Saturday, November 22, 2003

Miami gets back to basics

MAC East champion begins marathon toward season's end

By Mark Schmetzer
Enquirer contributor

Miami football coach Terry Hoeppner describes most Mid-American Conference games as being championship games. It's the coach's way of emphasizing the importance of avoiding slip-ups in the quest for a conference title.

But Hoeppner didn't apply that tag to today's game against Ohio in Athens. After all, it doesn't fit. With two regular-season games remaining, the RedHawks (9-1, 6-0 MAC) already have clinched a spot in the conference title game.

"That might be the earliest ever," Hoeppner said.

Hoeppner also has made a point of lauding the RedHawks' focus this season, which is why he doesn't anticipate a letdown by his team, even in the wake of back-to-back emotional wins against Bowling Green and Marshall.

That doesn't mean that he isn't wary of a letdown, and nothing can pull players back to earth like simple blocking and tackling drills.

"What we really have focused on in the last month is a lot of fundamentals and little things," Hoeppner said. "We've been emphasizing the little things that you take for granted. We try not to get caught up in the bigger picture of practicing plays.

". . . At every position, you want to make sure that they're not saying, 'Oh, let's not worry about it. We'll just find a way to win the game.' Part of it is mental. You can get their attention by focusing on the little things."

Fundamentals can come in handy when facing Ohio's option-oriented flexbone offense, a variation of the wishbone. It can catch opponents unprepared, but it hasn't been enough to get the Bobcats past injury problems that have led to players missing a total of 81 games this season, including 11 season-ending injuries.

The Bobcats (2-8, 1-5) have lost four consecutive games, including a 35-28 defeat at Akron last Saturday in which they led 28-14 early in the second half.

"They've been ahead in a lot of games, but they haven't been able to finish," said Hoeppner, who added that Ohio's defense tries to run "every blitz known in football. . . . It's going to be a challenge."

Miami faces a schedule that includes the regular-season finale at Central Florida next Friday, and the MAC championship game at Bowling Green or Toledo the following Thursday.

"We play three games in 13 days," Hoeppner said. "That's going back to my old World Football League days, when they didn't care how many games you played (in a short time). That is a real challenge for the coaching staff and players."

No. 18 Miami at Ohio

Kickoff: 2:30 p.m., Peden Stadium (24,000), Athens.

Records: Miami (9-1, 6-0 Mid-American Conference), Ohio (2-8, 1-5).

TV: Fox Sports Net.

Radio: WCKY-AM (1360), WMOH-AM (1450).

Series: Miami leads 48-29-2.

Line: Miami by 24.

What to watch: One way to slowing the RedHawks is to not let them have the ball. Ohio is second in the MAC with a 32:40 average time of possession. Miami is first at 33:55.

MU Team stats OU
479.1Offense avg.356.5
165.7Avg. by rush201.3
313.4Avg. by pass155.2
317.1Defense avg.353.1
107.5Avg. by rush138
209.6Avg. by pass215.1
39.9Avg. points for23.2
16.5Avg. pts. against29.5

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