Miami faces another ‘big’ challenge at Minnesota

Miami (Ohio) running back Kenny Tracy (33) scores a touchdown during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Cincinnati, Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Jeff Dean)
Caption
Miami (Ohio) running back Kenny Tracy (33) scores a touchdown during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Cincinnati, Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Jeff Dean)

Credit: Jeff Dean

Credit: Jeff Dean

OXFORD -- Caleb Shaffer measures in at 6-foot-5 and 324 pounds, so when he describes somebody else as “very big,” that grabs attention.

That was the Miami left guard’s first comment when asked on Monday about the RedHawks’ next opponent, the Minnesota Golden Gophers.

“It’s the Big Ten,” the sophomore said. “Everybody’s big. We respect our opponents 100 percent, but we’re not going to immortalize anybody.”

Miami (0-1) is coming off a 49-14 loss last Saturday at Cincinnati, which this week moved up from No. 8 to No.7 in the Associated Press poll. Minnesota, under fifth-year coach and former Western Michigan coach P.J. Fleck, also is 0-1 after a 45-31 home loss to now No. 3 Ohio State on Sept. 2.

Kickoff is scheduled for noon today at 50,805-seat Huntington Bank Stadium, formerly TCF Bank Stadium, on Minnesota’s campus.

Redshirt-sophomore Mike Brown-Stephens, a 5-11, 195-pound wide receiver from Springfield High School, caught two passes for 34 yards against the Buckeyes. He had four catches for 40 yards and one touchdown in five games last season.

The Golden Gophers have won all four previous games between the two programs, all of which have been played in Minnesota. The RedHawks pushed the Golden Gophers to three overtimes before losing, 41-35, in 2007. The 2011 game also was a one-score outcome, 29-23, before Minnesota picked up a 26-3 win in 2018.

Miami coach Chuck Martin found similarities between Minnesota and Cincinnati.

“Minnesota is big, strong and athletic – like Cincinnati,” Martin said on Monday. “They went toe-to-toe with Ohio State. They run the ball north and south on you, and they’ll throw a ton of (run-pass options) at you. They have good speed and length. They’ll wear you down, wear you down, wear you down.

“They have a big, physical defense,” he added. “They run a 4-3 and will go north and south on you. They’re difficult to run the ball against. They make you earn everything. You’ve got to hold on to the ball, because you’re going to get hit a bunch.”

The Golden Gophers’ defense differs from Cincinnati’s, Martin said.

“UC’s defense is similar to Army’s – three guys down and seven in the box,” the eighth-year coach said. “They also have a different-style quarterback. He doesn’t look to run as much – like UC runs (Desmond) Ridder.”

Minnesota’s attack could be hampered by the loss for likely the season of fifth-year senior running back Mohamed Ibrahim, last season’s Big Ten Back of the Year. Ibrahim suffered a lower left leg injury with 37 seconds left in the third quarter of the Golden Gophers’ game against Ohio State. He underwent surgery on Tuesday.

Options to replace Ibrahim include fourth-year junior Bryce Williams, who gained 141 yards on 33 carries against the RedHawks as a true freshman making his first career start in 2018.

“There is no replacing Mohamed Ibrahim,” the Minneapolis Star Tribune quoted Fleck as saying. “He’s a special, special player. It’s a great challenge to our other backs, a great challenge to everybody else on the team, and everybody else is going to have to be able to play a little bit harder, a little bit better, but that’s what a team is.”

Martin said after Saturday’s loss at UC’s Nippert Stadium that he expects sophomore Brett Gabbert to be back at quarterback for Miami after a pair of injuries limited the 2019 Mid-American Conference Freshman of the Year to fewer than 10 practices during fall camp. Backup A.J. Mayer finished 9-of-28 for 109 yards against the Bearcats.

“We already had a razor-thin margin for error,” Martin said. “We were a little better in the run game than we anticipated. We ran the ball good enough to stay in the game, but our passing game wasn’t close enough to be efficient. We didn’t do anything good enough in the passing game. We’ve got to be a lot better in the passing game.

“We probably should’ve run the ball more. We have to be way more efficient in the passing game.”

TODAY’S GAME

Maimi at Minnesota, Noon, ESPNU, 980, 1410