Miami’s most formidable football opponent this season just might be success.
The RedHawks on Saturday saw another winnable game morph into a gut-wrenching loss when Kent State completed a comeback from a 14-3 halftime deficit with an 84-yard third-quarter touchdown pass that gave the Golden Flashes a 17-14 lead Miami couldn’t overcome.
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Sophomore Sam Sloman missed a 26-yard field-goal attempt midway through the fourth quarter, and junior quarterback Billy Bahl got the RedHawks to Kent State’s 41-yard line before time ran out on the final possession of the Mid-American Conference East Division game at Kent State.
Saturday’s game joined those against Cincinnati and Bowling Green in the ever-growing group of efforts in which Miami has led before experiencing mental or physical breakdowns – or both – that opened the door for the opponents to engineer comebacks. The RedHawks have enough talent and drive take leads, even on the road, but they get too giddy and lose focus, according to coach Chuck Martin.
“We were feeling about as good as you can feel at halftime,” the fourth-year coach said Monday. “That was as good of a first half as we’ve played all year in terms of efficiency. We were prepared. We were locked in. We just had a lack of mental toughness throughout the game.”
Kent State’s go-ahead touchdown is one example of Miami’s main problem, Martin said. Golden Flashes quarterback George Bollas hit Mike Carrigan with a bootleg pass designed to gain about 10 yards, but RedHawk defensive breakdowns allowed Carrigan to turn it into a long touchdown.
“We didn’t defend it well,” Martin said. “You’ve got to be able to pursue. You’ve got to get the guy on the ground. We didn’t execute. We weren’t mentally tough enough to finish the job.
“We’ve talked all year about it. We’re in position to win games, and we lose games. It’s a very irritating broken record.”
Excluding the game at Notre Dame, Martin believes Miami has played six what he calls “winnable” games this season. The RedHawks have won only two, primarily because they relax with leads – a problem Martin believes started with last season’s giddy, six-win rush to a bowl berth after opening the season with six losses.
“We talked about it yesterday, and the kids admitted that they were coming off a high,” Martin said. “It got in our heads, and we haven’t handled it well.
“It comes down to executing down the stretch. We’ve got to focus on that all week in practices and all week in meetings.
“You have to keep your foot on the gas. We have to have the blue-collar mentality we had last season. You can’t worry about how it looks. We had that steely-eyed mentality in the first half (against Kent State). You’ve got to have that grinder mentality.”
One symptom of Miami’s problem is its inability to get off the field on third downs. The RedHawks are allowing opponents to convert 41.6 percent of third downs into first downs. That ranks 11th in the 12-team MAC.
Miami (2-5, 1-2) is tied with three other teams for third in MAC East, one game behind Ohio and two behind front-running Akron. Buffalo (3-4, 1-2), the RedHawks’ opponent at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday at Yager Stadium in Oxford, is one of the third-place teams.
Bahl is Miami’s projected starter as Gus Ragland remains sidelined with an injury he suffered in the third quarter against Bowling Green on Oct. 7. Bahl finished 12-of-29 for 174 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions, and he led Miami into Kent State territory four times in the fourth quarter, but he couldn’t connect with two open receivers in the end zone. Fourth-year junior running back Alonzo Smith dropped a screen pass with plenty of open territory in front of him.
Martin considers himself as responsible as anybody in the program.
“I take responsibility for everything as the head coach,” he said. “I’m very accountable. It’s beyond disappointing that we haven’t won more games. It’s more disappointing for me. We have it in us. It’s in our kids. It’s just that it’s coming out in spurts.”
Buffalo at Miami, 2:30 p.m., 1410, 980