Mike Haywood has a long Christmas list this year. After losing the season finale to the University at Buffalo 42-17, the first-year head coach knows his one-win RedHawks need a lot of work this offseason.
With 12 recruits already signed as of Wednesday night, Miami University holds seven more football scholarships to give. Haywood already knows exactly how he wants to fill those slots.
While assessing team needs, Haywood said he is looking for improved speed and strength. On the defensive line he wants a pass-rushing end and a run-stopping tackle. To address the need for speed, he wants to bring in a fast running back to compliment his many inside rushers, a tight end that can stretch the field vertically and athletic quarterback.
Haywood also plans to improve the conditioning of his current players.
“If you watch our wide receivers and running backs, when we go up and hit them, (the other team) is always falling forward,” Haywood said. “We have a lack of upper body strength as a team. We have to increase that upper body strength and we also have to get bigger and faster.”
The list doesn’t end there. Haywood also said he plans to implement a fullback position into his offense in addition to improving the kicking and punting units and the redzone offense. The offensive line will see some serious work as well.
“Our offensive line would much rather pass protect than run block,” Haywood said. “During the offseason we’re going to change that mentality. They’re going to realize that we’re going to run the ball first.”
The RedHawks may look to run first next season but that was not the case against Buffalo. Miami quarterbacks attempted a season-high 57 passes Wednesday.
Senior receiver Brayden Coombs took full advantage by hauling in a school-record 14 passes for 100 yards in his last game as a RedHawk. With Miami’s receiving corps suffering relentless injuries all season long, Coombs, who switched to the WR position just two seasons ago, filled in nicely.
“Braydon was so far down in the depth chart when we first got here,” Haywood said. “He kept fighting and kept fighting and next thing you know he became the starter.”
The RedHawk rushing attack did little on the few plays Dysert and Raudabaugh didn’t drop back. Miami running backs carried the ball 12 times for a total of 53 yards.
Buffalo, on the other hand, dominated its ground game. Two UB ball carriers averaged more than 10 yards per rush as the Bulls racked up 240 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns on the night. Once the running backs got going, quarterback Zach Maynard joined in on the fun as the Bulls often utilized play-action QB sneaks to confuse the RedHawk defense. His speed proved more than Miami could handle.
“We don’t have anybody on the field that can catch him because he was that athletic and that fast,” Haywood said.
While Buffalo controlled the scoreboard, it did not dominate all of the statistics. Miami finished with more first downs and time of possession than its opponent for the eighth time this season. The Achilles heel was an anemic redzone offense. Four times Miami drove inside the Buffalo 20-yard line without producing a score. On three of those trips the ’Hawks failed to register any points at all.
“People that are kicking field goals in the redzone end up losing football games,” Haywood said.
The loss brings Haywood’s first season as a head coach to a frustrating close. While his version of the team finished with less wins than last year’s, however, both he and his players believe that the foundation for future success has been laid. Haywood spent much of his time addressing issues off the field. With many of those problems eradicated he now feels the team is in a position to move forward.
“We had a lot of adversity early – primarily the way guys were living their lives off the field,” Haywood said. “We’ve cleaned up that aspect of our program and we’re now headed in the right direction. I can spend more time coaching on the field instead of handling the problems within a first-year organization.”
Haywood knows that the only secret to success is earning it through hard work, and that is one thing he can promise will never be lacking on this team. The players experienced plenty of growing pains this season as they adjusted to a completely new system. While they admit it was hard, they also admit it was necessary.
“When Haywood came here, I don’t think a lot of people realized the challenge he stepped in to,” senior captain Dustin Woods said. “We needed a change and knowing that Haywood could make a difference – that was all that mattered for the program.”