If Miami doesn’t win its division this year, one big reason might be because of its defense. Specifically, this RedHawk defense hasn’t been able to make enough stops against the pass. Even with six sacks on its side, Miami still lost Saturday 13-12 at Eastern Michigan with the one and only touchdown scored in the game coming from EMU though the air.
EMU came into the season without a great plan for what to do with the two QBs on its roster: Ben Bryant and Preston Hutchinson. Fast-forward a few weeks, EMU figured that it’d be better off living off of Bryant’s right arm instead of the feet of the returning QB Hutchinson. So far, that’s been working out as well as the team could’ve asked for with wins over UMass, Texas State, and now Miami. After last week’s loss at Northern Illinois, Bryant was the MAC’s leader in passing (9.1 yards/attempt) and still had a lot more to prove against the RedHawks.
Bryant’s game plan of playing darts to get Dylan Drummond the ball seven times (93 yards) and Hassan Beydoun the ball six times (52 yards) paid off for the Eagles. Bryant finished the day 21/31 passing for 206 yards for 1 TD (to Bryson Cannon) and 1 INT. There weren’t a ton of big plays out of this EMU offense, but there were just enough to keep things moving downfield.
That’s just how the game is played these days though. The ball is thrown up so many times that it doesn’t take as much time for teams to put points on the board. And if receivers know how to use their strength, speed, and abilities to pick up extra yards, then there’s a good chance that the scoreboard keeper might have a busy night. EMU’s receivers aren’t the best that this league, let alone the defense in front of them on Saturday, has ever seen, but their abilities to get open while Bryant fought to get the ball out of his hands created just enough first downs in this game.
Defensively, putting pressure on the quarterback is a great way to stop the ball from getting downfield before the ball is even thrown, but no team wins 100% of their snaps in those ways. That’s the problem Miami’s finding themselves in right now because it’s doing both of those things at a noticeable level. Miami came into Saturday’s game as the MAC’s leader in tackles for loss (38 for 155 yards lost) and eighth in the MAC in yards per pass attempt allowed (8.2).
In 2017, Miami’s defense allowed 52.6% of passes against it, and 6.6 yards per attempt. Now, four years later, Miami’s percentage of passes thrown against it is up by over 10% with almost a whole eight yards picked up against the RedHawks per pass attempt. And if there’s any cause for concern out of me for this program, it’s the start of seeing this defense take a step back when the havoc is still being brought.
Miami’s offense didn’t even score a touchdown on the road!
Look, I’m not trying to ignore how much work Miami needs on the other side of the ball. This year’s Miami group is the first one to go without scoring a touchdown at Rynearson Stadium for the first time since 2008 when the Eagles stomped Indiana State 52-0. The last time before that came in 2007 when EMU beat rival Western Michigan 19-2.
Miami’s got its issues on offense, of course. But this is also Chuck Martin’s eighth year leading the Miami football program and I can’t remember a time when Miami’s offense was legitimately something that’d keep defensive coordinators up at night. He’s a defensive minded guy that knows how important it is for his team’s defensive line to continually apply pressure on the other team. But when the pressures don’t always result in drive stops and when the RedHawk offense is averaging only (/checks notes…) 11 points per game this season, then you know that at least one of two things needs to be fixed. Miami needs to either show instant improvement against the pass through improved secondary play (EMU picked on CB Cedric Boswell all afternoon), or improved consistency out of its offense.
Chances are if neither gets fixed, then Miami could finish in the bottom half of the East race this year.