Miami’s Martin not ready to give up on MAC Championship game

OXFORD -- At a glance, the math doesn’t add up for a Miami football team’s trip to the Mid-American Conference Championship game.

The RedHawks are 3-5 overall and fifth in the six-team MAC East Division with a 1-3 record, three games behind 5-3 and 4-0 Buffalo with three other teams between them and first place.

Coach Chuck Martin doesn’t necessarily see it that way. He’s not prepared to give up on being at Detroit’s Ford Field on Dec. 3.

“The way I see it, win this week, win next week and so on and let’s see what happens,” the ninth-year Miami coach said during Monday’s weekly media session. “In this league, you never know. I’ve heard it from a bunch of people that, ‘Everything’s gone.’ I’m Iike, ‘I don’t know that.’

“In 2016, we were 0-6 and 0-2 and we almost had a conference championship trophy in the trophy case.”

Those RedHawks won their final six games and tied Ohio for the division title, only missing out on representing the division in the MAC title game because of a loss to the Bobcats.

One similarity shared by the 2016 team and the 2022 version is the dramatic return from injuries of accomplished quarterbacks. The 2016 team took off when third-year sophomore Gus Ragland came back. Martin and the RedHawks hope the return of fourth-year junior Brett Gabbert has the same impact.

The difference is Ragland went undefeated until Miami dropped a 17-16 nailbiter to Mississippi State in the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Bowl. Gabbert’s return on Saturday was marred by a 16-10 loss to Western Michigan.

Even if the RedHawks fall short of a division title, they still can qualify for a bowl game by winning at least three of their last four games. They hope to start a stretch-run spurt with their noon game on Saturday at Akron (1-7, 0-4). The game will be Martin’s 100th as Miami’s coach, snapping a tie with Randy Walker for the most in program history.

Miami is scheduled to follow up with a home game against Ohio on Nove. 8, a visit to Northern Illinois on Nov. 16 and the regular-season finale against Ball State at Yager Stadium in Oxford on Nov. 22.

Martin knows that Miami will have to revitalize a running game that’s gone stale over the past couple of weeks. The RedHawks rushed for more than 200 yards four times this season, including 240 in a 24-20 loss at Buffalo and 236 in a 27-24 home win over Kent State. Since then, Miami has gained a combined 181 yards on the ground during a 17-13 loss at Bowling Green and Saturday’s loss to Western Michigan.

What makes the dropoff more mysterious is Miami’s offensive line went into the season as perhaps the most experienced of Miami’s units with four starters back from last season. Three still are active, led by 6-foot-5, 323-pound junior left guard Caleb Shaffer, who has 32 career starts, including the last 14 in a row. Rusty Feth, a 6-5, 304-pound junior center, has started 30 consecutive games, while 6-6, 298-pound right tackle Reid Holskey has started 21 straight.

“Physicality is always a part of it,” Martin said. “We haven’t been as consistent as we’d like to be. If we get the passing game going, that should open up the running game.

“One of the problems is we’re not getting first downs. We have to stay ahead of the chains.”

A more effective offense would take some pressure off a RedHawks defense that continues to impress Martin despite a banged-up secondary that had them down to their third and fourth cornerbacks. Junior Nolan Johnson was pressed into starting duty on Saturday against the Broncos after sophomore John Saunders was injured during practice. The 6-2, 200-pound Johnson, a transfer from East Carolina, appeared to log his first career interception before replay review turned the play into an incomplete pass.

“You couldn’t tell the difference,” Martin said. “They tried to pick on him and got nothing. Then he cramped up, and all of a sudden, we’re down to our fourth cornerback.

“I feel better this week. We played our third and fourth cornerbacks, and they played great.”


Miami at Akron, Noon, ESPN+, 980, 1450

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