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Preview: RedHawks head to Athens for must-win Battle of the Bricks contest

<p>The winner of Saturday&#x27;s game will have a two game advantage over the loser with just three games remaining in MAC play.</p>

The winner of Saturday's game will have a two game advantage over the loser with just three games remaining in MAC play.

Last week, Miami University football lost its first Mid-American Conference (MAC) game of the season to Toledo, 21-17. If Miami can beat Ohio on Saturday, that loss will hardly matter.

Ohio has lost a MAC game this year too, 23-13 against Northern Illinois in Week 6. Both teams are sitting at 3-1 atop the MAC East Division along with Buffalo. The MAC tiebreaker is head-to-head record, so whoever wins on Saturday is effectively up two games on the loser. The loser will have to hope for the other to lose two of its last three MAC games. 

Buffalo may factor in too, but both Miami and Ohio will be favored over the Bulls later this season. Buffalo is a seven-point underdog at home against Toledo this week.

Saturday’s is a must-win game for the RedHawks. If they lose, their season that started so magically will very likely not culminate in a MAC Championship. If they win, they control their own destiny.

The loss from last Saturday that will matter, that will haunt these RedHawks for the rest of the season, is the loss of starting quarterback Brett Gabbert. Gabbert, in the midst of a MAC Player of the Year-caliber season, sustained a severe leg injury and had surgery that same night.

On Monday, Miami football head coach Chuck Martin confirmed Gabbert is out for the season.

Redshirt-sophomore Aveon Smith will be the starting quarterback against Ohio. After entering the Toledo game, Smith and the RedHawk offense were unable to capitalize on any of their remaining four drives. A touchdown on any of those would have won them the game.

“[Gabbert is] not going to be there,” Martin said on Monday. “And we have to go win a football game against a really good opponent at their place … I’m sure they feel bad for Brett because they’re good people over there, but I’m sure they're more than happy that he’s not playing this week.”

Last year, Gabbert played just four games due to ankle and clavicle injuries. Smith relieved him then too. Aveon went 5-4 as a starter and had some big wins.

“Obviously he’s got some experience from last year, which is huge, compared to when he had to do it a year ago,” Martin said.

Last year, Smith compiled 1299 yards through the air with a completion percentage below 50%. He threw for 11 touchdowns compared to five interceptions. He added 553 yards (4.5 yards per carry) and six touchdowns on the ground. 

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“He’s an improved thrower by a wide margin,” Martin said. “Now he’s going to have the chance to go out in a game and show everybody if he’s an improved thrower or not. So it’s a great opportunity for him.”

As for the Bobcats, they’re one of the best teams in the MAC, if not the best. They haven't won the MAC Championship since 1968, the longest drought in the conference. Rest assured, they’ll come to play. 

According to Martin, Ohio’s offensive line is one of the two best in the MAC, along with Toledo. Ohio returns nearly all of that unit and most of the rest of its best-in-conference offense from last year too.

That offense hasn’t been quite as good as last year’s so far through MAC play. Ohio is averaging more than 350 yards per game, good for fourth in the MAC so far, while scoring a middling 22.5 points per contest. 

The offense is led by quarterback Kurtis Rourke, last season’s MAC Player of the Year. 

Rourke completed nearly 70% of his passes in 2022 and finished with over 3500 total yards and 29 total touchdowns to just four interceptions. He’s not been as good statistically this season, but he’s led Ohio to a 6-2 record so far, including upsets of Florida Atlantic University (FAU) and Iowa State University (ISU).

“He’s one of the higher rated quarterbacks for NFL guys in the country,” Martin said.

In the past, Ohio’s calling card has been its offense, but its defense is salty too. That defense held FAU to 10 points and ISU to seven. The Bobcats have allowed the fewest points in the MAC this conference season, just 13.9 points per game (ppg). Miami is second at 19.4 ppg. Ohio is the only team in the conference to hold opponents under an average of 300 yards per game so far.

Miami vs. Ohio kicks off at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 28, from Ohio Stadium in Athens. For both teams, winning is about as necessary as it can be with three weeks left in the season.

“When the conference schedule came out, I was hoping this game would be as impactful as it is,” Martin said. “If things went according to plan.”