Hours after telling his RedHawks Friday’s loss should hurt in their stomachs, Chuck Martin felt the Chick-Fil-A trying to escape his own.
Watching tape on the bus ride home from a 41-27 loss to Ball State, Martin wanted to vomit as he studied his defense’s second-half breakdowns.
“I told some of the players, ‘Hey, when you watch our first half, that’s fine,’” Martin, Miami’s head coach, said. “There’s some really nice things that were done in the first half. But before you watch the second half, you might want to have an empty stomach ...
“I probably had too much Chick-Fil-A.”
In the RedHawks’ final game before Saturday’s Mid-American Conference Championship contest, they led, 27-14, but didn’t score a single point after halftime. The defense allowed 27 in the second half, allowing the Cardinals to complete the comeback.
“We played our first bad half of football, probably, since the first quarter of Buffalo [in September],” Martin said. “That was a disappointing second half.”
Freshman quarterback Brett Gabbert didn’t play in the second half due to a late first-half injury. His backup, redshirt sophomore Jackson Williamson, couldn’t continue the momentum, finishing 4-of-11 for 52 yards and two interceptions. Gabbert is on track to play against Central Michigan Saturday.
Miami allowed three touchdowns in the fourth quarter, alone, pushing Ball State ahead.
For the game, redshirt junior quarterback Drew Plitt threw for 317 yards and three scores.
Junior running back Caleb Huntley matched Plitt’s touchdown total with three on the ground. He ran for 134 yards, the most the RedHawks had allowed to a single player since falling to Western Michigan a month and a half ago. Coincidentally, that’s the last game Miami lost before Friday.
Martin said the loss, despite its timing, will be treated like any other.
“The first thing is looking critically, like we do every week, even after a win, at what did we do well,” Martin said. “What do we need to improve on? Let’s really work hard at improving those areas.”
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To combat the Chippewas this weekend, the RedHawks aim to get over the Ball State loss quickly.
Under first-year head coach Jim McElwain, Central Michigan enters the MAC Championship with an 8-4 record — a huge turnaround after a 1-11 campaign last season.
“Obviously, they’ve done a crazy-great job of just getting everybody to buy into their systems and way of life,” Martin said. “They’re very physical. They’re very tough-minded. They’re very well-coached, and they’re very disciplined. But they’re crazy talented.”
Sophomore wideout Kalil Pimpleton leads the conference in receiving yards. Martin called him one of the two “most electric dudes in this league, by far.”
Junior wideout JaCorey Sullivan places fourth in the conference in receiving yards.
On the ground, the Chippewas feature two tailbacks who are poised to finish the season with more than 1,000 rushing yards. Senior Jonathan Ward has already eclipsed that number with 1,056 yards. Sophomore Kobe Lewis and his 953 yards aren’t far behind. They’ve combined for 27 total touchdowns.
“No one tackles him, and he’s probably one of the best receiving backs in the country,” Martin said of Ward. “That’s his ticket to the NFL, to be able to do both.”
Central Michigan’s defense allows an average of 26.8 points per game, which ranks third in the MAC.
“There’s a reason that they’re good,” Martin said. “No one who’s played them thinks they’re a fluke.”
The MAC Championship kicks off Saturday at noon inside the Detroit Lions’ Ford Field. The game will air on ESPN2.