Cincinnati has played no other opponent more than the Miami-Ohio RedHawks. The rivalry known as the Battle for the Victory Bell dates all the way back to 1888, when the two teams met up in Oxford for the first collegiate football game played in the state of Ohio. There have been a total of 120 meetings since, including that one played during the Grover Cleveland administration. To say these two programs know each other would be a gross misuse of the English language.
However, what do we really know about the 2016 Miami-Ohio RedHawks? Well we know that they are 0-3 and that they are coming to Nippert Stadium on Saturday. To find out a little more, we turned to our pal Jordan Rinard from The Hustle Belt.
DTD: Billy Bahl is in his second year at quarterback for Miami. How do you think he is progressing?
JR: Bahl has looked good so far against some stiff defenses, going for 855 yards, six touchdowns, and only one interception. Having an improved running game has helped him out a lot, as the team averages 130 rushing yards per game. The big thing with Bahl at this point is decision-making; he's only completed 56.5% of his passes with a lot of big plays but he needs to do a better job of managing the offense and keeping the unit on the field.
DTD: Who are some of the other playmakers on both sides of the ball that UC should keep an eye on?
JR: James Gardner has been a stud at receiver this year with 245 yards and four touchdowns on 12 catches, and with Rokeem Williams potentially being out again this week, he'll have to come up with big plays Saturday with the only other playmaker on the outside being Jared Murphy. Defensively, the play of Brad Koenig has been a surprise, with him leading the team in tackle and tackles for loss with 21 and four respectively. J.T. Jones has two sacks on the year despite missing the first half last week and DeAndre Montgomery has two picks already this season.
DTD: With just an 0-3 record, obviously the season hasn’t gotten off to as a great a start as the RedHawks may have liked. What were the biggest reasons they haven’t been able to get into the win column?
JR: In the losses against Iowa and Western Kentucky, Miami got off to a slow start and never really recovered from them, while in the game against Eastern Illinois the team failed to finish the game with having the lead and the ball with a little over three minutes left. The RedHawks can't expect to beat good teams by only playing three or three-and-a-half quarters, and Cincinnati is a good team. This week will definitely be a challenge for all those young guys who aren't used to winning.
DTD: In two of those losses, they played against some stronger competition (Iowa, WKU), are there any silver linings that can be extracted from those setbacks?
JR: Of course! Miami was able run the ball and pass protect against a great Iowa defense, and managed to make enough plays to stay in the game against an explosive Western Kentucky offense. A few more stops on defense and those games would look very, very different. Last week was disappointing for the run defense, as running isn't the bread-and-butter for WKU and the Hilltoppers pretty much could run at will to the tune of 136 yards. The defense made a handful of negative plays and turnovers, but not consistently enough to get off the field to give their offense a chance.
DTD: Protecting Bahl has been a tough job so far this season, with the RedHawks second to last in the MAC in sacks allowed (10). Do you think there is a particular reason for this and can it be mended?
JR: When you have a young quarterback playing behind an equally young offensive line, you're going to have some sacks. Bahl needs to make quicker decisions and get the ball out on time so some of the physical and mental deficiencies up front can be covered up a bit. This offensive line group will get better as the season goes on, but they have a tall task ahead of them Saturday.
DTD: With 10-straight losses to UC in the Battle for the Victory Bell, what is the feeling around the team and the campus about what this game means and how important (or not-important) this rivalry is now?
JR: This rivalry is still a huge, huge deal to Miami as a win would validate all the progress that the program has made since Chuck Martin arrived and would mean a lot in recruiting in the Cincinnati area and elsewhere. It's the biggest game on our schedule, no doubt. The RedHawks have came close to ending the streak in the past couple of years and getting that win would really be huge for the program, especially if Cincinnati goes to the Big XII because Miami can say "We lead the series against a Big XII team."
DTD: Who wins and why?
JR: Not to be homeriffic, but I like Miami's chances this year. I like the match-up of MU's offensive skill players versus UC's defense. If the offensive line can hold up and the defensive front seven can control the run game, the RedHawks are capable of pulling out the victory. 35-34 Miami.