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Football notebook: Miami leaps into tie for divisional first place

<p>Miami will start the 2020 season against Ball State on Nov. 4.</p>

Miami will start the 2020 season against Ball State on Nov. 4.

By posting an ideal performance on an ideal autumn day, the Miami RedHawks battled back once again.

They’ve made a habit of it this season, fighting early deficits to win individuals games but also to get back to where they want to be after an extremely challenging non-conference schedule. Following a 1-3 start, they are now tied for first place in the Mid-American Conference East Division standings.

Sure, they’d like to have the lone stranglehold on the top spot, but all aspects of Miami’s attack were clicking at Yager Stadium Saturday as it exploded to a 27-24 win after trailing 10-0 in the first half.

“We’ve been preaching finish, finish, finish for the longest time,” redshirt wide receiver Jalen Walker said. “To actually come out in those situations and do that, it’s really big for our team.”

The RedHawks defeated Northern Illinois — a team that has struggled some this year but is annually known as a MAC powerhouse with one of the best defenses in the league — and flexed their muscles on offense, defense and special teams.

“Obviously, they’ve been the premier program in our league for a long time, probably over a decade,” MU head coach Chuck Martin said of NIU. “There have been other really strong teams, but they’ve been at the forefront of getting it done in the MAC.”

In maybe the most impressive game of his young career, freshman quarterback Brett Gabbert set personal bests in passing yards and rushing yards while playing turnover-free football. He got assistance from Walker, who caught seven balls for 138 yards. Both were career highs for a player who had 12 total catches for 140 yards last season.

Defensively, the RedHawks racked up 10 tackles for loss and two sacks. They allowed Northern Illinois only 24 points one week after the Huskies dropped 39 on the preseason MAC favorite, Ohio.

Even special teams got in on the action. Redshirt senior punter Kyle Kramer averaged more than 43 yards per punt on his five kicks, senior kicker Sam Sloman banged through two field goals and redshirt senior running back Mo Thomas brought a kickoff back 86 yards for a near touchdown.

“I felt good about all units,” Martin said. “I thought all units played very good.”

After a 1-3 start to the season, Miami has won two of three to open its MAC schedule.

And all three of the out-of-conference losses were to teams who are now ranked. They fell to the Associated Press poll’s No. 20 Iowa to open the season before losing to No. 18 Cincinnati and No. 3 Ohio State in back-to-back weeks.

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“We’ve had a tough non-league go of it,” Martin said.

Now that Miami is atop the pile, the work isn’t done. Three weeks into MAC play, Ball State is the only remaining undefeated team in the conference schedule. The RedHawks square off with the Cardinals on Nov. 29 for each team’s final regular-season game.

Miami’s attention is on a road game at Kent State (3-4, 2-1 MAC) this week. It’s the RedHawks’ final weekend game of the regular season, as the midweek schedule starts at Ohio Wednesday, Nov. 6. This Saturday’s contest is scheduled for a 3:30 p.m. kickoff and will air on ESPN+. 

“Playing at Kent will be difficult,” Martin said. “But it will be a great challenge for us.”

Chuck Martin on Kent State’s offense

“We all go up-tempo, but they’re committed to it,” Martin said. “They’re a different up-tempo than we’ve seen all year. They could snap it on 32 (seconds left) on the play clock, which is warp-speed fast. When they get going, they’re hard to stop. They got it going at times last week, and they’re just going up and down the field. The defense can’t get set, and the defense is gassed and you can’t sub.”

Injury update

The biggest offensive weapon and most glaring missing RedHawk, redshirt junior wide receiver Jack Sorenson, could return this week, a “hopeful” Chuck Martin said.

Sorenson is officially questionable against the Golden Flashes after missing the last two games.