RedHawks seek first 2-0 start in MAC since 2012

Miami wide receiver Mac Hippenhammer tries to break free from a Central Michigan's Rolliann Sturkey during a game at Yager Stadium on Oct. 2, 2021. Miami University Athletics photo
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Miami wide receiver Mac Hippenhammer tries to break free from a Central Michigan's Rolliann Sturkey during a game at Yager Stadium on Oct. 2, 2021. Miami University Athletics photo

The Miami RedHawks have a shot this Saturday at reaching a level in football they haven’t seen in nine years.

After coming from behind in the fourth quarter last Saturday to beat Central Michigan, 28-17, Miami can go 2-0 in the Mid-American Conference for the first time since 2012 with a win at Eastern Michigan.

That team, coached by Don Treadwell and led by senior quarterback Zac Dysert, went on to finish 4-8 overall and 3-5 in the MAC, dropping its last four games on the way to a school-record 21-game losing streak, which led to Treadwell’s departure and the hiring of Chuck Martin.

The 2021 RedHawks will have to either shut down a prolific Eastern Michigan offense or win a track meet with the Eagles, who lead the MAC with an average of 32.6 points per game. They are 3-2 overall and 0-1 in the MAC after a 27-20 loss at Northern Illinois last Saturday.

ExploreSpecial teams, QB play key in Miami's MAC victory over Central Michigan

“They could be 4-1,” Martin said during his weekly media session on Monday. “They had a sack fumble that put them down 10 points and then a pick-six on the next series. They didn’t really get going until they were down, 17-0. From then on, it was Eastern’s game. If they don’t turn the ball over, they win the game.”

Saturday’s game will be the second straight for Miami, which competes in the MAC East Division, against a West Division team, the first time since 1999 that the RedHawks have opened conference play with back-to-back inter-division games. Miami is scheduled to start East Division play next Saturday against Akron.

Senior Quarterback Ben Bryant, a transfer from the University of Cincinnati in his first year at Ypsilanti, ranks third in the MAC with an average of 202.6 passing yards per game, while sophomore running back Samson Evans leads the conference with an average of 9.0 points per game.

“They have a balanced offense,” Martin said. “They’re a really good (run-pass option) team. They have a very efficient offense. They have one of the most balanced offenses in the MAC.

“Defensively, they fly around and go north and south,” Martin added.

“They’re pretty base, but they’ll bring some blitzes inside and outside,” said fourth-year sophomore quarterback A.J. Mayer, who came off the bench on Saturday after third-year sophomore Brett Gabbert was injured and went 13-of-18 for 179 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.

One of Mayer’s favorite targets was fourth-year junior wide receiver Mac Hippenhammer, the transfer from Penn State who finished with a career-high eight catches for 179 yards against the Chippewas.

One intriguing matchup could be Eastern Michigan’s punt team against Miami’s punt return unit. Eagles senior Jake Julien leads the MAC with an average of 47.7 yards per punt. While the body of work is small, Miami’s fifth-year junior wide receiver Jalen Walker has shown signs of being a dangerous punt returner, taking his only try 17 yards. He’s also averaged 21.0 yards on three kickoff returns.

Saturday’s game coincides with Eastern Michigan’s 100th Homecoming. Miami leads the overall series against the Eagles, 18-5, and has won nine of the last 10 games and 12 of the last 14. The teams haven’t played since Eastern Michigan’s 27-24 win at Miami’s Yager Stadium in 2017.

SATURDAY’S GAME

Miami at Eastern Michigan, 3:30 p.m., ESPN+, 980, 1410