Despite months of questions and uncertainty, Miami football will make its grand return to Yager Stadium Wednesday, Nov. 4, against Ball State.
The 2019 Mid-American Conference (MAC) Champions hope to start the season strong, especially in the shortened schedule.
“It's hard to wrap my brain around having a game … It doesn’t feel like a normal opener,” head coach Chuck Martin said in a press conference last Friday.
His team starts the year in pole position, ranked as the preseason No. 1 in the MAC East, after an incredible 2019 campaign which ended in a 8-6 record and a bowl game against the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns.
Despite the success of the previous season, the team has no delusions of grandeur and is fully aware of the challenge that awaits it. Other conferences around America are in their sixth or seventh week, which means the MAC will be an all-out sprint to the finish line.
The irregular offseason has been a factor, too, as players and coaches are both aware of how the preparation changed due to having eight months of work to do in a matter of weeks.
“We know we accomplished something great last year … but we have to take it one game at a time,” senior defensive back Mike Brown said.
Miami’s offense is missing some key cogs, including its top two rushers from a year ago, Jaylon Bester and Tyre Shelton, as well as top tight end Andrew Homer. Martin said Friday that he does not expect any of the three players to suit up this season due to injuries.
That said, there are some bright spots to keep an eye on. Sophomore quarterback Brett Gabbert had an incredible 2019 in which he was awarded MAC Freshman of the Year.
“He wants to make plays,” redshirt senior wide receiver Jack Sorensen said.
Sorenson will need to be a reliable option for Gabbert if the RedHawks are going to improve on an offense that was ranked just ninth among MAC teams for total offense. Gabbert’s role is drastically larger this year in the absence of Bester and Shelton, but if he can find his 2019 form and improve on some of his flaws from his freshman year, he could have another breakout season.
Miami should be fully aware that Ball State is no pushover opponent. In their 2019 encounter, the RedHawks fell to the Cardinals by a score of 41-27 after a fourth-quarter barrage which saw Miami give up 21 points in the final 15 minutes of play.
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Ball State is a very experienced team with seniors on every level on both sides of the ball. The Cardinals are coming off a 5-7 campaign in 2019, while finishing 4-4 in the MAC.
Nothing about this 2020 season has been normal to date, and few believe this season will be any less unpredictable. Martin’s team demonstrated in 2019 that it has the talent to compete with the elite teams in the MAC and earn spots at bowl games.
Who knows? Maybe Miami will have a season that few in Oxford will forget.
That dream starts Wednesday at Yager Stadium.
Ball State @ Miami
Kickoff: 7:00 p.m. EST at Yager Stadium
TV: CBS Sports
Radio: Miami Radio Network
Record: 8-6 overall (6-2 in MAC)
Offense: 24.1 PPG
Defense: 28.1 PPG
Mike Brown (DB, Sr.) - 56 Tackles and three INT’s in 2019
Jack Sorensen (WR, RS Sr.)- 44 catches with 568 yds and four TD’s in 2019
Brett Gabbert (QB, So.)- MAC Freshman of the Year in 2019, 2,411 yds and 11 TDs.
Ivan Pace Jr. (LB, So.) - Led team with seven sacks in 13 games as a true freshman.
Sterling Weatherford (DB, RS Jr.) - 98 tackles, 5.5 TFLs and an interception in 2019
Ball State Cardinals
Record: 5-7 overall (4-4 in MAC)
Offense: 34.8 PPG
Defense: 31.4 PPG
Antonio Phillips (DB, Sr.) - All MAC First Team in 2019, 43 tackles and four INT’s
Drew Plitt (QB, RS Sr.) - 24 TD’s and 2,918 yds as full-time starter
Jordan Williams (OLB, RS Jr.) - 10 TFL’s, 4.5 sacks and two forced fumbles in 12 games.
James Jennette III (DL, RS Sr.) - 3.5 sacks and eight TFLs in first year as starter
Caleb Huntley (HB, Sr.) - 1,275 yds from scrimmage (106.3 per game), 12 TD’s