Since Miami’s next football game isn’t until Halloween at Ohio University, the RedHawks got a couple of extra days off from practice this week – ample time to savor their 24-14 win over the University at Buffalo that snapped a three-game losing streak.
They’ll have plenty of horror stories to deal with when they return to the practice field on Wednesday to prepare for their “Battle of the Bricks” rivalry game against the Bobcats, who share first place in the Mid-American Conference East Division with Akron.
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The win over the Bulls had the RedHawks feeling pretty good about themselves, according to senior tight end Ryan Smith.
“We played really well,” he said Monday. “It was a good team victory. Guys were flying around, making plays.”
One key to Miami’s win was avoiding those mistakes that had cost them dearly in four of their five losses, from special teams blunders to timeouts not being called to shotgun snaps glancing off of blocking backs. Those lapses helped the RedHawks turn second-half leads into losses in three of their five defeats.
“We played a solid football game,” fourth-year coach Chuck Martin said. “We did a lot of the things winning teams do and stopped doing the things that losing teams do. It was a step in the right direction. The defense was flying around and swarming. There weren’t a lot of solo tackles. Offensively, we managed the game the proper way. We won the turnover battle and we kept their big plays bottled up. We’ve had leads, but we haven’t playing efficiently with the lead.”
Fans no doubt had visions of another breakdown after Buffalo scored a touchdown with 2:52 left in the game and then recovered an onside kick at Miami’s 46-yard line, but the RedHawks’ defense pushed the Bulls back 11 yards on a possession that ended with a win-clinching incomplete pass. Sophomore defensive end Doug Costin led the effort with a quarterback hurry and a sack.
“Kudos to (Buffalo) for getting the onside kick, but we knew the defense would get the stop,” Smith said.
Miami (3-5, 2-2), which is second in the MAC East, one game behind the co-leaders, also got a major boost from fourth-year junior running back Kenny Young, who was named the MAC East Division Offensive Player of the Week on Monday after setting career highs with 125 rushing yards and two touchdowns. He scored on a 35-yard run on Miami’s first offensive play of the second half after the RedHawks’ defense forced and recovered a Bulls fumble.
Young and classmate Alonzo Smith have been forced to handle the bulk of the ball-carrying duties after Miami lost Leonard Ross and Maurice Thomas to injuries.
“Kenny’s been a difference-maker,” Martin said. “He and ‘Zo’ have stepped up. You get (Young) out in space – get him to that second level – and he can do things that are hard to coach.”
Miami’s current depth chart still lists fifth-year senior and Dayton Christian graduate Heath Harding as the starter at one cornerback slot, even though Harding didn’t practice last week or play against Buffalo after suffering a leg injury in the 17-14 loss at Kent State on Oct. 14. The extra time between games could give Harding and fourth-year quarterback Gus Ragland enough time to get over their injuries and return to the starting lineup.
Ragland, whose insertion into the starting lineup sparked Miami’s historic six-game winning streak to end the 2016 regular season and who was the starter for the RedHawks’ first six games this season, has missed the last two games after leaving the 37-29 loss to Bowling Green in the third quarter with what’s been described as a “lower body” injury.
“If we played tomorrow, they couldn’t play,” Martin said. “We’ll see how they are as the week goes on. With a 10-day window, we have hope. There’s a chance Gus could play.”
Miami at Ohio, 8 p.m., ESPN2 or ESPNU, 980, 1450