Miami (Ohio): Not your typical season-opener

This is not Kent State or Akron coming into Kinnick Saturday. Miami is a good, experienced team with arguably the best quarterback in college football. I don't need to talk to you about Ben Roethlisberger. Iowa fans have been fed a daily dose of Roethlisberger from nearly every media outlet in Iowa -- almost to the point I could puke. All hurling aside, this is a very, very good football player.

Iowa fans have gotten to know Miami (Ohio) the past couple of seasons. Iowa blasted the RedHawks in 2001, 44-18, after opening a 44-0 lead before the reserves allowed three second-half touchdowns.

Last year Iowa used a clock-eating 80-yard drive to end the game and hang on to a 29-24 win in Oxford. That was Iowa's lowest point output until the Orange Bowl. The 2003 version will likely be like last year's game rather than the 2001 contest, which is what we would all like.

Roethlisberger threw for 3,238 yards with a terrific 63.8 percent completion percentage. He threw 22 touchdowns to just 11 interceptions. Despite having "pro" size for a quarterback – 6-5, 230 -- Roethlisberger runs very well. Miami prefers to drop back Roethlisberger a majority of the passing plays, but he can roll out away from a rush and it strong enough to throw on the run.

Roethlisberger doesn't discriminate when it comes to distributing the ball; seven receivers caught 20 or more balls last year. Leading receiver from a year ago Jason Branch is gone. Branch abused Iowa cornerback D.J. Johnson in last year's game. Michael Larkin and Matt Brandt are the leading returning pass catchers from a year ago. Larkin led Miami with eight touchdowns and Matt Brandt is a receiving tight end with 33 receptions in 12 games last year. The other targets for Roethlisberger include running back Luke Clemens (27 receptions), Kory Kirkpatrick (26 receptions) and Andre Henderson (20 receptions).

This is a controlled passing game -- much like Purdue's -- that Miami runs. They are not a "big play" offense. They prefer the short pass and hope their guy breaks a tackle for a long gainer.

Clemens was the RedHawks' leading rusher rushing with 1,054 yards and 16 touchdowns last season. The former walk-on is not a game breaker -- his longest run is just 36 yards -- but is a tough, hard-nosed runner with a feel for the end zone as evidenced by his 16 touchdowns.

Miami is not a running team, it runs just to keep the defense honest. The passing game sets up the running game, and they aren't afraid to abandon the run early if it's getting nothing.

What doesn't Roethlisberger do for Miami? He also punted 11 times for a stellar 43.8-yard average. They just as well be the Roethlisberger RedHawks.

Defensively is where Miami really struggles. Miami returns six starters from a unit that allowed 27.1 points per game with a schedule that featured lightweights North Carolina, Ohio, Kent State, Akron and Buffalo. The RedHawks gave up 139.7 rushing yards per game and 273 passing yards per game. (The much-maligned Iowa secondary allowed nearly 20 yards less per game.) Not exactly earth-shattering statistics here sports fans. Leading tackler from a year ago, Matt Pusateri, returns with his 124 total tackles. Much like Iowa's Bob Sanders, Pusateri leads the team from the strong safety position.

All told, Miami returns three of its top six tacklers from last year. Besides Pusateri, middle linebacker Terrell Jones and cornerback Ryan Sprague return – they were third and sixth in tackles last year. These three accounted for roughly 60 percent of Miami's tackles. If you can locate these three, you have a good chance at being successful.

The returning sack leader is left end Ryan Smith with five sacks and the leading returning interceptor is Sprague with two. Again, not eye-popping marks. Miami is definitely vulnerable on the defensive side of the ball. I believe Iowa will win the game, but it certainly will not be easy. Iowa needs to be able stop the run with its front four thus allowing its linebackers provide extra help to the corners in covering the multiple-receiver set. If Iowa has difficulty stopping the run, it could be a long day. Iowa needs to establish the run to take pressure off of Nathan Chandler, who will no doubt be nervous for his first start. A strong running game will take the responsibilities away from Chandler to win the game -- I don't believe he can do that anyway.

Iowa must also tackle well to win. It seems easy to say, but with Miami's controlled passing attack a three- or four-yard gain can turn into 40 or 50 yards gain very easily with some missed tackles. If Iowa sticks to defensive coordinator Norm Parker's scheme and limits its missed tackles to five or less, I like our chances.

Lastly, Iowa must not let Miami get momentum and confidence. If you let Miami get a quick score or two without countering, you'll give them the feeling the can come into Kinnick and steal one from Iowa. Oh hell no, not on my watch. I see Iowa's defense wanting to take it to Roethlisberger -- they read the papers, they hear about him everyday, like we do. I bet Matt Roth is salivating at a chance to drill a future NFL quarterback.

I like Iowa 24-16.

Football is finally here again. It's a beautiful thing.

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