Saturday at noon, the Kentucky Wildcats welcome the Miami (OH) RedHawks into Commonwealth Stadium to try and even up their schedule. After suffering a defeat in Nashville to another "red" team, namely the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers, the 'Cats will try to right the proverbial ship and notch their first win of the Mark Stoops era.
There were a lot of frustrated fans after last weekend's debacle, but were we honest with ourselves, we would admit that Western Kentucky simply played better football, and won by executing solidly in most phases of the game. Kentucky, on the other hand, looked out of their depth against the Hilltoppers, and that is never a good thing when you are a BCS school facing a non-BCS opponent.
Things figure to get easier against the RedHawks this weekend, though, as Miami still seems to be in rebuilding mode after winning the MAC East and beating Middle Tennessee St. in the Go Daddy Bowl back in 2010. Since then, the RedHawks have managed only back-to-back 4-8 overall and 3-5 conference records.
Who is the coach, and what does he do?
Former RedHawk head man Mike Haywood left after only his second year after the very successful 2010 season to take the Pittsburgh Panthers job. Miami hired Don Treadwell, former RedHawk alum and offensive coordinator for the Michigan St. Spartans, who is now in his 3rd year. To date, Treadwell has not had much success, managing only 4 wins overall in each of the last 2 years, to go along with 3 conference victories in each season.
Treadwell learned his craft under the now-disgraced former Ohio St. Buckeyes head coach Tressel. Treadwell's offense for his first two years has been very pass-heavy, to the tune of nearly 90%-10%. In 2011, he was 2nd in the MAC in pass offense, and 2nd in 2012, while he was dead last in running both years. At Michigan St., he tended to be more mid-pack in the Big Ten in rushing, but slowly worked MSU up from the middle to the top two or three in the Big Ten in passing.
Against their most recent foe, the Marshall Thundering Heard, Miami seemingly dedicated themselves to a newfound sense of balance by rushing the ball more than they passed it to the tune of 60%-40% favoring runs. What that means is anybody's guess, but as SB Nation's Bill Connelly points out:
You rarely see an offense rank among the bottom 15 teams in the country on standard downs and among the top 30 on passing downs, but somehow Miami pulled that off in 2012. What I've learned over time is that passing downs magic is often tied to the play of an impressive quarterback (the Colt McCoy Effect, as it were). And while some luck might be involved, as long as that quarterback is around you might be able to pull the same rabbits out of the same hat in consecutive years.
Unfortunately, Zac Dysert is gone. Dysert started for most of his four-year career, threw for 12,000 yards and 73 touchdowns, took infinite sacks, and kept figuring out ways to move the chains on second- or third-and-long. He will be replaced by one of the more proven backups in the country, but even a capable replacement will have to find the same touch with his back against the wall. There is no guarantee. If Miami is to once again field a decent offense in 2013, a drastically improved running game might be a grave necessity.
Seems Miami has taken that to heart, but I must also point out that they fell to Marshall by a count of 52-14. Marshall has been reckoned to be pretty good this year, though, so that score may not be quite as shocking as it might seem. But it definitely raises questions about the defensive ability of Miami.
Another thing of note: Since most of the rush attempts against the Thundering Heard were made by quarterbacks, one wonders just what kind of offense Miami intends to run this season — some kind of read option, I guess? Kind of weird for a team that has thrown the ball all over the field the last few seasons.
Treadwell looks to be in trouble as the Miami coach, and that could be why his team failed so utterly to be competitive in the game at Marshall.
Players to know on offense
Austin Boucher, QB, 6'1"/214# senior: Boucher is a tried-and-true backup for former star QB Zach Dysert. Boucher has been the backup since the 2010 season as a freshman, and has played in no less than five games every year. In 2010, he had 155 attempts for 1120 yards and a 64% completion rate after stepping in in November for the injured Dysert, but that was for a winning team. The last two years, he has seen 10 and 13 total attempts, respectively.
