Haywood angry… Haywood smash!

October 21, 2009
Haywood says his team lacks toughness. Maybe they could learn how to play smash mouth football from these guys.

Haywood says his team lacks toughness. Maybe they could learn how to play smash mouth football from these guys.

Homecoming holds extra meaning this year for a RedHawk football team returning to Oxford after playing six of seven games on the road. The Miami University gridders now enter the final stretch of their season featuring four of five contests inside the friendly confines of Yager Stadium.

“We’ve got Northern Illinois and that’s our homecoming game,” linebacker Jerrell Wedge said. “We’re really amped up to try to get our first win.”

At 0-7 the RedHawks are battered and bruised, another phrase that holds both figurative and literal interpretations for Miami. Team confidence continues to run low, as noted by head coach Mike Haywood, and team’s injury list continues to grow with every passing game.

Wide receiver Eugene Harris III reinjured his hamstring against Ohio University. His status remains uncertain for Saturday as he joins wide out Dustin Woods and running back Andre Bratton on the list of ailing ’Hawks at the skill positions. This is all in addition to the season-ending surgery suffered by Chris Givens and doesn’t even mention the many injuries riddled all throughout the rest of the roster.

Amidst the depleted wide receiver corps, junior Armand Robinson has risen as the most reliable target down field. He leads the team with 39 catches 442 yards. Andrew Curse has been thrown into the proverbial fire, being expected to produce right away as a freshman.

“It’s an opportunity for another young man to have success,” Haywood said of the many injuries to his wide receivers. “Cruse is getting better, but he’s going to have to step it up. He’s being counted on more now than he has since he left high school and he’s going to have to answer the call.”

Hey now (Miami football player), you're an all star, get your game on, go play!

Hey now (Miami football player), you're an all star, get your game on, go play!

In past weeks the RedHawk practices focused on eliminating turnovers. This week Haywood looks to tackle a new problem: physicality. When the first-year head coach arrived in Oxford he promised the implementation of smash-mouth football. So far, however, the only mouths being smashed are their own, as noted by a futile run game and the goose egg in the win column.

“We’re not a physical ballclub and that’s just disappointing,” Haywood said. “We have to become more physical to run the football. Our running backs are running with their legs and not running with their eyes. There are seams inside that they’re supposed to hit and they misread the play.”

The running backs are not the only players on the team responsible for the grounded rushing attack. Physicality is lacking up front on the offensive line as well.

“The thing we don’t like to do as an offensive line is to run block,” Haywood said. “That’s a mind-set that ‘We’re going to come off and hit you in the mouth, and we’re going to hit you in the mouth for 60 minutes.’ It’s not in their makeup.”

To address this problem that Haywood views as team wide, the coach redesigned practices this week. Offense versus defense drills will be nine players against seven. The team scrimmaged on Tuesday and wore pads on Thursday. Haywood wants opponents driven back instead of falling forward. He is also bringing back the old Oklahoma drill in which three offensive lineman and a running back go head to head with three defensive linemen – missing a block will be hard to hide.

“Guys are going to learn that they’re going to have to play the game physical, or that they’re in the wrong organization,” Haywood said.

Haywood's promised team of tough, disciplined football players has turned out to just be a bunch of summergirls.

Haywood's promised team of tough, disciplined football players has turned out to just be a bunch of summergirls.

Regardless of what happened in practice, Northern Illinois won’t easily be pushed around Saturday. At 3-3 the Huskies boast quality victories over Western Michigan University, Purdue University and Western Illinois University. NIU lost by just one point to the University of Toledo and gave Big Ten opponent University of Wisconsin more than it bargained for in a close 28-20 season opening defeat.
Northern Illinois averages 358 yards per game, the bulk of which is produced by a husky ground game. Running backs Me’co Brown and Chad Spann compose a two-headed attack from the backfield, averaging 93 and 52 yards per game respectively. Of NIU’s 22 touchdowns, Spann has scored 10.

