Off to best start in 20 years, Miami opens MAC play on road at Kent State

Chuck Martin has no time for folks who look at Kent State’s 1-3 record and think Miami should easily win Saturday’s Mid-American Conference football opener.

“They look at Kent State and see they’re 1-3 and think they’re not very good,” the 10th-year RedHawks coach said during Monday’s weekly media session. “One it’s the MAC there are no easy ones and two we’re going on the road.”

Kickoff is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. on the Golden Flashes home field at 25,319-seat Dix Stadium in the MAC opener for both teams. Miami is 3-1 for the first time since 2003, but both teams are a half-game behind Ohio in the MAC East. The Bobcats followed up their dramatic win over Iowa State of the Big 12 on Sept. 16 with a 38-7 conference win over Bowling Green last Saturday.

Still unclear is the status of Miami junior wide receiver Gage Lavardain, who left Saturday’s 62-20 win over Football Championship Subdivision Delaware State awkwardly holding his right arm. He later was seen on the sideline with ice on his right shoulder and not wearing pads or a jersey. The 5-foot-10, 160-pound transfer from Southeast Louisiana, who leads the MAC with an average of 109.5 receiving yards per game, was seen participating in practice on Thursday. The nature of his injury was never disclosed, and whether that meant he’d play at Kent State remained to be seen.

Kent State’s only win in its first season under coach Kenni Burns was by 38-10 over Football Championship Subdivision Central Connecticut State. The Golden Flashes, who finished the 2022 season 5-7 overall and 4-4 in the MAC, have lost at Central Florida, 56-6, at Arkansas, 28-6, and most recently at Fresno State, 53-10.

Central Florida, like Cincinnati, just joined the Big 12 this year. Arkansas plays in the Southeastern Conference.

“The MAC’s the MAC,” Mami coach Chuck Martin said. “I remember 2019, when we started 1-3 and won the MAC championship. You’ve got to look at who they’ve played. They’ve got a new coach and a new defensive system. Central Florida got after them, but Arkansas couldn’t move the ball on them.

“They lost a lot of offensive personnel from last year, but they will be a good MAC team.”

“They try to play an up-tempo offense,” said Miami junior linebacker Matt Salopek, a Kent native who leads Miami in unassisted and total tackles. “They try to score in a hurry. We have to try to get them in second-and-long and slow them down. They have a good quarterback and a tough little running back. We have to make sure to get lined up and go to work.”

The RedHawks, who were picked to finish second behind Ohio in MAC East in a pre-season poll of conference coaches, are scheduled to face Bowling Green in their conference home opener on Oct. 7. Their only three games against West Division teams are at Western Michigan on Oct. 14, at home against Toledo on Oct. 21 and at Ball State in the annual Redbird Rivalry game on Nov. 25.

Toledo, the coaches’ pick to win the West and the overall championship, also is 1-0 in the conference after a 49-31 win over Western Michigan last Saturday.

The game against Toledo is due to be followed by a possible showdown with the Bobcats in Athens on Oct. 28 before midweek home games against Akron on Nov. 8 and Buffalo on Nov. 15.

Miami is seeking its first MAC Championship Game appearance since winning that 2019 title, but Martin is trying to make sure that his team doesn’t look past each week’s game.

“It’s a one-week championship,” he said. “If you approach it any other way, you’re going to get beat. There aren’t huge discrepancies between any of the teams. We all have the same resources. For eight straight weeks, it’s a fair fight every week.”

He believes his players and coaches have the approach to properly handle the gantlet.

“They get here on time, and they stay late,” he pointed out. “They’re willing to make sacrifices. We’re just a boring, blue-collar program. We just try to out-execute you.”

“We’re just trying to go 1-0 every week,” Salopek said. “That’s our focus.”


Miami at Kent State, 2:30 p.m., 980, 1450

About the Author