OXFORD, OHIO - OCTOBER 19: Tre Harbison #22 of the Northern Illinois Huskies runs the ball in the game against the Miami of Ohio Redhawks during the second quarter at Yager Stadium on October 19, 2019 in Oxford, Ohio. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)
Photo: Justin Casterline
Photo: Justin Casterline

College Football: RedHawks expecting ‘knockdown, dragout fight’ against archrival Ohio

Teams are tied top MAC East standings

To the vast majority of Miami sports fans, Ohio is a despised archrival.

To RedHawks football coach Chuck Martin, the Frank Solich-coached Bobcats were the program that set the standard he wanted to meet when he took the job before the 2014 season.

“They’re who we want to be like,” Martin said last week during Miami’s weekly media session. “When I took this job, I told my assistants, ‘Five years from now, we’ve got become like OU.’ They’re consistent. They’re right in the hunt every year. I told Frank, ‘We’re going to become you.’ They’re are talented. They are crazy competitive. They are crazy coachable.

“I think we have become them. The rivalry is more special because it’s become a knockdown, dragout fight.”

»RELATED: Running game propels Miami past Kent State

Martin and Miami can find out how much progress they’ve made on that quest when they meet Ohio on Wednesday on the Bobcats’ home field at Peden Stadium (27,000). Kickoff is scheduled for 8 p.m., and the game is scheduled to be televised on ESPN2.

Both teams are 4-4 overall and 3-1 in the Mid-American Conference East Division. Both also have had 10 days off after knocking off division leaders. Miami went on the road to knock Kent State out of a tie for first place in the East with a 23-16 win on Oct. 26. That same day, Ohio handed West Division-leading Ball State its first conference loss with a convincing 34-21 win.

This game is fraught with milestone drama beyond the battle for first place in the MAC East. A win would be Solich’s 111th as Ohio’s coach, breaking a tie with Central Michigan’s Herb Deromedi for the most MAC career coaching wins.

The game also is the only one being played on the 150th anniversary of college football’s first game, played between the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) and Rutgers on Nov. 6, 1869.

“It’s going to be great for college football, and it’s certainly great for both Miami and Ohio to be viewed on that day,” Solich said during his weekly media session on Wednesday. “There’s going to be a lot of eyes on you, and that’s not only good for our football program, but it’s good for the university. We’re excited about being a part of it.”

The RedHawks have won three of their last four games, all in the MAC, after closing out a 1-3 non-conference schedule. Their defense has put up better numbers in conference action. Miami is ranked eighth overall in points allowed, but sixth against MAC. Their total defense improves from fifth overall to third in conference play. Rushing defense is slightly better, from sixth overall to fifth against the MAC, while the pass defense is up from fourth overall to second in the MAC.

“When you look at it, their defense is rated close to the top in a lot of categories,” Solich pointed out. “They are on the upper echelon on the defensive end of it.”

Miami edged Ohio, 30-28, at Yager Stadium in Oxford last season, but the RedHawks have lost six straight games in Athens since a 38-7 win in 2005. To snap that losing streak, they will have to find a way to contain the player Martin calls the MAC’s best – 6-foot-1, 210-pound senior quarterback Nathan Rourke, who leads the MAC in total offense with an average of 284.9 yards per game.

“Everything is centered around the best player in the league,” Martin said. “He makes some crazy big plays. He’s fun to watch, unless you’re on defense. Then it sucks.”

“We watched the Ball State film,” junior safety Mike Brown said. “They have an athletic quarterback who makes things happen. The key is stopping him.”

The game is the first of what has become a traditional season-ending slate of midweek MAC games for Miami. After Ohio, the RedHawks will play home games against Bowling Green on Nov. 13 and Akron on Nov. 20 before finishing the regular season at Ball State on Nov. 29.

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