McBride also set the program record with 272 rushing yards in a regular season-ending win over Louisiana Tech that UAB needed to become bowl-eligible. The Blazers rank sixth in the nation with an average of 243.8 rushing yards per game and 17th with 30 rushing touchdowns.
“We’re super-excited,” 6-1, 220-pound redshirt-sophomore linebacker Matt Salopek said. “They’re super-talented. They have a very good offensive team.”
“They’re really, really gifted,” said Martin, who has led Miami to three straight bowl appearances for the first time since the then-Redskins beat Florida, Georgia and South Carolina in 1973, 1974 and 1975 Tangerine Bowls. “They’re really talented. They’re twitchy athletic everywhere. They could easily be 10-1. They had opportunities for the ball to go their way, and it didn’t, but they’re as gifted as any in our league.
“They’ll run the ball, but they can also throw the ball over your head. They’ll be a rigid challenge on both sides of the ball. They’re as good as anybody we’ve played since Kentucky and Cincinnati.
“They’re not just one guy, either. You can’t focus on him. They can rotate backs, so they’re not tired at the end of the game.”
Miami’s 14th bowl game in program history promises to be a matchup of strength on strength. The Blazers’ running game faces a RedHawks’ defense that led the Mid-American Conference and ranked 41st in the nation while allowing an average of 135.8 rushing yards per game. Only four Miami opponents reached 100 yards rushing, and the RedHawks allowed just 15 rushing touchdowns all season.
Miami also led the MAC in scoring defense, allowing just an average of 22.5 points per game while seeing seven of 12 games decided by one-possession scores – two of them consecutive losses, 17-13 at Bowling Green and 16-10 to Western Michigan. Miami finished a gritty 4-3 in one-possession games.
Despite those impressive numbers, Miami had zero players named to the MAC first-team all-conference defensive team. Salopek insisted that the RedHawks weren’t thinking about what others might see as a slight.
“It’s an 11-player sport,” the third-team all-conference pick pointed out. “We’re proud to be the No. 1 defense in the MAC.”
Miami left on Monday for the Bahamas, but not before Martin recognized linebacker Ryan McWood during a pre-bowl practice. A combination of pandemic protocols and injuries led to the 6-2, 221-pound McWood, a Grosse Point, Mich., native, spending seven seasons in Oxford.
“I said he set program records with 4,426 practices and 10,000 line drills,” Martin said, tongue firmly in cheek.
Miami vs. UAB, 11:30 a.m., ESPN, 980, 1450