Miami needed only a week to bring its quarterback picture into focus – at least for now.
Going into the RedHawks opener at Iowa last Saturday, the quarterback job was a muddled three-player race between third-year sophomore Jackson Williamson, redshirt freshman AJ Mayer and true freshman Brett Gabbert.
Going into this week’s home opener against Tennessee Tech, the 6-foot, 207-pound Gabbert is listed as the starter, backed up by the 6-2, 201-pound Williamson. Gabbert earned the spot after going 17-of-27 for 186 yards, two touchdowns and just one interception while making history in Miami’s 38-14 loss at Iowa last Saturday in the season-opener for both teams.
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Gabbert, who turned 19 on Aug. 4, is the first true freshman in program history to open a season as the starting quarterback. Gabbert and fifth-year senior wide receiver Luke Mayock connected for 30 yards on third down to keep alive a 77-yard drive that ended with fourth-year junior wide receiver Jack Sorenson making a diving catch in the right rear corner of the end zone for an 11-yard touchdown that gave Miami a 7-3 lead six seconds into the second quarter.
Gabbert displayed enough touch to throw the ball where only Sorenson could catch it.
Gabbert, the younger brother of NFL quarterback Blaine Gabbert, also connected with 6-6, 246-pound fourth-year junior tight end Andrew Homer for a 20-yard touchdown pass later in the game.
“It was an awesome experience for him and everybody who got to play at Iowa,” said Mayock, who finished with three catches for 65 yards. “It was awesome for him to start as a true freshman, and he did a great job, but it doesn’t matter who’s playing quarterback. Our job is to go out and catch the ball. We’ve got three people, and we trust all of them.”
Mayock believes engineering that long drive so early in his career was a big help for Gabbert.
“That was big, especially against a Big Ten team,” Mayock said. “Iowa consistently has one of the best defenses in the country. That was big for our offense and for Gabbert in terms of building confidence. Hopefully, we’ll be able to build on that, especially for conference play.”
“That first half was probably the best half of football we’ve played physically,” said coach Chuck Martin, who opened his sixth season with Miami. “It was a close physical game, but we couldn’t hold up for 60 minutes. Now it’s how hard do we have to work in the weight room to close that gap? If we want to win those games, how razor-sharp do we have to be for 60 minutes? We had some mental letdowns in the second, but that’s also part of training.”
Miami isn’t scheduled to open its Mid-American Conference schedule until Sept. 28 against Buffalo, The RedHawks have three more non-conference games before that, including Saturday’s 2:30 p.m. homecoming matchup with Tennessee Tech, a Football Championship Subdivision team that competes in the Ohio Valley Conference. The Golden Eagles, who include former Miami offensive lineman Ian Leever as a 6-6, 293-pound graduate transfer, are coming off a 59-58 double-overtime win over Samford in which quarterback Bailey Fisher threw for 415 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 48 yards and three touchdowns.
Miami and Tennessee Tech have played once before, a 44-6 RedHawks win in 1953.
Even though the Hawkeyes were able to pull away in the second half last Saturday, Miami defensive lineman Doug Costin believes the game was a step in the right direction.
“Everyone was relying on their keys and trusting each other and not trying to do other people’s jobs,” the 6-2, 295-pound senior said. “I would say we’re feeling pretty good. We have to go into each game with the same mindset and approach it the same way and try not to get too high or too low on ourselves.”
Costin provided his own personal highlight when he scooped up an Iowa fumble and rumbled 15 yards with it before being tackled. It brought back memories of his high school days in West Chester, Pa., when he played running back.
“It was a great feeling to run the ball in a stadium like that and show off my skills,” he said with a smile.
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