Even though there’s another team on the other side of the ball every week, Miami’s 2017 football destiny is in its own hands.
How the RedHawks handle that responsibility on Saturday against Buffalo (3-4, 1-2) will go a long way toward determining whether they climb back into the Mid-American Conference East Division race.
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Miami (2-5, 1-2 MAC) will try to snap a three-game losing streak in a 2:30 p.m. game against the Bulls at Yager Stadium in Oxford. Third-year RedHawks’ coach Chuck Martin considers the game a monumental game for his beleaguered team.
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“If we win, we’re 2-2 in the (division) and heading in the right direction,” he said.
Knocking off Buffalo, which lost a memorable 71-68, seven-overtime game against Western Michigan on Oct. 7 before being edged by Northern Illinois, 17-14, last Saturday, will require slowing down junior linebacker Khalil Hodge, who piled up 19 tackles – seven of them solo stops – against the Huskies on his way to being named the MAC East Defensive Player of the Week for the second time this season. The 6-foot-1, 235-pound Stockton, Calif., native leads the nation with an average of 14.4 tackles per game and he has made at least 17 tackles in four of the Bulls’ seven games.
Hodge’s efforts particularly stand out on a Buffalo defense that ranks 10th in the 12-team MAC with an average of 418.9 yards allowed per game and 11th with an average of 233.9 rushing yards allowed per game.
The Bulls offense went into the week second in the MAC with an average of 423.0 yards per game and 275.0 passing yards per game, but they went into the week with questions at quarterback after second-stringer Drew Anderson left the Northern Illinois with an upper-body injury. The Buffalo News reported that true freshman Kyle Vantrease was taking snaps with the first string in practice.
Anderson took over when starter Tyree Jackson suffered a knee injury against Florida Atlantic on Sept. 23.
“We’ll name a starter closer to kickoff,” the News quoted Buffalo coach Lance Leipold as saying. “I’ve never lost two in a season. If Kyle ends up being the starter, I can’t remember any time in my coaching career starting a true freshman.”
Vantrease, a Stow, Ohio, native who was first-team all-state at Stow-Munroe Falls High School after throwing for 5,680 yards and 50 touchdowns during his career, went 8-for-16 for 153 yards and an interception against the Huskies.
“I thought he did fine for what he was thrown into,” Leipold said. “I never saw a point of rattled or panicked in him. The hope was to redshirt him. When Tyree went down, we told him if anything happened, we were going to go ahead and play you.”
“UB has really good offense,” Martin said. “They have two dual-threat quarterbacks. They really move the ball. They have a big, strong defensive line, like everyone else in the league. They’re playing good football.
“They’re a little like us. They lost that seven-overtime game and had a lot of should’ves, could’ves, would’ves. Their record is OK, but it could be better.”
Martin believes Miami still can contend in the MAC East, led by 4-3 overall and 3-0 Akron going into the week, leading Ohio by one game and Miami, Buffalo, Bowling Green and Kent State by two. The RedHawks last two division games are at Ohio on Halloween and against Akron at Miami on Nov. 7, followed by inter-division games against Eastern Michigan on Nov. 15 and at Ball State on Nov. 21. Scheduling luck allows Miami to avoid the three teams that went into the week leading the West – Toledo, Northern Illinois and Western Michigan.
“We can be a good MAC team,” Martin said. “We’re very close to being a good MAC team, but we’re also very far away. The pressure is on us now. There’s no way to keep it off us. It’s self-induced pressure.”