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‘This is what we do this for’: Undefeated squads to square off at Yager Saturday

<p>Miami University football plays the reigning MAC champion this week at Yager Stadium.</p>

Miami University football plays the reigning MAC champion this week at Yager Stadium.

This season, two teams remain undefeated in Mid-American Conference (MAC) play. On Saturday, those two teams, Miami University and the reigning MAC Champion University of Toledo, square off at Yager Stadium for the biggest football game in Oxford in years.

The RedHawks are looking to win their seventh game in a row for the first time since 2003. They’re also looking to make a statement against the odds-on favorite to win the MAC this season.

“This is what we do this for,” Miami head coach Chuck Martin said. “To play in games that are really important.”

Just looking at statistics, Miami football appears the best team in the MAC. Through three conference games, the RedHawks have allowed just two touchdowns — also the fewest total yards per game in the MAC (214.7) and by far the fewest points per game (8.0). They didn’t trail for a second in their last two games, and in their first contest they beat Kent State 23-3. 

The offense ranks just fifth in the MAC so far in scoring (28.0 points per game), but has done quite enough to make sure none of the first three games of the MAC slate cost any RedHawk fans much sweat. 

Toledo, on the other hand, is second in the MAC for offensive scoring (32.3 points per game) and sixth for scoring allowed (23.3 points per game). The most highly touted team in the MAC has survived one-score scares in its last two MAC games. In the Rockets’ first game, they trailed Western Michigan in the fourth quarter. Toledo is 2-5 covering the spread this season. Miami is 6-1 against the spread.

All of that makes it a bit of a surprise that oddsmakers still have Miami as two-point underdogs at home on Saturday. The RedHawks are off to their best start since 2003, but they still have a point to make against Toledo.

“[Our level of confidence is] at an all-time high,” senior defensive back Yahsyn McKee said. “You can tell by the way we practice … we’re having fun while we’re doing it. We’re all connected.”

Martin appreciates that confidence, but he’s wary of it. He said that the reason his team has started this season so hot is hard work. Until now, the RedHawks have accepted that it won’t be easy for them to win every week. But so far in MAC play, they haven’t had to sweat much.

“[We’re] more concerned with complacency and feeling too good about yourself and wanting it to be easy,” Martin said.

Toledo’s high-powered offense runs through two players, junior dual-threat quarterback Dequan Finn and junior running back Peny Boone. 

“[Toledo has] talent everywhere on the offense,” Martin said. “From the offensive line, to all their skill guys are really really good, to a dynamic quarterback that can run and throw and has already put up insane numbers in his career there.”

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Finn was Second-Team All-MAC at quarterback last season. So far this year, he’s rushed for 438 yards and four touchdowns (6.4 yards per carry) and passed for 1265 yards and 12 more touchdowns. Most coaches will say preparing for a quarterback who can burn you through the air and on the ground is one of the toughest things in football.

“I’m honestly not too worried about [the dual-threat quarterback],” McKee said. “I trust my guys up front to get active and get back there in the backfield, do what they do every week.”

Boone, a 242-pound bruiser, has outlandish stats so far this year. He’s recorded 792 yards and eight touchdowns over 107 carries. Having to defend against both of those guys on the ground and the pass every play will be incredibly difficult for Miami’s defense. 

The Toledo defense has had ups and downs this season. The downs include allowing 31 points to Western Michigan and 33 to Northern Illinois in late September. But last week, they held Ball State to just six. Miami knows it can score, and the RedHawks will have to. They’re not going to hold Toledo off the scoreboard like they did against Bowling Green Week 6.

Saturday’s contest will be the biggest game played at Yager Stadium in years. It’s expected to be maybe the best crowd at Yager since any current students have been at Miami. If the RedHawks win, they might just receive a few votes in the AP Top 25 poll. 

The RedHawks and Rockets kick off at 4 p.m. from Yager Stadium on Saturday, October 21. If you can’t make it to the game, you can catch it on ESPNU or at one of Miami’s game day radio affiliates.