Friday, August 27, 2004

Built for big time


Roethlisberger has moved on, but most starters return from RedHawks' spectacular '03 season

Mark Schmetzer / Enquirer contributor


Quarterback Josh Betts steps into the spot vacated by Roethlisberger who led the RedHawks to a 13-1 record and a No. 10 overall ranking season.


Miami coach Terri Hoeppner holds the GMAC Bowl trophy after his ream beat Louisville 49-28 in Mobile Alabama.

M O R E   I N F O R M A T I O N
2003 IN REVIEW
Record: 13-1

Date Opponent Result
Aug. 30 at Iowa L, 21-3
Sept. 13 at N'western W, 44-14
Sept. 20 at Colorado State W, 41-21
Sept. 27 Cincinnati W, 42-37
Oct. 4 Akron W, 45-20
Oct. 11 Buffalo W, 59-3
Oct. 18 at Ball State W, 49-3
Oct. 25 at Kent State W, 38-30
Nov. 4 Bowling Green W, 33-10
Nov. 12 Marshall W, 45-6
Nov. 22 at Ohio W, 49-31
Nov. 28 at UCF W, 56-21
Dec. 4 at Bowling Green W, 49-27
Dec. 18 vs. Louisville W, 49-28


BY THE NUMBERS

61 Ben Roethlisberger's career high for pass attempts in a single game.

53 Passes Josh Betts has thrown in his career.

13 Consecutive Miami wins, nation's longest streak going into the 2004 season.

10 Miami's ranking in last season's final Associated Press poll, its highest since 10th in 1974.

2 Defensive coordinators employed by Miami, one more than is normal.

107,501 The seating capacity of Michigan Stadium, the largest in the nation and the site of the RedHawks' first road game of the season.

28 Seasons that have passed since Miami last won back-to-back MAC championships. The 1975 team won the last of three in a row.

15 Miami's consecutive losses to Big Ten teams not named Northwestern since winning 21-20 at Indiana in 1977. The streak includes a RedHawks loss at Michigan State in 1994 that the Spartans later forfeited.

1 Games Miami will have played against teams in the Gateway Conference after taking on Indiana State in the season-opener Saturday.

Miami easily was the best team in a Mid-American Conference that enjoyed perhaps the finest season of its history last year.

Now, the challenge to both the RedHawks and their conference mates is to, as they as say in baseball, "add on."

"We were agents of change," Miami coach Terry Hoeppner said. "Now, we have to do it again. That's our challenge."

The general perception of the RedHawks is that with the departure of high-profile passer Ben Roethlisberger to the NFL, they are in a rebuilding mode. In fact, Miami has the vast majority of its starters back on both sides of the ball, including all of Roethlisberger's big-play targets on offense.

Opponents aren't underestimating the RedHawks. Colorado State pulled out of the game it had scheduled at Oxford this year after getting thumped 41-21 on its home field last year.

Miami was forced to settle for Division I-AA Indiana State.

"We've got to get big opponents here," Hoeppner said. "We're going to try to schedule as many Big Ten teams as we can. Those are the teams we want to play."

Offense

Most observers will be watching fourth-year junior quarterback Josh Betts and his deep and talented receiving corps, but they also should keep an eye on the offensive line's new starters.

Two fourth-year juniors, Nate Bunce and Mark Kracium, shared the right tackle job last season. Bunce is penciled in at right guard, with Kracium at left tackle.

Senior Luke Clemens returns from back problems to give the RedHawks options in the running attack.

"At quarterback, Josh Betts and (backup) Mike Kokal are right on schedule," Hoeppner said. "I think Kokal showed the most improvement from the spring."

Defense

Eight starters return from a unit that used blinding speed to produce 39 turnovers and five touchdowns, while allowing the fewest points in the MAC last season. Middle linebacker Terrell Jones graduated, but outside linebacker John Busing led the nation in interceptions at his position with five, returning two for touchdowns.

On the other side, Terna Nande had four interceptions and 20 tackles for loss.

The line lost its starting ends, but all four backfield starters return, led by senior Matt Pusateri, who is back for his fourth season as the starting strong safety. Pusateri has led Miami in tackles each of the past two seasons.

Special teams

Few big-time Division I programs are as deep as Miami in their special teams. Senior Jared Parseghian is setting new program standards for accuracy, and he's backed up by junior Todd Soderquist, who handles kickoffs and long-range field-goal attempts.

Senior Mike Wafzig buried seven punts inside the 20. Dave McClain returns to handle the long-snapping after redshirting last season. Ryne Robinson set the MAC single-season record for punt-return yardage as a freshman last season.

Coaching

Pat Narduzzi spent one season as Miami's defensive coordinator before taking the same job at rival Cincinnati.

Hoeppner named defensive line coach Brian George and defensive backfield coach Joe Palcic co-defensive coordinators.

They must integrate new linebackers coach George Ricumstrict into the system and break in their almost totally new offensive line while dealing with the departure of five-year offensive line coach John Peterson.

Intangibles

Betts isn't as hefty as his predecessor, the virtually irreplaceable Roethlisberger, and Miami's backup quarterbacks, redshirt freshman Kokal and true freshman Jared Elliott, are untested in game competition.

Miami also must deal with being the team to beat in the MAC, and the change in perception that comes after a breakout season.

Make-or-break games

The RedHawks are 0-3 against Marshall at Huntington, W.Va., since the Thundering Herd rejoined the MAC in 1997. Miami's last chance to break that slump before Marshall bolts for Conference USA will be Sept. 29.

The RedHawks also must wade through back-to-back home games on Oct. 23 against Central Florida, which is being coached by George O'Leary, and Nov. 2 against MAC West Division favorite Toledo.

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