The Huskies are dangerous through the air as well. Eight different receivers average more than 10 yards per catch. Quarterback Chandler Harnish has completed 64.3 percent of his passes for 967 yards and six TDs.

Win or lose, Haywood wants to see his team play hard, smash-mouth football for all 60 minutes.

“You want your team to be known as a disciplined, physical football team that will be in the game until the end because of their physicality and execution,” Haywood said.

Kickoff comes at 1 p.m. Saturday afternoon in Yager Stadium. Fans are encouraged to celebrate homecoming by wearing red to the game.


NWU Preview: Road weary ‘Hawks head to Illinois

October 8, 2009
The RedHawks leave town for the fifth time in six weeks

The RedHawks leave town for the fifth time in six weeks

On the road again. It’s the all too familiar tune playing behind Miami University’s 0-5 start to the 2009 season. After suffering a 37-13 defeat in it’s first game in Oxford all year, the RedHawks fire up the buses once again for a trip to Northwestern University.

Saturday’s contest marks the team’s fifth game away from Yager Stadium in a brutal first half of the season that sends the RedHawks on the road six times in seven games. The quality of their opponents during this stretch proves equally merciless. Northwestern stands as Miami’s fourth enemy of the season to either hail from a BCS conference or carry a national ranking.

Last year the Wildcats boasted a vicious attacking defense that recorded 86 tackles for a loss and led the Big Ten in sacks. This season the tables have turned. While the Wildcat defense is putting up more pedestrian numbers in 2009, the offense averages nearly 32 points and 396 yards per game.

Senior quarterback Mike Kafka, one of 20 players to land on the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award Watch List, leads the Northwestern attack. He has completed 70 percent of his passes for 1,273 yards and five touchdowns this season. Against Syracuse University he scored five times as he threw three touchdowns, ran for a touchdown and caught a touchdown pass. Kafka racked up 923 passing yards in his three most recent games including a career-high 390-yard effort against the Orangemen.

“They are a big play passing team that likes to hit the deep ball,” Miami head coach Mike Haywood said. “If you make a mistake and do not get to your landmark and cut off the right defender it’s a big play.”

Haywood also noted that the Miami defense needs to prepare for the Wildcat option. He emphasized that defending these plays requires a high level of discipline from his players.

Only Colt McCoy and Dan LeFevour complete passes at a higher rate than Kafka.

Only Colt McCoy and Dan LeFevour complete passes at a higher rate than Kafka.

“We can’t let the quarterback get out and scramble,” Haywood said. “He can run away from D-linemen, but I don’t think he can run away from linebackers or secondary guys.

Northwestern graduated a significant portion of its offensive production from 2008 with the departures of Tyrell Sutton, Eric Peterman, Ross Lane and Rasheed Ward. Three Wildcat receivers already total more than 230 yards this season, however, as the purple pass attack continues to excel.

Northwestern may not be as dominant on defense as last year but the Wildcats still managed to hold Purdue to only 62 rushing yards in their most recent game. The RedHawks ground game has struggled thus far with Miami running backs totaling only 290 rushing yards through five games in 2009.

Leading Miami’s offense will be redshirt freshman Zac Dysert who is set to make his third start under center for the RedHawks. He faced a unique Cincinnati defense last weekend but expects Northwestern to implement a more tradition scheme. Dysert doesn’t believe the Wildcats will blitz often or try anything too complicated.

Against the Bearcats, Dysert limited his passes to short wide receiver routes and dump offs to running backs. He said this was done to stay underneath UCs 3-4 scheme in which it often dropped eight defenders into coverage. If wide receivers are open downfield against Northwestern, however, Dysert says he will not hesitate to challenge the Wildcat secondary.

While assessing his first two starts as a Miami quarterback, Dysert noted a growing comfort level with the offense but said he wants to cut down on the turnovers. The rookie has thrown six interceptions this season including a costly redzone pick Saturday.

