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Opponent Preview: Miami-Ohio RedHawks

The Bearcats’ Victory Bell rivals are bringing back many of their best players from a year ago with the hope of avoiding another devastating letdown.

Miami Ohio v Cincinnati Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

Things would have gone a lot differently for the 2017 Miami-Ohio RedHawks if they could have avoided Malik Clements. The RedHawks, who made their first bowl game since 2010 in 2016, came just a win short of playing in the postseason last year and its possible that their loss to the Cincinnati Bearcats on Sept. 16 was the hardest to deal with. They led 17-6 with roughly three minutes to play but they let the Bearcats climb past them with a 20-yard touchdown catch from Kahlil Lewis and, with 1:07 remaining and a 17-14 lead still in Miami’s possession, a 14-yard interception return for a touchdown from Clements that won the Victory Bell for UC.

Miami still managed to claw its way to respectability, even though it was 1-2 after the loss to UC and would fall to 2-5 by mid-October. In what was their fourth year under Chuck Martin, the RedHawks took a slight step back, but they have still managed to rise, albeit slowly, from the rubble of an 0-12 2013 campaign.

When Do They Play Cincinnati?

The 2018 Battle for the Victory Bell will be held on Sept. 8, during the second week of the college football season. Although this is not a true home game for UC, the contest is scheduled to be play at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati and will feature a prime time kickoff slot of 8 p.m.

What They Do Well

The RedHawks are an interesting team in that they are pretty good on defense without having the playmaking or pressure-creating ability you might expect. It centers around a stout effort when the chips are down and teams invade the red zone. Miami ranked 14th in the country in opponent red zone conversion rate (72.29 percent) last season. They used that to rank third in the Mid-American Conference in scoring defense, while finishing in the same spot in total defense. All told, they were just inside the top 40 in defensive S&P+ (No. 39).

Success in the red zone carried over to the offense as well. While they were not a national power in that regard, the RedHawks still scored on 85 percent of their red zone chances, which ranked fourth in the MAC, just a sliver behind No. 3 Toledo. Itt should be noted that they didn’t give themselves a ton of opportunities, with only 40 attempts in the zone of red.

Careful work with the ball and in the trenches was another critical part of the offense. With only 18 turnovers, the RedHawks were one of the safest teams in the MAC and they were even better at ensuring opponents failed to rush into the backfield, allowing only 46 tackles for loss, which tied for the third-best mark in the country.

What They Don’t Do Well

While they were very good at stopping other teams from applying pressure, the RedHawks could not figure out how to be menacing when it came to creating negative plays on defense themselves. They finished outside the top 100 teams in the country in both sacks (18.0) and tackles for loss (56), which is particularly surprising considering their solid defensive effort overall. Compounding that last point is the fact that Miami didn’t force many mistakes from its opponents, especially ball carriers, who coughed up only six fumbles all season against Miami.

Miami was also not a team that enjoyed a lot of electric plays on offense. A middling group in terms of yardage and scoring, the RedHawks tied for the fewest plays of 40 or more yards ion the country, with only five all season. UC can commiserate since it only had eight and was outside the top 100 teams in the country in plays of 30 or more yards.

Players to Watch

James Gardner, WR

Only one RedHawk made the All-MAC first team in 2017 and his name was James Gardner. He ranked third in the conference in receiving yards (927) and touchdown catches (11) despite only having 47 receptions total. He is a threat to break off a huge play every time he gets the ball. If a few more players were like Gardner, then the RedHawks could fix their big play problem.

Jordan Rigg, OL

The third-team All-MAC lineman plays left tackle and anchors an offensive line that is tough to crack.

Brad Koenig, LN

The redshirt senior is coming into 2018 after leading the RedHawks with 103 tackles last season. He also created 10.5 stops for loss and was fairly solid in pass coverage as well.

Joshua Allen, DB

Allen may not have many accolades, but he has a ton of experience. The senior recorded eight tackles (a career-high) against Cincinnati last year and finished the campaign with 53 stops. However, his best work was in pass coverage, as he snagged three picks and even returned one for a touchdown.

The running back tandem of Kenny Young and Alonzo Smith

While they aren’t an overpowering rushing team, the RedHawks have a very talented duo in the backfield. Both Young and Smith are redshirt seniors this year after combining for 1,441 yards and eight touchdowns in 2017.

Gus Ragland, QB

Ragland is just fine. He’s not an incredible talent, but he is a serviceable guy under center. He threw for 2,032 yards and 19 touchdowns last season, while being intercepted only seven times and completing 56.3 percent of his pass attempts. While those numbers are below UC’s own Hayden Moore, Ragland does air it out more, averaging 7.8 yards per attempt.

Series History

Ohio may want to associate itself more with the Buckeyes, but football in the state began with the Battle for the Victory Bell. UC played Miami-Ohio on Dec. 8, 1888 in the first collegiate football game to be played in Ohio. Neither team scored as the game finished in a tie. Fast forward to last year, when the Bearcats won 21-17 and you are looking at a rivalry that has featured 122 all-time meetings, with Miami holding a slight edge (59-56-7) although the Bearcats have won the last 12 meetings.

Would This Be Better as a Basketball Game?

No. UC is good at basketball. Miami is not. Its last winning season was in 2008-09. The rivalry on the football field is more intriguing.

Prediction Time!

There is a lot of returning talent on the Miami roster, which is not great news for UC since it just barely escaped against the RedHawks last season. If Miami can replicate its ability to stop opponents from scoring, the Bearcats will be in trouble once more. However, with a quasi-home crowd behind them and year two of the Luke Fickell system installed, there’s no way the Bearcats just curl up and lose. Plus there’s that whole 12-game winning streak to consider. Put me down for a UC win.