Miami hopes for offensive improvement in MAC opener after loss at Army

DETROIT, MI - DECEMBER 7: Defensive lineman Ryan Newton #48 of the Miami Redhawks celebrates along with defensive linemen Cam Turner #52 and Kobe Hilton #96 after a 26-21 win over the Central Michigan Chippewas to take the MAC Championship at Ford Field on December 7, 2019, in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images)
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DETROIT, MI - DECEMBER 7: Defensive lineman Ryan Newton #48 of the Miami Redhawks celebrates along with defensive linemen Cam Turner #52 and Kobe Hilton #96 after a 26-21 win over the Central Michigan Chippewas to take the MAC Championship at Ford Field on December 7, 2019, in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images)

RedHawks play Central Michigan in rematch of 2019 conference championship game

After spending a week preparing for Army’s unusual offense, Sterling Weatherford was ready to get back to some semblance of normal.

While Miami’s fifth-year junior safety and his defensive teammates appreciated the refreshing challenge of facing the Black Knights’ little-seen triple-option attack, they were looking forward to seeing Central Michigan’s more conventional offense.

“We have to switch gears and start getting ready for an American-style offense,” Weatherford said on Monday during Miami’s weekly media session. “We have to give it a little brain wipe. It was good to play Army in the middle of the season. It gives us an opportunity to refresh our brains and pick up some new tendencies going forward.”

The RedHawks finished non-conference play 1-3 overall and 0-3 against Football Bowl Subdivision teams going into Saturday’s Mid-American Conference opener against Central Michigan at Miami’s Yager Stadium. Kickoff for the rematch of the 2019 MAC Championship Game, won 26-21 by Miami, is scheduled for 3:30 p.m.

The RedHawks are coming off a 23-10 loss to Army on Saturday inside Michie Stadium at West Point, N.Y. The Black Knights piled up 384 yards of total offense — all on the ground, which is not uncommon for Army, which also had zero passing yards in its 31-30 double-overtime win over Miami in 2018.

Miami coach Chuck Martin pointed out on Monday the RedHawks’ defense was mostly effective against the Army offense. The Black Knights averaged 3.25 yards per carry on 60 of their 63 running plays. They gained a total of 189 yards – almost half of their total – on three plays, including touchdown runs of 72 and 75 yards by quarterback Christian Anderson.

“It was a hard-fought game,” the eighth-year coach said. “It was really physical for four quarters. Our inside kids on defense fought and scratched and clawed, and our kids on the perimeter flew around. Give credit to their quarterback. He’s a really good player. We got a lot of stops. They had punted the ball twice all year. We made them kick it six times.

“Offensively, we were out-physicalled, inside and outside. We didn’t get enough done offensively.”

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The RedHawks gained just 28 yards rushing against Army. Martin hopes fourth-year sophomore running back Tyre Shelton, who missed the three-game 2020 season with an injury after gaining 587 yards as a redshirt freshman in 2019, and sixth-year tight end Andrew Homer will be back in the lineup, along with third-year freshman defensive tackle Anthony Collier, who started the first two games of the season and played in the third before missing Saturday’s game at Army.

“It’s a good opportunity for other guys to step in,” Weatherford pointed out. “That’s how I started playing. The guy ahead of me got hurt.”

One example is third-year sophomore middle linebacker Ivan Pace Jr. The 6-foot, 242-pound Pace started the season-opener at Cincinnati at outside linebacker before being shifted to middle linebacker when Ryan McWood was lost for the season. Pace leads Miami with 34 overall tackles and is tied for second with 14 unassisted stops. He piled up a career-high 12 tackles at Army.

Miami returns to MAC play after going 2-1 in a 2020 season shortened by pandemic protocols.

The Chippewas are 2-2, including losses by scores of 34-24 at Missouri and 49-21 at Louisiana State. They managed to squeeze in six games last season, all in the MAC, and finished 3-3.