Just when Miami seemed to be shaking off its tendency toward critical, win-costing errors, the RedHawks again gave away a winnable game in their 27-24 Mid-American Conference loss to Eastern Michigan on Wednesday.
Besides the 11 penalties for 75 yards, many negating sizable, crucial gains on offense, Miami’s defense also gave up several of what coach Chuck Martin called “chunk” plays while displaying poor fundamentals that wasted otherwise good pass coverage.
“Defensively, we were OK,” Martin said Thursday. “We were OK. We did some really good things. Our pass coverage was good. Our playing the ball was not good. They hit five plays on ‘go’ balls that weren’t poorly defended. We did not do a good job of playing the ball and getting our heads turned. The ball was in a good spot, but the coverage was good.
“You can’t give up five chunk plays. We did a good job defensively, but they had too many chunk plays.”
Also hampering Miami’s offense were the two turnovers incurred by junior quarterback Gus Ragland, including a fumble while being sacked at the RedHawks’ 10-yard line that the Eagles instantly converted into an insurance touchdown, and the loss to injury in the third quarter of the team’s top two ground-gainers, juniors Kenny Young and Alonzo Smith.
“I just felt like we couldn’t get into a rhythm,” Ragland said after the game. “We couldn’t flip the field. It seemed like every drive started at the 20-yard line. I definitely left some plays out there. We’ll look at the film and try to get better from it.”
The loss was Miami’s fourth out of seven by five points or less. That doesn’t include the 37-29 loss to Bowling Green when the RedHawks were lined up at the Falcons’ 1-yard line on first down in the last two minutes, trailing 30-29, only to see the shotgun snap graze a blocking back and become a fumble Bowling Green picked up and returned 93 yards for the clinching touchdown.
“We did a lot of things winning teams do, but we made some critical errors,” Martin said about the loss to the Eagles — Miami’s first in 10 games since 1993. “You can’t have a turnover on the 10-yard line, but we’re close in a lot of ways.”
Martin couldn’t comment on the availability of Young and Smith for Miami’s regular-season finale at Ball State on Tuesday,
“We don’t know yet,” he said. “We’ll see. Losing Kenny and Zo in the third quarter didn’t help matters. Everybody at this point is pretty beat up. We’ll see as the week goes on.”
Young finished with 85 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries, while Smith went for 65 yards on 15 carries.
“Our special teams were good,” Martin said. “They had their best game of the year. We were really pleased about that. We ran the ball very effectively, inside and outside — probably the best of any team against Eastern this year. Even good running teams have had trouble against them.”
The Eastern Michigan game also was the second straight missed by injured junior linebacker De’Andre Montgomery. His status for the game against the Cardinals, who played Buffalo at home on Thursday, was undetermined.
Miami (4-7, 3-4 MAC East Division) no longer is automatically eligible for a bowl bid. NCAA rules required teams to finish at least .500 to play in a postseason bowl game, though sub-.500 teams can fill a berth if there aren’t enough .500-or-better teams if they meet academic standards.