‘It’s what you work for’ — Miami set to battle Kent for berth in MAC Championship game

Miami-Ohio quarterback Brett Gabbert (5) runs for a short gain against Minnesota during the first half of an NCAA college football game on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021, in Minneapolis. Minnesota won 31-26. (AP Photo/Craig Lassig)
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Miami-Ohio quarterback Brett Gabbert (5) runs for a short gain against Minnesota during the first half of an NCAA college football game on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021, in Minneapolis. Minnesota won 31-26. (AP Photo/Craig Lassig)

Credit: CRAIG LASSIG

Credit: CRAIG LASSIG

Miami football coach Chuck Martin looked at the schedule when it first came out and knew the Week 12 game at Kent State would be meaningful if the RedHawks took care of business on their end.

The Golden Flashes were predicted to be the Mid-American Conference champions after returning fifth-year quarterback Dustin Crum and five senior linemen from the nation’s No. 1-scoring offense last season.

Kent State (6-5, 5-2 MAC), like Miami (6-5, 5-2 MAC), has experienced its ups and downs but the two play Saturday in Kent for the MAC East title and a spot in the conference championship game next week at Detroit’s Ford Field. Miami was the 2019 MAC champion but played just three games last year before COVID-19 wiped out three of the last four contests.

“You look at the schedule and you know that unless someone is two games ahead, which is rare in our league, … if things go well, it’s going to come down to Week 12 on the road at Kent,” Martin told media last week of his initial expectations for this game. “We’ve been preparing for this for 11 months to try to get to this point. The kids have earned the opportunity to have a game like this. It’s pretty awesome Week 12 that you get to play as meaningful a game as you can get. We know how talented they are, how hard they are to stop … they are loaded and we knew if things went well it would come down to this. And, we have our opportunity.”

While playing just four games in last year’s abbreviated season, the Golden Flashes made their mark as the top scoring offense in the FBS while averaging 49.8 points per contest. Sean Lewis’ “Flash Fast” offense leads the MAC with 474.3 yards per game this season, but the points haven’t been as easy to come by as the Golden Flashes average 32.1 points per game, which ranks fourth in the MAC.

Miami, meanwhile, has the top scoring defense in the MAC, allowing just 21.6 points per game, and a third-ranked net defense with 348.3 yards allowed per game.

“They run a fast-paced offense, very good quarterback,” Miami defensive end Dom Robinson said in a press conference last week. “He leads that team very well, and I know we started game-planning for them before COVID hit last year, so I kind of got an early glimpse of what we’re going to do. They can be stopped. It’s not like they ‘re unstoppable, even though it looked like that for a little while.”

Robinson has followed Kent State more closely than others because his brother, sophomore Jasper Robinson, plays defensive line for the Golden Flashes.

While the matchup is extra special for his family, Robinson has been looking forward to an opportunity to get back to the MAC Championship since the RedHawks won the conference title in 2019. Miami had expected to defend the crown last year before COVID cancelations ended the season early.

Miami had already secured its place in the championship before the 2019 finale, which it lost.

“Of course you want to try to win out, straight up, but this is what you live for – big Saturday game to go to the championship game,” said Robinson, who was a wide receiver in 2019 before making the change to defensive line last year. “You put everything on the line. It makes you work harder, not that I’m not a hard worker anyway, but this is what you prepare for to go to the MAC Championship game. I’m all in.”

Miami has waited an extra long time for this game after last playing Nov. 16, a 34-7 win against Bowling Green.

Martin had attributed a poor outing against Ohio, a 35-33 loss on Nov. 2, to a long layoff waiting for that Tuesday night game after coming off a 24-17 win at Ball State on Oct. 23. However, he is hopeful the players learned from that experience and come out mentally better prepared for this one.

Quarterback Brett Gabbert doesn’t expect that to be a factor this time.

“It’s what you work for all year round,” Gabbert said last week. “Our offensive coordinator and my quarterback coach, Coach (Eric) Koehler, said, ‘If I would have told you you would be playing Kent State last game of the year to decide if you were going to win the MAC East and go to the MAC Championship, we would have all been super excited,’ and that’s how I am. We are all thankful. It’s going to be a good game. They are a really good team, and hopefully we can go on the road and get a big win.”

SATURDAY’S GAME

Miami at Kent State, Noon, ESPN+, 980, 1450

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