Rockets Take on Miami

The Toledo Rockets (4-4, 2-2) travel to Oxford, OH this weekend to take on the Miami Redhawks (0-8, 0-4) in a Halloween affair. With wins in three of the last four games, Toledo will earn their first winning season since 2006 when the Rockets went 9-3. Tom Mauter weighs in on the Rockets and the Redhawks in his latest installment of My View.

I'm guessing that many citizens of Rocket Nation are looking at the upcoming game at Yager Stadium against the Miami Redhawk as another "W" for the Midnight Blue and Gold. And why not? Miami is winless in 0-8 (0-4 in MAC play) and has lost 13 games in a row.

Here's a scary thought. This could be a very close football game. Maybe it's because this game is being played on Halloween that has the odds makers afraid to put a spread on the game. Looking at the Rockets, it's a case of one or two steps forward and then stumbling backwards with a thud. Defense shows signs of improving against NIU and then implodes under the rushing assault of Temple. We're now playing with our third string QB, Alex Pettee, who had his first collegiate start last Saturday. The status of Aaron Opelt and Austin Dantin are up in the air.

The Redhawk taking the field Saturday afternoon (3:30 p.m. ET, 1:30 p.m. MT) are not the same football team that began this 2009 campaign. At the outset, the predictions for the Redhawk hovered around the basement of the MAC East. Record wise, they are living down to these low expectations. Despite their winless season to date, Head Coach Michael Haywood is seeing the glass as half full.


On Defense

Early on the Redhawk were facing an uphill climb. Sixty percent of the roster is comprised of freshmen and sophomores. Then the injury bug set in with was junior DE Morris Council suffering a season-ending shoulder injury in the third game. Junior DT, D.J. Svabik was diagnosed with fungus on his lung. Haywood said. "We're blessed to have him back." Haywood added that Svabik will not play until "complications with his medicine" are worked out. He did not play against NIU. Senior DT Martin Channels is recovering from turf toe and a hamstring injury, having missed the UC game and playing sparingly against Ohio U. He returned to the starting lineup against NIU.

Battered and bruised, Miami had only 18 players involved in all categories of defensive statistics against both Ohio U and NIU. The Rockets had 26 players involved in defensive plays against Temple which is much closer to the norm for most teams.

So is the defensive glass anywhere close to being half full? Yes, according to Coach Haywood. "I think we're getting better on defense as a unit," he said. And he likes the direction the defense is taking. Despite losing veteran members of the DL, Miami held the Cincinnati Bearcats below their average total offense and average number of points scored.

Against Northern Illinois, the Redhawk defense kept Me'co Brown in check, limiting him to a minus five yards on five carries. Maybe the Rockets put a hitch in his get-a-long. Chad "Spam Man" Spann was a different story gouging the Redhawk for 156 yards on 21 rushes for a hefty 7.2 ypr.

The Dayton media has dubbed the Redhawk defensive front "trench puppies." The youth and inexperience label is not lost on Coach Haywood as he says that "the young guys, they're like robins. There is something new to them every day."

Against NIU, the Redhawk defense started one true freshmen DT Austin Brown (6'2", 266#) along with two redshirt freshmen, RE Mike Johns (6'4", 267#) and LE Will Diaz (6'5", 251#) . Another true freshmen, DE J.J. Williams (6'2", 286#), saw playing time as well. Versus the Huskies, Brown was in on seven tackles including one TFL.

"The one thing you get out of them, they're going a mile a minute," Haywood said. "Those guys play hard. They're going to make mistakes because they're freshmen. They're getting better, and they're going to continue to get better."

Through eight games, the MU defense has just eight sacks which is well less than a glass half full no matter how you pour it. The leader on defense is another redshirt freshman LB, Jarrell Wedge (5'9", 223#) with 73 tackles, 10.5 TFL and 1.5 QB sacks, 2 pass break ups, three pass deflections and one QB hurry. Hard hitting strong safety Jr. Jordan Gafford (6'0", 206#) has 64 tackles, including a team leading 35 solos to go with 3 TFL, 1 each QB sack and hurry, five each pass deflections and breakups plus two forced fumbles. Redshirt sophomore free safety Anthony Kobal, (6'0", 186#) has 62 tackles.


