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Miami hopes to win 17th MAC Championship over Toledo on Saturday

<p>Miami University football comes into the MAC Championship as eight-point underdogs against Toledo.</p>

Miami University football comes into the MAC Championship as eight-point underdogs against Toledo.

On Saturday, Dec. 2, Miami University football will have the chance to win the Mid-American Conference (MAC) Championship for the first time since 2019. 

The RedHawks (10-2, 7-1 MAC) play No. 23 University of Toledo (11-1, 8-0 MAC) at noon at Ford Field in Detroit on Saturday. Since a 30-28 Week 1 loss to the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, the Rockets are 11-0.

When Miami and Toledo met Week 8, it was a turning point in the RedHawks’ season. The ’Hawks went into halftime down 21-3, but their offense started hot in the second half. With the third quarter winding down, Miami was two yards away from punching in a touchdown and cutting the Toledo lead to 21-17. 

Then star junior quarterback Brett Gabbert received a snap, lowered his head toward the end zone and had his leg crushed by a defensive lineman. He suffered a broken fibula and tibia and was rushed to Mercy Fairfield Hospital for surgery that night

Redshirt-sophomore Aveon Smith took over under center once the game restarted. Miami’s defense forced four punts from Toledo in the fourth quarter, but Smith and the RedHawks’ offense couldn’t get those last four points. Miami lost 21-17.

Ever since, with Smith under center, the RedHawks are 4-0, including a crucial win over the University of Ohio and a MAC East clinching victory over the University at Buffalo

In those four games Smith has completed 38-of-68 passes for 469 yards and two touchdown passes with two interceptions. He’s added 132 yards and a touchdown on the ground. His career record as a starter is now 9-4. If he can lead Miami to the win on Saturday, it will be a career-defining accomplishment. 

According to Miami’s head football coach Chuck Martin, the Rockets’ defense won’t make it easy on Smith and the RedHawk offense.

“They don’t give up a lot. They’re so damn experienced. They have so many weapons,” Martin said. “... They’re very simple, very sound, they have very good players, and they know exactly what you’re doing, your tendencies.”

Even so, Toledo allowed 333.3 yards per MAC game this season, good for the seventh stingiest defense by yards in the MAC. The offense is their true calling card; they gained 421.5 yards per MAC game in 2023, first in the conference.

The most interesting matchup going into this game is Miami’s MAC-best defense against Toledo’s MAC-best offense. In conference games in 2023, Miami allowed 10.8 points per game, and Toledo posted 32.8 points per game. 

The MAC Player of the Year will almost certainly be one of Toledo’s two hazardous offensive weapons. 

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Running back Peny Boone leads the conference in rushing yards (1359), rushing touchdowns (15) and yards per rush (7.4). Star quarterback Dequan Finn has added 530 rush yards and six touchdowns himself. The first order of business for Miami will be stopping the run. 

Toledo has been prolific through the air as well. Finn leads the conference in passing yards (2384), passing touchdowns (21) and is second in completion percentage (65.1%). 

Stopping the Toledo offense will be a tall task, but Miami did it in the second half of Week 8, allowing under 70 yards in the half and forcing eight Toledo punts. The RedHawks have a blueprint. 

On offense, Miami might be without another one of its best players, top receiver Gage Larvadain. Larvadain, who is dealing with an upper body injury, also sustained a lower body injury Week 10 against the University of Akron.

“We’d like to have Gage at 100%. That’s not going to be the case,” Martin said. “... Hopefully we can get him at some capacity … no [junior tight end Jack] Coldiron, no [junior quarterback Brett] Gabbert and then maybe no Gage, you’re talking about three of your best players.”

Regardless, the RedHawks will look to establish the run against Toledo. After earning at least 5.5 yards per carry in the four games preceding last week, sophomore running back Rashad Amos toted the ball 13 times for just 37 yards against Ball State University. 

“We’ve got to be able to run the football effectively,” Martin said. “We didn’t run or throw good last week, we probably didn’t run enough, that’s part of it.”

The Miami RedHawks will look to etch their names into the record books with a win this Saturday in Detroit. If you’re not making the trip to the Motor City, you can catch the game on ESPN or listen for free here

"You're playing so that when you're talking to your grandkids in 40 years, you can tell them 'I was a champion in 2023,'" senior defensive lineman Austin Ertl said.