“I just have to learn from it,” Dysert said. “I can’t force stuff, especially when we are on the three-yard line.”

Haywood believes his signal caller is getting better every day and is especially developing as a team leader. Mistakes like the UC turnover, however, stand in his mind as a huge obstacle preventing this team from playing winning football.

RedHawks hope to whiteout UCs top 10 ranking

October 1, 2009
Do the Bearcats even need to bother bringing the Victory Bell all the way to Oxford this year?

Do the Bearcats even need to bother bringing the Victory Bell all the way to Oxford this year?

The University of Cincinnati comes to Yager Stadium Saturday as the first top-10 opponent to ever play on Oxford gridiron. Red-shirt freshman quarterback Zac Dysert, who made his first start as a RedHawk against Kent State University, says the national ranking makes no difference at all.

“Playing against UC in a rivalry you can pretty much throw that out the window,” Dysert said.

Hatred for the Bearcats is drilled into Miami players from the moment they step on campus, in the locker room or even the bathroom stalls. Everywhere they go, signs are posted and they all send the same message: beat UC.

“No one likes UC around here,” Dysert said. “Everybody hates them.”

The Miami vs Cincinnati rivalry isn’t just about ill will but tradition as well. When these two teams take the field Saturday it will stand as their 114th meeting, making it the fifth most-played rivalry in Division 1 (FBS). The first game played between MU and UC was also the first college football game played in the state of Ohio.

Miami controls the all-time series with a 59-47-7 record, but the Bearcats have won the last three meetings to mark their longest winning streak against the RedHawks since winning four in a row from 1986-1989.

Besides touting a No. 10 ranking in the mostly subjective media poll, the Bearcats have also earned high marks based purely on performance. Cincinnati boasts the fifth best scoring offense with 43.3 and the fifth best passing offense with 344.8 yards per game. The Bearcat attack is led by senior quarterback Tony Pike who ranks fourth in the country in passing yards and fifth in QB rating.

Cincinnati not only scores often, but early and with incredible efficiency as well. UC posted at least 21 first-half points in all four of its games this season and against Fresno State University the offense was only on the field for a total of 16 minutes and 18 seconds.

Go to the game Saturday. It's the WHITE thing to do (disclaimer: this comment is not meant to be racist in any way, nor is it a commentary on the student population at Miami. I'm just trying to promote the whiteout here folks)

Go to the game Saturday. It's the WHITE thing to do (disclaimer: this comment is not meant to be racist in any way, nor is it a commentary on the student population at Miami. I'm just trying to promote the whiteout here folks)

On defense UC provides a unique look by only rushing three linemen and dropping eight backs into coverage. This test will be much different for Dysert who constantly battled backfield pressure against Kent State. Dysert proved to be a threat on the ground as well as in the air against the Flashes as the KSU pass rush often forced him to scramble downfield.

“You’ve got that clock in your head so whenever you find yourself saying ‘oh no, oh no, oh no’ you just take off,” Dysert said.

Since most of these runs did not come by design, it remains to be seen if he will be as effective carrying the ball against a new defensive scheme.

With the promise of eight Bearcats back in coverage, Dysert must also be warry of throwing interceptions. Turnovers have haunted Miami in recent games as the RedHawks succeeded five giveaways against KSU, five against Western Michigan University and four against Boise State University. This reoccurring problem is an issue head coach Mike Haywood is determined to address head on.

“You have to address it daily,” Haywood said. “We’ll have entire periods this coming week during practice where all we address is ball security. The major part of ball security is technique and fundamentals. We’re not carrying the ball high and tight and not squeezing the point of the ball to our body. It’s my responsibility that we teach our players the proper technique and fundamentals.”

Continuing recent tradition, Miami’s true home opener Saturday will be a whiteout for RedHawk fans. UC already sold out its ticket allotment for the game and Bearcat fans, who have been told to wear black, have thus begun buying up Miami’s tickets.  For RedHawk fans to minimize the effect of this impending black hole, they must show up loud, in large numbers and wearing white.

