- Mark Schmetzer Contributing Writer
The Miami RedHawks take the first step toward washing away the bitter aftertaste of last Saturday’s loss to arch-rival Cincinnati when they travel to Mt. Pleasant, Michigan to meet Central Michigan.
Today’s 3:30 p.m. kickoff marks a milestone of sorts for Miami. The game opens the RedHawks’ 70th season of Mid-American Conference competition, dating to 1948, when they won the first of their conference-record 15 football championships in their first season in the league.
Miami (1-2) hasn’t won an overall MAC championship since 2010, and the RedHawks were picked to finish second behind Ohio in the East Division in preseason polls of both conference media members and coaches. Central Michigan (2-1), coming off a 41-17 loss at Syracuse of the Atlantic Coast Conference, was picked to finish fifth in the MAC West Division, but Miami coach Chuck Martin believes that might be misleading.
“They try and spread you out and take advantage of you being thin,” Martin said. “Their quarterback is a graduate transfer from Michigan. That’s something we’re very concerned with.”
Chippewas’ senior quarterback Shane Morris leads a Central Michigan offense that ranks second in the MAC in total offense, generating an average of 490.3 yards per game. Morris is averaging 323.3 yards per game passing, which also is second in the MAC, and leads the conference with an average of 344.3 yards of total offense per game.
The left-hander was named the MAC West Division offensive player of the week after throwing for five touchdowns in Central Michigan’s 45-27 win at Kansas of the Big 12 on Sept. 9. He was 22-of-45 for 279 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown, last Saturday against the Orange.
“I think we need to help him more,” coach John Bonamego said on cmuchippewas.com, the Central Michigan athletic department website. “He had one bad throw on an interception. The other was a tipped ball — should have been caught, should have been a completion. The pick-six, that was in and out of our hands. We have to make those plays. If that ball’s not tipped, if it’s caught, it’s a different story going in at halftime.”
Morris has connected with senior wide receiver Mark Chapman for 20 receptions and an average of 102.0 receiving yards per game, both second in the MAC. Sophomore running back Jonathan Ward also ranks second in the conference with an average of 79.7 rushing yards per game.
The Chippewas defense already has picked off a MAC-high nine interceptions.
“They’re big, physical and fast on defense,” Martin said, pointing out 6-foot-3, 259-pound senior defensive lineman Joe Ostman, 6-2, 240-pound junior linebacker Malik Fountain and 5-11, 188-pound senior cornerback Amari Coleman as Central Michigan’s three primary defenders. “They’re all really talented, high-end kids.
“The last two weeks, they’ve had to work with a little different system going up against spread (offense) teams. They’re athletic.”
If any team can throttle the high-powered Chippewas’ offense, it’s Miami. The RedHawks lead the MAC and rank 19th in the country with an average 33-minute, 38-second time of possession. Miami leads the MAC in total defense, allowing an average of 299.3 yards per game, and rushing defense, yielding an average of 119.3 yards per game.
The RedHawks still face the problem of putting behind them what really has been a disappointing pre-conference season schedule that includes losing winnable games at Marshall, where special teams and turnover outweighed winning the statistics battle in a 31-26 loss, and last Saturday’s come-from-ahead loss to the Bearcats. They have yet to best a Football Bowl Subdivision team this season.
“You use it as fuel for not ever feeling like this ever again,” senior cornerback Heath Harding said immediately after Saturday’s game. “I think we’re going to have a good practice tomorrow, we’re going to have a good week, and we’re going to come back next week even stronger.”