I always kind of held out hope that there would be a Miami OH blog out there somewhere and suddenly Dan Kukla's fantastic Redhawks site DK Kountry popped up in my RSS reader. They had me hooked right away as their preview for the NIU game contains multiple references to the much-underrated band Smashmouth. The blog title reminds me a little of Donkey Kong Country (Kountry?) Anyways, here are the questions that I asked and his subsequent answers. Highlights quoted in bold. Enjoy:
1. First of all, what are the major differences in offensive and defensive schemes now that Mike Haywood is your coach? How has the transition been so with implementing everything and has team turnover been limited?
I think there is a lot of tension between the type of football Haywood wants to play and the type of football his players are capable of playing. Haywood really wants to run a tough, disciplined team that can run the football and stop the run. He wants a team that will wear down opponents for all 60 minutes with intense, physical play. Unfortunately he didn't get to Oxford until December, which is mid way through the recruiting season. As a result, he is stuck mostly with players recruited to play Shane Montgomery football.
The last four years are often referred to by fans as the country club era for its lack of just about everything Haywood has preached so far. So far Miami hasn't come close to establishing a ground game so the offense looks a lot like it did the last few years. It still a quarterback driven offense that relies heavily on short to mid range passes. It often substitutes bubble screens and swing passes in for a run game. There are still a lot of draw plays when they do run.
One significant difference, however, is that Haywood is much more aggressive in his play calling. He takes a lot more shots down field and he doesn't ever hesitate to go for it on fourth and short, even in Miami territory. There have even been a fair share of trick plays, fake punts and onside kicks. These things never even crossed Montgemery's mind as an option.
2. You've played one of the toughest schedules in the nation so far playing tough teams and only 2 out of 7 at home. How has your team responded to this brutal gauntlet?
Well obviously the 0-7 record says the team hasn't responded very well to the brutal schedule, but I would argue that the schedule has a much less significant role in that then people may think. Sure it didn't help playing Boise and UC but lets keep in mind that Miami lost to Kent State as well. I certainly think all the away games wears on a team; the RedHawks definitely showed more life and energy against UC in their one game in Oxford so far then they have on the road. Mostly though the 0-7 records speaks to the fact that this is a very young and inexperienced team that is still trying to buy into a whole new system under a new coach.
3. Freshman Zac Dysert has showed spurts of talent here and there, but has fallen to the turnover bug. Where do the problems lie on the offensive side of things?
Turnovers have been a killer. Its not just Dysert although the frequency of fumbles has dropped in recent weeks. What really hurts is when the turnover come. Dysert especially has thrown picks in the most crucial of moments.
Another big problem is injuries. Miami's top three wide outs coming into the season are all hurt. Andre Bratton, the only back to show any signs of consistency out of the backfield is hurt as well. Its been hard for this offense to figure itself out with a new set of guys on the field each week. The four skill players mentioned are also talented upperclassmen so their playmaking and leadership is dearly missed.
The third big problem, as mentioned before, is a less that futile ground attack.
4. On defense it's kind of the same thing as they tend to keep Miami in games, especially against Northwestern. What are some playmakers on that side of the ball and do you see them improving?
Jordan Gafford is a big playmaker for the Hawks on defense. It seems like his is in on every tackle. He flies to the ball and is extremely dynamic when blitzing the quarterback. Jerrell Wedge has also really impressed me. He has really developed as a redshirt sophomore and has been one of the few defenders to create turnovers. I definitely see this group getting better. They are so young and inexperienced that this year has just been mostly about finding their identity as a unit and developing both their skill and schemes. Being coached by Carl "Bull" Reese doesn't hurt their chances of improvement either.
5. Prediction time. I don't need an exact score, but where do you see the game going on Saturday. Do you see any wins on the rest of your schedule?
There should be a ton of energy around this team Saturday. They are finally through that brutal stretch of six road games in seven contests and quite appropriately this is also homecoming weekend. That being said, NIU is clearly the more talented and developed team in this match up and a home crowd can only carry a team so far. After watching Miami play OU last weekend, NIU's dual attack at running back is a huge cause for concern in my mind. The combination of that rushing attack with the fact that eight Husky receivers average over 10 yards per catch leads me to believe the NIU offense will be very hard to stop for Miami. Just like the OU game, the RedHawks will probably be caught guessing whether to load up the box or drop extra help deep. I'm thinking it will be close at halftime but NIU pulls away for an easy win after the break.
If Miami wins a game this season it will probably come in one of its last two games against BG or Buffalo. Both of those are home week night games (no fans lost to hockey or OSU). I'm thinking they get it against against Buffalo. James Starks who absolutely burned Miami last year won't be around which is a huge plus for the Hawks. By that point in the season I don't expect the Bulls to have anything left to play for and Miami will desperately be trying to avoid a winless season.
Thanks again for your responses and good luck on Saturday!