KSU Preview: A golden flash of hope for Miami

September 24, 2009


Change is on the way for the Miami University football team. After an 0-3 start to the season, head coach Mike Haywood decided to bench fifth-year senior quarterback Daniel Raudabaugh in favor of redshirt freshman Zac Dysert.

“We believe that we should be more effective on offense,” Haywood said of the team’s first three games. “The staff felt it was a great opportunity to put Dysert into the starting lineup so that we could do the things that we do best on offense. Zac’s quick passing game and his ability to run the football will help us succeed.”

With Raudabaugh starting under center, the RedHawks failed to score during the season’s initial 10 quarters. Only once Western Michigan University built a 35-0 second half lead and began giving playing time to its reserves did Miami find the endzone. In those first three games, Raudabaugh completed 59 of 111 passes for 569 yards with five interceptions and two touchdowns.

As he changes quarterbacks Haywood acknowledged that the offense must change as well. Dysert brings a different skill set to the position than Raudabaugh and the team must adjust accordingly. In Haywood’s opinion, Dysert is more athletic, more of a runner and the passing game will be quicker under his direction. Since Saturday will be the youngster’s first career start, Haywood plans to reduce the amount of reads he gives him.

Dysert appeared briefly in Miami’s two most recent contests. He made his first career start at the collegiate level against Boise State University. His first throw as a RedHawk went for an interception and gave the Broncos possession inside the redzone. He finished that game with completions on two of four passes with two interceptions and only one total yard.

The next week against Western Michigan Haywood gave Dysert another chance and the freshman demonstrated vast improvement. Playing a new set of Broncos Dysert completed three of seven passes for 74 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions. In two possessions, he guided the RedHawks on touchdown drives of 80 and 62 yards.

“He did a nice job when he went into the game (at Western Michigan),” Haywood said. “He showed awareness and scramble-ability, and he showed much more confidence that he did the week before at Boise. His eyes weren’t as big as saucers anymore.”

WIth injuries at QB and RB, Kent State is quickly losing its footing on offense.

WIth injuries at QB and RB, Kent State is quickly losing its footing on offense.

Both Miami and its Saturday opponent Kent State University (1-2) have endured season ending injuries to their respective best offensive players. The RedHawks lost their leading wide out Chris Givens to a shoulder tear while the Golden Flashes lost their star senior running back Eugene Jarvis to a Kidney injury. Sources told The Cleveland Plain Dealer that a physical exam revealed that Jarvis’ injured kidney is the only one he was born with.

Jarvis rushed for 798 yards as a red-shirt freshman, 1,699 yards as a sophomore and 801 yards during an injury-plagued junior season. He opened the 2009 campaign with 143 yards against Coastal Carolina before suffering the kidney injury at Boston College.

Haywood refused to acknowledge that Jarvis’ absence gives the RedHawks an advantage. His defensive game plan for Saturday remains highly focused on stopping the run.

“Their second team running back is as good as anyone we have,” Haywood said.

The Golden Flashes are likely to be without their starting quarterback as well. Sophomore gunslinger Giorgio Morgan, who took over quarterbacking duties in light of Julian Edelman’s departure to the NFL, played most of the season’s first two games with a badly sprained left ankle. He missed Kent State’s third game, however, and KSU head coach Doug Martin told ESPN that he is still really hampered, is not moving well and does not want to put him in a game until he can protect himself and play to his abilities.

Even without his starting quarterback and running back, Martin remains confident in his team’s ability to perform.

“I guarantee right now we’re going to have a winning season, and we’re going to a bowl game,” Martin told the Plain Dealer. “I’m burning the ships.”

If you can win, just start buring things, especially boats. That's KSUs strategy at least.

If you can't win, just start buring things, especially boats. That's KSUs strategy.

