Admittedly, I dread this match-up each and every year it’s played. As a Miami University alum – Yea that’s right, ‘Cryami Foreskins’. Who cares. I’ve been following the Bearcats since I was 8 – the Battle for the Victory Bell, while a great, long standing rivalry has me torn. I tried to embrace the Redhawks football program while at Miami but it was hard watching former coach Shane Montgomery kill any momentum built up during the Ben Roethlisberger era and run the team into the ground. He mercifully ‘stepped down’ in favor of Notre Dame offensive coordinator Mike Haywood. When Haywood wasn’t committing domestic violence or entertaining my roommates and I while we grilled out when we lived literally next door to him, he actually was a phenomenal coach. The guy basically turned around the Redhawks much the same way Al Golden did at Temple. Before Haywood arrived, players would routinely skip practices and workouts, go Uptown and pound 2 or 3 Qdoba burritos, and were outright lazy and fat. Haywood had none of that and reinstalled a workman-like culture in the football team.
Haywood’s inaugural season was a disaster as the Redhawks finished 1 – 11. But most of that contributed to Haywood playing mostly freshman and sophomores to get them in game experience for the coming seasons. It paid off last season when Miami won the MAC and were the first team ever to go from double-digit losses to double-digit wins in consecutive seasons. I was obviously a very proud Redhawk. This brings me to the match up with Cincinnati. All of those freshman and sophomores who started two years ago are now experienced juniors and seniors. They’ve also had very close losses to #21 Missouri (17 – 6) and Minnesota (29 – 23) so far this year. Let’s break it down on both sides of the ball:
Miami runs a spread the allows junior Zac Dysert to use his height and arm strength to move the ball around the field. Don’t kid yourself. Even though he’s a MAC quarterback he has a live arm, is very experienced, and has great command of his team. Think of him as a poor man’s Tyler Bray with less talent around him. He’s completed over 60% of his passes for almost 800 yards through the air. At 6’4″ 209 lbs he has good vision of the field and spreads the ball around nicely. Four of his receivers have 10 receptions or more. Nick Harwell and Chris Givens are the two receiving threats for Miami who can each go deep and have soft hands. The duo has combined for over half of the Redhawks’ receiving numbers. At running back, Erik Finklea (originally a fullback) has replaced Brandon Merriweather as the starter. Finklea got some playing time last season and should have a very solid year in 2011. He’s a bruising back that head coach Don Treadwell (coming from the Big Ten) is probably drooling over. The offensive line is replacing some starters but are led by All-MAC offensive guard Brandon Brooks. I expect a pretty good battle between him and Derek Wolfe in this game.
The strength of the Redhawks’ defense is the secondary. Anthony Kokal and Pat Hinkel play safety and basically lock down anything going over the middle of the field. Both were a couple of guys enlisted during Haywood’s first season and have tons of games under their belt. Demetrius Quarles and Dayonne Nunley play cornerback, are speedsters, and perform their jobs very admirably. At linebacker Miami is led by senior Jerrell Wedge who leads the unit in tackles. Finally at defensive line the unit is fairly small (roughly 260 lbs) compared to the Cincinnati offensive line that averages around 290 lbs. As a unit the Redhawks’ hogmollies up have put together only 4.5 sacks this season likely because they were getting pushed around by the bigger lines of Missouri and Minnesota. I see the same thing this Saturday. The Bearcats’ offensive line has been dominating the past few weeks and they should have no problems with Miami’s front four.
Even though Miami won 10 games last year and their conference, they still lost to Cincinnati 45 - 3. A majority of those points came in the first half of that route. How does a team that finished 4 – 8 obliterate a 10 – 4 squad? The answer is talent. Since joining a BCS conference, the gap in talent level between Cincinnati and Miami has widened. Right now it’s no even close and the gap isn’t slowing down anytime soon as Coach Butch Jones continues to pull in highly rated prospects in droves. In all honesty, unless the Bearcats fall off a cliff, they are likely going to obliterate Miami 9 out of every 10 games. And Cincinnati will win that 10th game but the only difference is that it will probably be a little closer than the others. For Saturday, the Bearcats win. By a lot:
Cincinnati: 49, Miami: 13
If the Battle for the Victory Bell doesn’t appeal to you, here’s a picture of a hot Miami cheerleader. Yes, there are a lot of these roaming around the Oxford campus: