As there is no Miami Blog on SBNation (and no Middle Tennessee Blog) the powers that be were kind enough to allow Bull Run to write the GoDaddy Bowl Preview.
There are few stories more compelling this season than the rise of Miami. During the last era of MAC relevancy the RedHawks were one of the MAC Power teams that were a threat to any team (AQ or not) on any given Saturday. No team in the MAC was hit as hard with the mid-decade slump as Miami. The Redhawks went from year after year contender to the MAC Basement in the course of a few seasons.
That all started to change when Mike Haywood took over in 2009. From the outside Miami had an awful first season under Haywood, but on closer examination the RedHawks were just one piece short of a solid football team. That was the offensive line. Zac Dysert showed amazing promise after taking over mid season but the line in front of him hung the then freshman out to dry in most every passing situation.
That line is the huge turning point this season. Sure the RedHawks defense has played well this year, but that should not be too much of a surprise. They were in year two of their system and came into the season run with a very athletic front seven. But the o-line, especially their performance after Dysert was lost for the season, was the difference maker.
Second year coach, and MAC coach of the year, Mike Haywood unexpectedly joined the mass exodus of coaches this year, bolting to Pitt (then losing that job due to off the field issues). While the Panthers are left looking for a new coach, a-la ND when they hired O'Leary, Miami will be in the hands of Lance Guidry.
This will be Guidry's first game as a head coach, at any level. He does have some experience as a defensive coordinator for McNeese State (2000-04). During his stint the Cowboys won three straight SLC crowns and made it to the finals in the FCS Championship Series.
Middle Tennessee is heading in the opposite direction. Despite making it to a Bowl game 2010 is seen by many as a huge step backwards for the program. Last year the Blue Raiders won nine regular season games before knocking off CUSA opponent Southern Mississippi in the New Orleans Bowl. They were picked by most to dominate the Sun Belt this season so squeaking into bowl season at 6-6 is not something that too many of their fans are thrilled about.
Much of the dysfunction is owed to the suspension of Dwight Dasher for getting improper benefits. The four game suspension and the time needed for Dasher to get back into rhythm sent MTSU into the final three weeks of the season at 3-6. The team responded by beating two bottom feeders before upending FIU's bid for an out right Sun Belt title with a fourth quarter comeback.
Between coaching changes at Miami and MTSU's late start into the season it's hard to predict which two teams show up this week? Will this be the Miami team that ended its season with wins over 8-3 Temple and 10-2 NIU versus the MTSU team that could not be beaten in its final three games?
Tale of the Tape:
|Pass Efficiency Defense
|Tackles For Loss
When Miami Has the Ball: Zac Dysert is not expected to play so it will be up to Austin Boucher to carry the RedHawks. Miami went through most of the season with no running game. But when Dysert got hurt Thomas Merriweather and the line started to carry their weight.
Merriweather gained 88, 141, 182, and 85 yards in the last four games he has played, including a 96 yard scamper that effectively ended Temple's season. Their last two foes, NIU and Temple, both had effective run defenses, yet the Hawks made progress on the ground. MTSU has struggled a bit this season against good running teams so there is a decent shot, especially with Dysert out, that the RedHawks will try to lean pretty heavily on the ground game.
The change from Dysert to Boucher forced he line went from Protecting a left handed QB to a right handed QB. Middle Tennessee defensive end Jamari Lattimore, whose 11.5 sacks is tied for MTSU's single-season record, will test this line.On the season MTSU was one of the top 15 teams in the nation in Sacks and Tackles for loss.
When MTSU Has the Ball: Junior receiver Malcolm Beyah leads the team with 364 receiving yards, along with 27 catches and two TDs. Beyah gets a second chance to catch a ball in a bowl. Last season he played as a Corner back in the new Orleans Bowl.
The Blue Raiders threw 20 picks against only nine touchdowns, when they have won it's usually because of the work by Phillip Tanner. Tanner is usually good for 70-100 yards a game and the senior was key in their season finale. Tanner scored the go ahead touchdown that put MTSU into a bowl game.
Supplementing the running game is Dwight Dasher. In eight games Dasher ran for almost five hundred yards. He is not so much of a dual threat QB as he is a scramble first and make you pay variety player. Strong arm but the decision making and accuracy have been pretty questionable.
Miami’s athletic defensive unit allowed 23 points a game. Linebacker Evan Harris led the team in tackles with 81 and also tied for the team lead with 5 INT. He anchored a Miami unit that was in the top 50 nationwide and number 20 against the run.
The MAC has really struggled during bowl season in recent years. 2010 started off well with NIU taking it to Fresno but since then an awful showing by Ohio and a collapse by Toledo put the MAC on the verge of another losing bowl season.
MTSU is trying to complete a sweep of the MAC and a perfect Bowl Season for the Sun Belt.
Miami Wins If:
They can have a decent day running. If Merriweather gets anywhere near 100 yards it will be very hard for MTSU to pin their ears back and go after Boucher.
MTSU Wins If:
Dwight Dasher does not have to throw the ball, much. Either Beyah has to have a 100 yard game or Dasher has to do some real damage with his feet.