Miami’s defensive captain Jordan Gafford believes Kent State runs a unique style of offense. He said they routes run non-traditional routes and implement a unique protection scheme. Because the Golden Flashes’ offense is so different from anything the RedHawks have seen thus far, Gafford noted that preparation this week in practice becomes even more important.
The Miami D played more like an F in the first three games, giving up over 40 points in all three contests. Against Western Michigan, however, the score may have been inflated due to the offense’s frequent turnovers inside its own territory. Even so, Gafford refused to use this as an excuse. Instead, he looks at it as a challenge.

“We can’t look at the offense as a separate unit from us,” Gafford said. “The offense is like our brother, so when we get in tough spots like that we go out with the mindset of ‘hey, my brother needs me right now.’”

To turn the tide of defensive meltdowns, Gafford said they are focusing on playing fast and physical against Kent State.
“The first rule of defense is to get out of control,” Gafford said. “You want to knock someone back.”

While the defense gets out of control, the RedHawks will try to get their season under control as they look for their first win of the year. A victory against the Golden Flashes would even Miami’s conference record at 1-1. The contest marks Miami’s fourth consecutive game away from Oxford during a season in which the RedHawks make only one appearance at Yager Stadium during their first seven games.

WMU Preview: ‘Hawks look to avoid another stampede against a new set of Broncos

September 16, 2009


Prom dates and football have this in common: it’s tough to score when playing out of your league.

After failing to post a single point in either of its first two non-conference games, the Miami University football team knows this all too well. The RedHawks hope to leave the past behind them, however, as they now prepare to kick off MAC play Saturday against the Western Michigan Broncos.

“We match up well. We’re excited,” junior captain Jordan Gafford said. “We played two pretty good offenses the first two weeks. Western Michigan definitely has talented guys on offense but we think that we can attack them a little more and really play aggressive.”

To give his team a mental fresh start to the season, head coach Mike Haywood is breaking the schedule into four “quarters.” The first two out-of-conference games were the first quarter; Miami’s next two road games against MAC opponents are the second quarter. Haywood urges his team to leave the first quarter behind because it is in the books and there is nothing they can do about it anymore.

“As fragile as this team is from a psychological point of view, you have to wipe away all the adversity from the previous games and attack this season in different segments,” Haywood said. “They aren’t mentally tough enough to look at it as a total big picture.”

The first-year head coach attributes both of his team’s losses to mental issues. He believes they started each contest well but folded after costly turnovers. Helping his young players learn how to overcome these adverse situations is a top priority and a daily point of emphasis.

“It’s a psychological deal,” Haywood said. “We start doing things really well. We’re moving the ball really well and playing well on defense. All of a sudden there are turnovers that happen and the team just falls apart. When we start fighting through that adversity we will become a better football team.”

Where Miami failed in the second half, Western Michigan excelled. If the RedHawks want to stem this trend of final period falters, it must do so against a team that outscored its opponents 19-6 in the second halves of its first two games. Conversely, the Red and White have ample opportunity for another strong start, as the Broncos fell 48-7 in the first halves of those same two games.

WMU is led by senior quarterback Tim Hiller who ranks in the top 3 among active career leaders in six of 10 NCAA passer categories. The gunslinger, who was nominated on four pre-season award watch-lists, plays behind five offensive linemen who all weigh at least 300 lbs. Gafford noted from film study that Hiller releases the ball quickly, which means the RedHawk defense must vary pre-snap reads and put pressure on him in the backfield.

WMU QB Tim Hiller has an entire website dedicated to just him. WhereIsTimHiller? Still in Kalamazoo. Where ever that is.

WMU QB Tim Hiller has an entire website dedicated to just him. WhereIsTimHiller? Still in Kalamazoo. Where ever that is.

“From a defensive point of view, our No. 1 emphasis is to stop the run and provide pressure on the quarterback,” Haywood said. “Western’s quarterback is a big tall player who sits in the pocket and throws the ball well. We need to flush him out of the pocket and keep him on the run.”

