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Red-hot 'Hawks ride mac-leading defense into buffalo

Coburn Gillies, Assistant Sports Editor

Two wins away from its first bowl game appearance since 2010, the Miami University football team looks to turn four victories into five, as the RedHawks face the University of Buffalo on the road Saturday.

Last season, these two programs squared off at Yager Stadium, with Miami falling short, 29-24. This loss was especially painful considering the 'Hawks had a chance to win on the final play.

Buffalo enters the matchup 2-7 overall and 1-4 in Mid-American Conference play, placing the Bulls fifth in the East Division.

The Red and White comes in riding the momentum of a four-game winning streak, holding a 4-6 record overall and a 4-2 MAC record.

As it stands, the 'Hawks are one game back from Ohio University and hold sole possession of second place in the East Division. In a tiebreaker scenario for the top spot, the Bobcats would slide ahead of MU, as OU won the matchup earlier this season.

Despite the Bulls' record, head coach Chuck Martin expects a challenging affair, describing UB as "big, physical, athletic, kind of like they've been the past few years."

MU will look to redshirt sophomore quarterback Gus Ragland -- who was awarded MAC East Offensive Player of the Week -- to ignite the offense once more. Since taking over the starting role, Ragland is 4-0, with 10 touchdowns and no interceptions. Fellow redshirt sophomore running back Kenny Young also looks to stay hot, as he is coming off of an 89-yard, two touchdown performance.

Look for defensive back De'Andre Montgomery to play a significant role in the action against the Bulls. The 6-2 sophomore had six tackles, four solo, two unassisted against CMU last weekend.

Tony Reid -- who was named College Sports Madness MAC Defensive Player of the Week -- was ejected for targeting with 0:29 remaining in the first half of last Friday's fixture against Central Michigan. Saturday, the junior safety will return to the starting lineup.

MU's defense is ranked first in the MAC in total defense, red zone defense and interceptions, second in rush defense and third in sacks.

"It's pretty big for me," redshirt senior defensive end JT Jones said. "Being a defensive leader on the team and seeing our hard work pay off -- especially in the statistics, since we don't really have all the wins we would like. So, being the top defense in the MAC is pretty big for us."

For Buffalo second-year head coach Lance Leipold's team, redshirt freshman quarterback Tyree Jackson has led the way this season. On the campaign, the 6-7 signal-caller has thrown for 1,676 yards and nine touchdowns.

"He's got a rifle," Martin said. "I'm shocked at how athletic -- he's really athletic, like, the kid is fast. "

Defensively, UB will be anchored by freshman and sophomore linebackers Matt Otwinowski and Ishmael Hargrove. Otwinowski had seven tackles, one solo, six assisted last Thursday night. Hargrove chipped in with six tackles, four solo, two assisted as they fall short against OU 34-10 at home.

For the seniors, this recent run of form for the Red and White has them feeling a sense of satisfaction and pride.

"A lot of adversity. We're are all stronger, the older guys -- seniors, fifth-year senior class -- we're super close, just because of all the adversity we've been through," redshirt senior running back Grant Niemiec said. "To finally put it together is really cool."

Currently, Buffalo has won four consecutive contests against the 'Hawks, dating back to 2012.

Kickoff is scheduled for 1:00 p.m. and will be streamed live on ESPN3.