OXFORD -- If nothing else, Miami can glean one redeeming aspect out of its crushing 49-14 loss at archrival Cincinnati in the annual Victory Bell grudge match last week.
The RedHawks won the turnover battle.
Despite playing with in third-year sophomore A.J. Mayer, a quarterback who’d made just one previous career start, Miami didn’t throw an interception and recovered its only fumble. Meanwhile, fourth-year junior safety Sterling Weatherford came up with an interception, as did freshman cornerback John Saunders, Jr., who returned his pick 32 yards for a touchdown.
Also, fourth-year junior defensive lineman Ryan Newton recovered afumble, adding to Miami’s 3-0 turnover dominance and snapping at 20 the Bearcats’ streak of consecutive games in which they’d forced at least one turnover. The streak was the longest among Football Bowl Subdivision teams going into the game.
“Our ball security was good when we had the ball in our hands,” Miami coach Chuck Martin said earlier this week. “We did some really good things taking care of the ball, but they had chunk play after chunk play after chunk play.”
The eighth-year coach reported that his team came out of the season-opening loss with the usual amount of bumps and bruises. Mayer was sacked twice and often hit while throwing, producing incomplete passes that helped lead to him finishing 9-of-28 for 109 yards.
“We’re OK,” Martin said. “A.J.’s pretty sore. He took a lot of shots.”
Martin expects sophomore quarterback Brett Gabbert, the Mid-American Conference Freshman of the Year in 2019, to be back for Saturday’s non-conference game at Minnesota (0-1). Gabbert suffered two injuries during fall practice that limited him to what Martin estimated as six sessions.
While Martin was concerned about the passer protection, he was overall encouraged by the performance of Miami’s relatively young offensive line, which included new starters in 6-7, 306-pound left tackle Sam Vaughn and 6-6, 290-pound right tackle Reid Holskey. That they performed capably in front of a boisterous, hostile crowd that approached 40,000 against a team ranked eighth in the Associated Press pre-season poll was even more impressive.
“For their first-ever experience, they did awesome,” Martin said. “They lost some battles, but they won some battles, too. We didn’t protect the passer enough. We’ve got to get better.
“They wanted to be there.”
While losing for the 15th straight time to Cincinnati was disappointing, the RedHawks were ready to move on to the next challenge. Sophomore left guard Caleb Shaffer pointed out that this season isn’t the first that Miami has lost its opener.
“We dropped the ball in the first game in 2019 and looked how that turned out,” the 6-foot-5, 324-pound Shaffer said.
For the record, Miami in its last full season of play lost three of its first four games against non-conference teams before bouncing back to win the Mid-American Conference East Division championship and beating Central Michigan in the MAC championship game.
“At the end of the day, the biggest lesson is to keep fighting,” Shaffer said. “Nobody was hanging their heads in the locker room after the game. As coach Martin said, they just outplayed us, but we’re a better team than we realized. Our Week 12 team will not resemble our Week One team.”
Senior safety Mike Brown was similarly optimistic. His assessment was Cincinnati wasn’t physically 35 points better than the RedHawks.
“The things we messed up are easily fixed,” the 6-1, 222-pound Brown said. “We had bad eyes. It wasn’t physical. It was more mental than anything.
“In football, you can only control what comes next. We’ve got to move on to the next game.”
Miami at Minnesota, Noon, ESPNU, 980, 1450