While the Bronco passing attack looms as a threat, the WMU rushing attack appears to be a weakness. Western Michigan ran for only 60 yards on 53 carries in its opening two games.

The Miami backfield continues its weekly remodeling. Junior running back Thomas Merriweather reclaimed the starting role after impressing Haywood against Boise State University. Senior Andre Bratton is listed as day-to-day with a groin injury and his status for Saturday is in question. If he is unable to play, freshman Danny Green will back up Merriweather along with freshman Roman Lawson.

Senior Daniel Raudabaugh is scheduled to start at quarterback for the RedHawks after being pulled from Saturday’s game in favor of freshman back up Zac Dysert. Both signal callers threw two interceptions against the Boise Broncos. Haywood said Dysert’s allotted amount of future playing time depends on the performance of Raudabaugh.

Converting on third down served as another point of emphasis in practice this week. Gafford referred to this as the “money down.” He said the team watches its opponents on tape to discover their tendencies on third down plays and then practices those situations on the field. Miami allowed Boise to convert five of 10 third down plays, three of which resulted in touchdowns. On offense, the RedHawks improved on their meager 2-15 conversion rate from the season opener to post a 7-15 rate against the Broncos.

Miami’s puts its unblemished conference record on the line Saturday night at 7 p.m. in Kalamazoo, Mich. Hoping to avoid another stampede, the RedHawks look to score their first points and claim their first victory against the Broncos.

Tumble at the River: UK recap and BSU preview

September 9, 2009

Apparently Miami was not ready to rumble

The RedHawks took a tumble at the river Saturday against the Wildcats, suffering a 42-0 beating in coach Haywood’s first game at the reigns. Miami University’s road doesn’t get much easier either as it now heads cross-country to Boise, Idaho to take on the 12th ranked Broncos.

Miami missed an important opportunity to prove to its fans and community that the team’s woes in recent seasons are a thing of the past. The beginning of the new Haywood era stood much anticipated, but to many spectators, Saturday’s performance looked no different from those of old.

“In many ways it felt like we had a fresh start and (starting off in defeat) stinks,” senior junior captain Jordan Gafford said. “It’s a long season and we know that. We want so badly to turn this thing around.”

Before falling to its most lopsided season-opening loss since 1931, MU statistically outplayed the University of Kentucky in Saturday’s first quarter. The RedHawks gained more yards, converted more first downs and possessed the ball for a longer period of time than the Wildcats during the initial period in which both teams failed to score.

The strong start proved encouraging after opponents outscored the RedHawks 80-20 during the 2008 season. Haywood often emphasized in the offseason his willingness to take early aggressive risks in order to turn that trend around.
As the team often discovered during fall camp, Haywood means what he says. The first-time head coach called a fake punt on Miami’s second drive of the game to earn a first down and break into UK territory.

“We were slow getting going,” Kentucky head coach Rich Brooks said. “I have to give Miami credit for that. They gave us a lot of different looks. We were in a little bit of a mystery as to what they were going to do on both sides of the ball. It took us a while to figure it out.”

Miami’s third possession proved even more promising. The RedHawks drove the ball 48 yards downfield into the red zone before senior quarterback Daniel Raudabaugh made the first of two fatal mistakes. On third and long, Raudabaugh dropped back in the pocket and failed to locate any open receivers. Seeing an opening, he opted to run with the ball instead, but slid to safety just short of the first down marker. The mental mistake forced a short field goal, which junior punter Trevor Cook missed wide left of the uprights.

One miscue led to another. On the next drive, Haywood called his second trick play of the game; this time, however, it resulted in a more disastrous outcome.

Just after the clock expired on Miami’s surprising first quarter, Raudabaugh took a flea-flicker and launched it deep down field. With the intended receiver in double coverage and nowhere near the pass, senior UK safety Calvin Harrison hauled in the interception uncontested.

