After a wacky non-conference thriller against a wacky triple-option Army team, Miami football (3-5, 3-1 Mid-American) returns to a bit more predictable environment tonight. Unfortunately, it's on the road against the conference-leading Buffalo Bulls.
The Bulls (7-1, 4-0 MAC) sit atop the MAC East standings and have their best record through eight games since 1959. They're Miami's toughest in-conference opponent this season, and the RedHawks are light-years away from full strength.
Despite having three extra recovery days compared to a normal week, the RedHawks sport an injury list that would rival any other school in the country. It reads like a who's who of Miami football:
- Senior wide receiver James Gardner
- Senior linebacker Junior McMullen
- Senior safety Deandre Montgomery
- Senior safety Josh Allen
- Senior defensive tackle Nate Trawick
- Redshirt senior nickelback Daryus Thompson
- Redshirt freshman defensive lineman Isaac Hampton
That doesn't even include everyone who's banged up. Junior safety Bart Baratti is playing with a broken left hand, and redshirt senior running back Kenny Young and redshirt junior tight end Nate Becker both just healed up to 100 percent in the last two weeks.
"Yeah, we're awful," head coach Chuck Martin said. "[The injury situation] was horrible, but then we kind of had a little stretch where we were getting healthier. We're thin. It seems like that's kind of been the story."
All offseason, talk about Miami football centered on the returning nucleus of experienced and healthy players. That's changed. The team's veterans now litter the injury report.
To put a positive spin on the tears, breaks and bruises, many RedHawks now have the opportunity to step up into starring roles.
Defensively, redshirt senior linebacker Brad Koenig and Baratti each set new career-highs in tackles with 23 and nine, respectively, against Army.
Offensively, redshirt freshman receiver Jalen Walker led the team in receiving with eight catches for 71 yards -- both career-highs -- while sophomore receiver Dominique Robinson caught a touchdown.
"We just have younger guys who are taking advantage of the opportunities," Martin said. "Like we always says, you hate when guys go down. You hate it, but you don't hate it for the guys who get a chance. Right now, our guys that are getting a chance are playing some good football and enjoying the opportunity."
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Martin also noted junior linebacker Myles Reid, sophomore safety Mike Brown and redshirt freshman defensive back Sterling Weatherford as players who filled in admirably and will be relied on going forward.
Buffalo has won 10 of its last 11 games dating back to last season, with its lone loss coming against Army on Sept. 29.
It should give Miami a confidence boost that it took Army to double-overtime, while the Bulls lost 42-13 in West Point, N.Y.
Led by junior quarterback Tyree Jackson and a host of talented tailbacks, Buffalo's offense averages 32.9 points per game compared to the RedHawks' 26.3.
Jackson stands six feet seven inches tall and is already on the draft boards of NFL teams. In eight games this season, he's passed for 1,869 yards with 20 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
The Bulls have run for 1,410 total yards this season. The RedHawks have been inconsistent in that department, but have still compiled 1,161 rushing yards.
Defensively, Buffalo limits opposing teams to 21.1 points per game. That number shrinks even lower in MAC games, with the Bulls allowing just 18.8 points a game to in-conference rivals. Miami surrenders an average of 24.9 points per contest.
"They don't give up a lot of points and they get takeaways," Martin said. "They've got 18 takeaways this year which is a ton. They set their offense up. Again, there's a reason they've got one loss. There's a reason they've beat some good people."
Miami is currently knotted with Ohio for second place in the MAC East. A win over Buffalo would tie the RedHawks with the Bulls for the division lead.
"Obviously, it's a huge game on the road against a really good team," Martin said. "It would be huge to get [a win] and would put us in good position for the final three weeks."
The injury-riddled 'Hawks travel to University at Buffalo Stadium to take on the Bulls tonight. The contest will kick off in the primetime 8 p.m. slot and will be broadcast on ESPN2.