Nick Harwell, WR, 6'1"/193#, senior: Harwell has been a top target for the RedHawk QB's seemingly since about 1985. He's led Miami in receiving in each of his last 2 years, and was a close #2 in 2010.
Dawan Scott, WR 6'1"/176#, junior: Scott has been just behind Harwell in receiving the last couple of years, and give Miami one of the more dangerous duos at the spot in the MAC.
Players to know on defense
Chris Wade, SLB, 6'1"/219# senior: Wade lead the team in tackles by a wide margin last year. He had a total of 8 tackles for loss, 101.5 tackles overall for 14.3% of the team's total.
Wes Williams, MLB, 6'3"/242# senior: Williams is a big guy, and it shows in his 6 TFL's and 2.5 sacks. He will only get better this year.
Austin Brown, DT, 6'2"/274# senior: Brown was injured for most of the year last season, but he is a capable player and one of the bigger guys on the RedHawk's Lilliputian front four.
Brison Burris, SS, 5'10"/179# junior: Not a big player, but one who packs a pretty good punch. He was second on the team in passes broken up, and had 3 picks, 61.5 tackles including 1.5 for loss. You'll be hearing his name called a lot.
- Kory Brown, LB - questionable - foot
- Nate Willis, CB - questionable - leg
- Cody Quinn, CB - out with ankle
- Kyle Budde, long snapper - Out for season
- David Frazier, WR - eligibility issues
We think, but do not know, that the Wildcats will perform better this game than they did against the Hilltoppers last Saturday. It is also likely that the RedHawks will perform better than the egg they laid against Marshall.
Kentucky, similar to the situation when they played Western, is facing a large number of juniors and seniors on Saturday, mostly Rivals 2* players. We saw what such players can do when properly coached and motivated to execute at a high level. If Miami finds what they apparently forgot to bring with them last weekend and manages to get it packed for the trip, Kentucky could wind up in the unenviable position of once again underestimating a foe they should be able to beat convincingly.
The good news is that Maxwell Smith will get the start, and that almost certainly means a much more pass-heavy attack, a game in which Kentucky has better athletes than Miami. That should favor Kentucky being able to throw the football around, get some offensive momentum, and put some points on the board. The benefit of playing in front of a raucous Commonwealth Stadium crowd that is sure to be crammed pretty full of people cannot but help the Wildcats, as will the prospect of repeated Air Raid sirens.
This would also be an ideal game for the defensive line of Kentucky to show up instead of wandering around aimlessly looking at the backside of Antonio Andrews. In reality, though, the Miami offensive line is pretty big and reasonably talented, boasting more 3* talent there than in any other corps for the RedHawks. It will be a test that will tell us an awful lot about how this Kentucky defense is going to perform against SEC foes.
If Kentucky can get the offense going, and if the defensive line can give the defensive backfield some help with pressure on the quarterback and by clogging up the running lanes, this game could be a fairly easy one for UK. I fret about the possibility that Kentucky will once again play off the RedHawk receivers and allow their accurate quarterback to get into the kind of rhythm that destroyed the 'Cats secondary' against the Hilltoppers last week. I guess the memory of that game is going to haunt my pregames and postgames for a while yet.
Anyway, if Miami plays like they did at Marshall, well, Kentucky should win by 3 touchdowns or more. But I wouldn't count on that if I were you. Miami has enough experience to give the Wildcats trouble, perhaps get them off to a slow start. We saw what happened last time Kentucky started slowly.
The optimist in me, however, says Kentucky wins this. They have more talent, more speed, more size and hopefully more skill, at least on paper. They should be angry at having been embarrassed by a directional in-state school, and ready to knock heads instead of grabbing at ballcarriers and finding only air. We have a couple of new starters on offense in Ryan Timmons and Maxwell Smith, with Jalen Whitlow waiting in the wings in case Smith gets into trouble. We'll see, but I like the Wildcats' chances in this one.
Kentucky 40, Miami 17
Where to go for more
Be sure to visit the SB Nation blog, Hustle Belt, for more on the RedHawks and other MAC teams.