Raudabaugh never recovered, nor did his team. The fifth year senior went on to complete only seven of 23 passes in the final three quarters and also tossed another interception. Meanwhile, Miami’s defense gave up 42 points and 424 yards of offense after the initial turnover.

“(Raudabaugh) got a little frustrated after the INT and we have to make some adjustments from a psychological standpoint,” Haywood said. “You have to learn how to leave that play behind so that it doesn’t carry with you the rest of the game.”

UK ran away with the game after Raudabaugh's interception

UK ran away with the game after Raudabaugh's interception

Haywood noted that he chose not to take his struggling starting quarterback out of the game because he needs as many snaps as he can get. No change under center is scheduled for the Boise State game. Raudabaugh admitted he tried to do too much once the team got down and acknowledged that as a fifth year senior, this is a mistake that should already be eliminated.

“We didn’t execute and that starts with me,” Raudabaugh said. “I’ve got to do a better job of protecting the ball for our team. We’re only going to be as good as the quarterback position is going to be and I need to step it up for us to be a better team.”

While the RedHawks plan to field the same signal called against the Broncos Saturday, a major change will be made elsewhere on offense. Senior ball carrier Andre Bratton is the new starting running back according to Haywood. Bratton entered the UK game third on the depth chart and jumps ahead of former starter Thomas Merriweather and freshman Danny Green.

As expected after such a devastating loss, Haywood gave a long list of areas for improvement against the Broncos. He wants to see better tackling, better blocking on special teams and more consistent drives on offense with more efficiency on third down and in the red zone. He believes teams make their biggest stride from the first game to the second game. Ultimately, though, he just wants a victory.

“You’d like to put some points on the board,” Haywood said of the shutout, “but more importantly you’d like to win. We could have won 2-0 and I would have been happy.”

Boise State just finished defeating the University of Oregon in a game Bronco fans declared the most important home game in BSU history. The victory launched Boise State to No. 12 in the Associated Press college football poll. BSU holds a 64-2 record when playing on its home blue-turf field.

Miami is feeling blue already after a 42-0 loss and a date with the No. 12 ranked team up next

Miami is feeling blue already after a 42-0 loss and a date with the No. 12 ranked team up next

“It’s an outstanding opportunity to play a great opponent,” Haywood said of the upcoming matchup.

This marks Miami’s first ever meeting with the Broncos and the first of three consecutive road games. Although the RedHawks’ season opener at Paul Brown Stadium officially counted as a home game, a significant majority of the fans came decked out in blue – a sight MU can expect to see at an even greater extreme Saturday under the lights.

“It felt like a home game,” Haywood said of the Rumble at the River. “I haven’t had a home game in Oxford so I can only tell you what that one felt like.”

I don't care what it felt like, the Rumble at the River did not look like a home game for Miami

I don't care what it felt like, the Rumble at the River did not look like a home game for Miami

RedHawks vs Wildcats game preview: Does Miami have any fans?

September 1, 2009

Rumble at the River

Wildcat fans don’t expect much of a fight from the RedHawks Saturday, nor do they expect much of a showing from the Miami faithful.

“Does Miami-Ohio have any fans,” is an actual topic on catspause.com, a University of Kentucky athletics fan discussion board website.

So far the general consensus from Lexington is no.

“Playing in the MAC or whatever is not nearly as exciting as a regular conference, especially when you are consistently one of the worst teams in the conference,” username blueboy08 posted.

It should be noted that Miami is the all-time winningest MAC football program with 14 MAC titles, 255 conference wins and a 66 in-conference winning percentage. Even so, similar sentiments towards Kentucky’s so-called Saturday competition can be found all over the site. Username tnfbcat will be “surprised and somewhat upset” if the Wildcats don’t beat Miami by four touchdowns. Username Cardkilla will be surprised if Miami even gets to the end zone.

“We will beat Miami by much, much more that 14,” username BredBlue13 wrote. “We should beat them by more than 30. They went 2-10 last season and lost 12 of their starters. That’s who we are playing.”