On Offense

Whether you're talking about a Red Robin or a Redhawk, it makes sense that they would favor the air to the ground. Miami has made twice as many first downs through the air versus rushing. The rushing game, if you want to call it that, has netted a total of 571 yard for 71.4 yards per game and less than a handful of TDs.

The airways have been more fruitful for MU QBs with senior Daniel Raudbaugh and redshirt freshman Zac "Timex" Dysert combining for 1,957 passing yards for nearly 245 yards per game. Nearly 82% of Redhawk 22 offensive TDs have come through the air.

During the third game, Coach Haywood benched Raudaugh in favor of Dysert. Despite throwing 11 picks , Dysert had a good showing against NIU going 27 for 37 for 348 yards, three TDs and no interceptions. And all of this despite being sacked eight times. He was sacked three times on one drive versus Ohio U. but still completed a TD pass to finish the drive. He's been taking a licking but keeps on ticking.

The leading receiver is Jr. WR Armand Robinson (6'1", 203#) with 46 catches and a 12.3 ypc average and 2 TDs both coming against NIU. His stats are career bests and soar above other members of the receiving flock. This is due, in part, to a number of injuries among the receiving corps. With a non-productive running game, 15 Redhawk receivers have catches. That nearly equals the number of MU defenders who have tackles! WRs Eugene Harris (5'10", 180#) and Jamal Rogers (5'11", 165#) each have 26 receptions and two TD catches. The MU passing strategy is to first look for Robinson and secondly spread the ball around. This has worked in an effective short-to-mid-range passing game with a 10.2 ypc average. Only one pass completion has gone for more than 30 yards.


Special Teams

Punt returns are handled by the trio of Dustin Woods (5 for 9.2 ypr), Eugene Harris (5 for 10.0 ypr) and Mitchell Anderson (4 for 3.0 ypr). Punt coverage has worked against MU allowing opponents an average return of nearly 13 yards per punt.

Punter Chris DiCesare has been busy punting 48 times for an average of nearly 39 yards. A telling stat is that only five punts have been fair caught.

Seth Phillip handles kick-off duties for the Redhawk kicking the ball to between the five and 10 yard line on average. The MU coverage team has allowed its opponents an average return of more than 28 yards. They have managed to contain returns to a season long 34 yards. The Redhawk kick-off return team has averaged only 15.3 per return a season-best return of 23 yards.

Field goal and PAT are another less than half full aspect of the MU game. K Trevor Cook is 6 for 9 on PATs and 3 for 6 on field goal attempts. Two of the three misses came between 30 and 39 yards. One of his attempts was also blocked. After missing his first two FG attempts against NIU, Cook made three in a row including a 44 yarder.


What to Look For:

The Rockets defensive scheme will be focused on limiting the Redhawk rushing game keeping MU a one dimensional passing team.

The UT OL to re-establish itself and open holes for Collins and Williams. One or both will have close to 100 yards.

If Alex Pettee is quarterbacking the Rockets offense, look for a controlled passing game in support of the run.

The Rockets may not put up 30+ points but they will do a much better job of sustaining control drives.

Three count or less pass plays from Dysert.

The defense to have at least three sacks and an INT or two.

The Rockets to have at least one big kick-off and punt return.

Barry Church gets another blocked kick to extend his streak to four games.

Eric Page will score.

At least two Miami fumbles.


Summary

This game is the Rockets taking but they will have to earn it. Eliminating or at least minimizing stupid penalties that kill drives or negate big gains are a must for the Rockets. Allowing Miami to stay in the game will not favor Toledo. Falling below .500 will not only end all dreams of a MAC West title, it may begin a dive that Pilot Beckman cannot correct and that's a scary thought indeed.

The Rockets' goal will be to keep the Robins in their nest. I'm thinking Coach Beckman will have a few tricks to impart on the Redhawk and, in the end, have a treat-filled afternoon.



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