. Coach Chuck Martin praised his team's efforts and noted how rare it is to have an opportunity to compete for a championship like Miami will in a couple of weeks. He did note that a 10-win regular season is still on the table and requires a victory against "Redbird" rival Ball State in the regular season finale. Afterwards, they travel to Detroit to face one of the best Group of Five teams in the country and the team responsible for their only conference loss of the season in the 10-1 Toledo Rockets.
Amos (0) has gotten better as the season has gone along and has a real shot at becoming Miami's first 1,000-yard running back since 2005. He scored both touchdowns on Wednesday night in the 23-10 victory. (Photo Courtesy of Miami Athletics)