Regardless of the fan chatter at UK, Miami players and coaches remain confident as they mover closer to the season opener. With intense workouts during spring and fall camp in the books, the RedHawks stand ready to show supporters and naysayers alike that this is not the same team that finished 2-10 in 2008.

“We’ve done everything in our power since coach Haywood got here to change this program,” junior captain Jordan Gafford said. “This by far has been the hardest the team has worked since I got here. The guys on the team are doing everything they can to make Miami proud.”

Gafford believes the key to a Miami victory is stopping Kentucky’s running game. The Wildcats field the second-most experienced offensive line in the Southeastern Conference with seven returning linemen who have started a combined 86 games during their collegiate careers. Senior lineman Jorge Gonzalez will sit out the Miami game, however, as he serves a one-game suspension.
Behind its veteran wall, Kentucky runs a “Locke-Smith” combination at tailback, handing the ball off to junior Derrick Locke and senior Alfonso Smith. The backs average 5.2 and 4.6 yards per carry respectively.

“They are going to try to run it right at us and they are good at what they do,” Gafford said. “For us to beat them we have to stop their run and I think we’ve got some good schemes to do that.”

The Wildcat to watch on defense is senor cornerback Trevard Lindley. Voted as a 2008 All-SEC cornerback, Lindley is the pre-season favorite to win the honor again. He holds UK’s career record for pass breakups at 34.

All-SEC cornerback Trevard Lindley

All-SEC cornerback Trevard Lindley

Six returning letterman give Kentucky depth and experience at safety to round out the Wildcat secondary. The rest of the team’s defense, however, is left largely untested after the departure of seven 2008 defensive starters to the NFL.

Miami fields an equally inexperienced team on defense. Six of the RedHawks in Miami’s starting lineup on defense appear there for the first time of their careers. This scenario holds true for three of MU’s offensive starters as well. Overall, Miami will start five freshmen, only two of which redshirted.

Head coach Mike Haywood is not concerned with this large youth presence and believes it provides a “great opportunity for success.” Senior quarterback Daniel Raudabaugh says that after spring and fall camp “no one is a freshman anymore.” In Gafford’s mind, the new system implemented by Haywood leaves everyone on the same level regardless of past experience.

“Everything is a different scheme so everyone is starting over anyway,” Gafford said. “There’s lots of guys at new positions. There’s a lot of talented young players on our team who are getting a chance to see what they can do and what they’re made of.”

To help out the first timers, several Miami veterans are returning from injuries and look ready to play Saturday. Senior captain Dustin Woods has practiced for two full weeks and returns as the top wide out after a pulled hamstring kept him out for most of fall camp. Senior running back Andre Bratton is also back in action and returns to the lineup as the No. 3 ball carrier. He replaces JR Taylor on the depth chart, who left the team Monday but remains at Miami for school. Junior Eugene Harris took the practice field Monday for the first time since his leg surgery. Haywood described his status as day-to-day and the wide out remains uncertain for Saturday.

Come game time, Haywood is most concerned about Kentucky’s speed and physicality. If Miami can match the Wildcats in those two areas, he believes the RedHawks have a good chance to come out with a victory. His quarterback feels that is more than doable for this football team.

“We probably not going to be as big as everybody but we’ve got enough skill positions to run with anybody in the country,” Raudabaugh said. “We’ve got a lot of speed and ball skills on the outside offensively and defensively so we will be able to compete there. As long as we can play physical in the trenches on offense and defense it will be a good game.”

The Rumble at the River kicks off at high noon Saturday. Supporters of the Miami football team are encouraged to come out in full force to prove to Kentucky that the RedHawks do indeed have fans.

Where are all the Miami fans? Do they even exist? Hopefully they will all turn up at Paul Brown Stadium come Saturday.

Where are all the Miami fans? Do they even exist? Hopefully they will all turn up at Paul Brown Stadium come Saturday.