The Minnesota Golden Gophers will attempt to finish their nonconference season unblemished with an afternoon showdown against the Miami (Ohio) RedHawks on Saturday. How much of a challenge with the RedHawks pose? Let’s get into it.
Were they any good last year?
Record: 5-7 (4-4, T-3rd MAC East)
S&P+ Overall Ranking: 55th
Not particularly. Miami (Ohio) beat the top team in their division, Akron, yet lost to the worst team in their division, Kent State. The RedHawks were 4-3 against teams that finished with a record of .500 or better and 1-4 against teams with a losing record. I’m not sure how to explain that. Chalk it up to the wild nature of the Mid-American Conference, I guess.
The RedHawks’ lone Power 5 non-conference game was a 52-17 loss to Notre Dame.
What about this year?
Well, an 0-2 start to the season is certainly not ideal. The RedHawks opened the season against Marshall and trailed the Thundering Herd at halftime, 21-7. Miami (Ohio) managed to close the gap to a touchdown deficit in the final minutes of the game but their final offensive possession went nowhere. The RedHawks followed that up with a 21-0 shutout at the hands of Cincinnati. The Bearcats defense smothered them to the tune of 198 yards.
Can they score on offense?
Based on their game last week, I’m not so sure. Cincinnati boasts a tough defense that also smothered Chip Kelly’s Bruins at the Rose Bowl in Week 1, so I think the Bearcats certainly deserve credit for the shutout, but Miami (Ohio) did themselves no favors.
Senior Gus Ragland is in his third year as starting quarterback, but his ceiling is as a a pocket passer who functions more as a game manager than a game changer. His success depends largely on the talent around him, and he certainly has at least one legitimate weapon at his disposal in the form of senior wide receiver James Gardner. Gardner, who hauled in 47 receptions for 927 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns last season, has been the offense’s most consistent performer through the first two games of the season.
The RedHawks’ second best receiver up to this point in the season? Senior running back Kenny Young, who actually leads the team in receptions with 15. Young and fellow senior back Alonzo Smith have not had much of a chance to rack up rushing yards this season, for two reasons. The first reason being that early deficits have forced Miami (Ohio) to air out the ball more, which has led to Ragland averaging 43 pass attempts per game. The second reason is that their offensive line has not had much success run blocking.
The struggles of the offensive line are surprising to me for a unit that features five starters who each started at least one game last season, albeit starting center Danny Godlevske and starting right tackle Tommy Doyle missed most of the year with injuries.
This is not an explosive offense, and with how well the Gopher defense shut down a much more talented Fresno State offense (compared to Miami, especially) for most of the game last week, I’d be surprised if Minnesota has much trouble against the RedHawks.
Please tell me the Gophers will be able to score
I would hope so.
Miami (Ohio)’s defense was respectable last season, ranking 39th overall according to S&P+, but struggled against the run, allowing 145.9 rushing yards per game. This season, even through two games, has not been different, as the RedHawks have allowed an average of 179.5 rushing yards per game between Marshall and Cincinnati. That could be good news for a Minnesota offensive line that has been inconsistent in run blocking thus far and will be opening holes for a true freshman running back on Saturday.
Two senior linebackers, Junior McMullen and Brad Koenig, will attempt to stop the Gophers’ rushing attack. McMullen leads the RedHawks with 19 tackles on the season. The pair are fast and instinctive defenders and will need to help a defensive line that has been ho-hum so far this season. Junior defensive tackle Doug Costin is the name to remember along the interior, as he represents their biggest and most athletic defensive lineman.
The RedHawks are replacing two starters in the secondary, one at cornerback and the other at safety. There is no shortage of defensive backs to fill the void, but I’m not certain that any of them are elite defenders. Senior safety De’Andre Montgomery is their most versatile defender, leading all other defensive backs with 17 tackles through the first two games. JUCO cornerback Zedrick Raymond is perhaps their best cover corner at this point.
Due to the weather conditions, the secondary was not tested against a Cincinnati offense that pounded the ball to the tune of 51 rushing attempts. But Miami (Ohio) did not fare well against Marshall redshirt freshman quarterback Isaiah Green in Week 1, allowing him to complete 64 percent of his passes and throw for 272 yards and two touchdowns.
This is a very middle-of-the-road defense, in my opinion.
But who will score more points on Saturday?
To be honest, the Gophers’ biggest test of the nonconference schedule was last week, and I don’t see the RedHawks posing more of a challenge than the Bulldogs did. I feel confident in Minnesota’s defense being able to shut down a fairly pedestrian Miami (Ohio) offense that is susceptible to getting buried early. The RedHawks’ defense is not terrible by any means, but I think we’ll see a much better performance from the Gopher offense this week now that they’ve had a chance to develop a game plan knowing that senior running back Rodney Smith won’t be in the backfield. Minnesota 31, Miami (Ohio) 10.