Miami football: Walker’s big day keyed RedHawks’ win over N. Illinois

Jalen Walker didn’t enjoy a career game on Saturday against Northern Illinois, but it was close.

Miami's third-year sophomore wide receiver went into the RedHawks' seventh game of the season with seven catches for 135 yards. Against the defending Mid-American Conference- champions, which went into the game allowing a conference-low average of 195.2 passing yards per game, Walker piled up seven catches while reaching triple figures in receiving yards for the first time in his career with 138 as Miami came back from a 10-0 deficit to earn a 27-24 win at Yager Stadium.

»RELATED: Offense revs up as Miami rallies past NIU

“It felt good to be a part of it,” the 5-foot-7, 176-pound Carmel, Ind., product said on Monday morning. “I didn’t expect to do that much.

“After practice, I expected to see some plays, but not as much as I ended up having.”

The win left Miami (3-4, 2-1 MAC) tied with Kent State and Ohio for first place in the East Division going into the Saturday’s matchup with the Golden Flashes.

The only thing Walker didn’t do was catch a touchdown pass, but he made catches that were crucial to key scoring drives. He hauled in a 23-yard pass from true freshman quarterback Brett Gabbert down the right sideline while literally being interfered with – an official called the penalty, which Miami declined – to set the RedHawks up with first-and-goal at the Huskies’ 9-yard line on the way to their first touchdown, which cut NIU’s lead to 10-7 with 36 seconds left in the first half.

“We know every game that we have to be focused,” said Walker, who had eight catches vs. Army last season.

Miami scored another touchdown for a 14-10 lead on its first possession of the second half, but the Huskies bounced right back to regain the lead with their own touchdown. Facing third-and-10 on NIU’s 41 on the next drive, Walker caught Gabbert’s 40-yard pass and just missed scoring while giving the RedHawks first-and-goal at the Huskies’ 1. Jaylon Bester gave Miami the lead for good with a 1-yard plunge.

Walker also started the drive that ended with the Sam Sloman’s 37-yard field goal, which ended up being the winning points, with a 25-yard catch that immediately got Miami into NIU territory.

“Jalen had a big game for us,” sixth-year coach Chuck Martin said. “On that third-and-10 catch, he was covered well. The guy was draped all over him. Brett threw him a good ball.”

Martin was especially appreciative of Walker’s contributions with the continued absence of fourth-year junior wide receiver Jack Sorenson, the RedHawks’ leading returning receiver going into the season. Sorenson has missed three games with injury, but might be back this week, Martin said. Sorenson practiced last week and was in uniform on the sideline on Saturday.

“Jack’s been awesome,” Walker said. “He helps us a lot. There’s not a lot of pressure with him not being out there. It’s a lot of fun.”

Really special teams: The MAC on Monday named Miami's Maurice Thomas the East Division Special Teams Player of the Week after the fifth-year senior from Talawanda returned three kickoffs for a combined 133 yards and added 15 yards on punt returns. He returned the kickoff after Northern Illinois's first touchdown 86 yards to the Huskies' 14-yard line.

Northern Illinois could return none of Sloman’s kickoffs and returned just one of Kyle Kramer’s five punts four yards.

Big deal, you say? It is when there’s just a six-yard different in total offense. NIU finished with 350. Miami finished with 344, but the RedHawks had 347 before taking knees to run out the clock. That’s where a 148-4 advantage in return yards can make a difference.

Martin on Monday described Miami’s special teams as the best overall of the RedHawks’ three at this point in the season.

“The special teams are a big part of the success we’ve had,” he said.


Miami at Kent State, 3:30 p.m., 980, 1450

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