‘Battle of the Bricks’ a crucial game in MAC East race

Miami faces arch-rival Ohio on Saturday in Athens with first place on the line

Credit: Joseph Cooke

Credit: Joseph Cooke

OXFORD — Aveon Smith’s first start of the 2023 season as Miami’s quarterback would’ve been challenging against any team.

Going up against the Mid-American Conference’s best defense on the road in a rivalry game only ramps up the imposing degree of difficulty.

The RedHawks sophomore is due to lead Miami in a crucial game at arch-rival Ohio on Saturday. The annual “Battle of the Bricks” matchup will kick off at 3:30 p.m. on Frank Solich Field at 24,000-seat Peden Stadium in Athens.

“Everybody is really going to be able to get behind AV,” junior kicker Graham Nicholson said. “We all believe in him. He is definitely good enough to get the job done, and I know everybody believes that.”

Miami and Ohio both are 6-2 overall and are tied with Buffalo for first place in the MAC East Division with 3-1 records. The Bobcats are coming off a 20-17 win over Western Michigan, while the RedHawks will be trying to shake off a 21-17 home loss to West Division-leading Toledo that included the loss for the season late in the third quarter of fifth-year junior quarterback Brett Gabbert with a broken leg that required surgery.

“He’s not going to be there, and we have to go win a football game against a really good opponent at their place,” 10th-year Miami coach Chuck Martin said. “I’m sure they feel bad for Brett because they’re good people over there, but I’m sure they’re more than happy that he’s not playing this week.”

The 6-foot-1, 210-pound Smith, a right-hander from Lexington, S.C., threw for 1,299 yards and 11 touchdowns with five interceptions while running for 553 yards and six touchdowns over nine games last season as Gabbert dealt with ankle and clavicle injuries.

“Obviously he’s got some experience from last year, which is huge, compared to when he had to do it a year ago,” Martin said. “He’s an improved thrower by a wide margin. Now he’s going to have the chance to go out in a game and show everybody if he’s an improved thrower or not, so it’s a great opportunity for him.”

Smith, who is 4-of-12 for 60 yards passing this season and has gained 49 yards on eight carries over five games, will face an imposing defense that is allowing averages of 13.9 points and 260.6 yards per game — both the best in the MAC.

“Ohio has a really good defense,” Martin said. “It’s one of the top defenses in the country. They have an experienced front and two good linebackers. They’re very aggressive and well-coached.”

The Ohio roster includes Ryan Logan, a 6-foot-7, 236-pound sophomore defensive end from Vandalia Butler and Kaden Rogers, a 6-foot-3, 293-pound sophomore offensive lineman from Ross.

The Bobcats’ offense is led by quarterback Kurtis Rourke, last season’s MAC Player of the Year. Rourke completed nearly 70 percent of his passes in 2022 and finished with more than 3,500 total yards and 29 total touchdowns while throwing four interceptions. He’s not been as good statistically this season, but he’s led Ohio to impressive non-conference wins over Florida Atlantic University and Iowa State University.

“He’s one of the higher rated quarterbacks for NFL guys in the country,” Martin said. “... They like to play at a slow pace with not a lot of possessions. Their offense was good a year ago, and they’ve got everybody back.

“It’s going to be a great, great challenge. When the conference schedule came out, I was hoping this game would be as impactful as it is, if things went according to plan. If we win, it will give us a leg up in the tiebreaker, so it’s huge. It’s a huge conference game and huge in the MAC East.”


Miami at Ohio, 3:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network, 980, 1450

About the Author