Confident Miami RedHawks seeking fifth straight win after 0-6 start

Miami quarterback Gus Ragland gets away from Kent State defensive end Theo Eboigbe on his way to first down yardage during their game at Yager Stadium in Oxford Saturday, Oct. 15, 2016. Contributed Photo / E.L. Hubbard
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Miami quarterback Gus Ragland gets away from Kent State defensive end Theo Eboigbe on his way to first down yardage during their game at Yager Stadium in Oxford Saturday, Oct. 15, 2016. Contributed Photo / E.L. Hubbard

Grant Niemiec wasn’t going to be drawn into any Bearcat-baiting, even though he’s never played on a RedHawk team that beat arch-rival Cincinnati.

Miami’s fifth-year senior running back was asked during Miami’s football media session Monday how it felt to have as many wins as the Bearcats.

“That’s funny,” he said, almost under his breath. “It’s cool. We’re not looking at that much. We’re focused on our next opponent. We wish them well, but we played them already.”

The Commerce, Mich., native and his teammates are content to savor their current four-game winning streak heading into a Mid-American Conference East Division game at Buffalo on Saturday. Kickoff is at 1 p.m.

Niemiec and teammates, such as defensive end J.T. Jones, are especially appreciative of seeing progress after so many bleak seasons. They are justifiably proud of staying the course and of the roles they’ve played in helping the program turn the corner on the road to again being relevant.

“All of the guys in our class take pride in being the guys who got it back,” Niemiec said. “We’re not done yet.”

The 6-foot-3, 246-pound Jones, who leads Miami (4-6, 4-2) with 6-1/2 sacks after racking up 10 last season, is a key member of a defense that leads the MAC in total defense and interceptions and ranks second in rush defense.

“That’s pretty big for me, being a defensive leader on the team,” the Milledgeville, Ga., product said. “We don’t have all the wins we’d like to have, but being the top defense is cool.”

The key has been simply believing in themselves, he said.

“We finally started to believe that we could get the job done,” he said. “Seeing it play out on film gave us confidence.”

Third-year Miami coach Chuck Martin pointed out that a more efficient, clock-chewing offense is helping the defense. Central Michigan had only four possessions in the second half of Miami’s 37-17 win on Friday

“We were leading the conference in three-and-outs,” Martin said of previous RedHawk offenses. “Getting just four possessions is unheard of in this day and age of fast-paced offenses.”

The RedHawks punted just once while again winning the time-of-possession battle, 33:39-26:21. The offense, led by third-year sophomore quarterback Gus Ragland, had seven possessions during which it actually was trying to score and came away with five touchdowns and a field goal. Ragland, who has made four starts since returning from a spring practice knee injury that required surgery, was named the MAC East Division Offensive Player of the Week after setting career highs with 218 passing yards and four touchdowns.

Ragland’s effectiveness has been enhanced by Miami’s new-found versatility, Martin said, which became possible when wide receivers Rokeem Williams and Jared Murphy and running backs Kenny Young and Maurice Thomas also returned from injury around the same time as the quarterback. That was evident against the Chippewas.

“We had four tailbacks touch the ball,” he said. “Tight ends touched the ball. All sorts of wide receivers touched the ball. We got four of our five top skill guys back. We’ve been getting healthier, and that has given us the weapons to be successful.”

Martin was hopeful that third-year sophomore offensive left tackle Jordan Rigg, a Springboro High School graduate, would be available after suffering an injury during pre-game warmups for Central Michigan.

“We found a new way to get hurt,” Martin cracked on Monday.

True junior safety Tony Reid, tied for the RedHawks lead in tackles and the leader in solo stops, also is expected to be back in the starting lineup after being ejected for targeting during the first half of the win over the Chippewas.


SATURDAY’S GAME

Miami at Buffalo, 1 p.m., 1450, 980

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