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5 things: Iowa vs. Miami (Ohio)

Hawkeyes host RedHawks at Kinnick Stadium for Week 1. Here's a breakdown of Iowa's first 2016 opponent

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Miami (Ohio) head coach Chuck Martin was on the Mid-American Conference (MAC) head coaches teleconference Monday. He expressed the same enthusiasm for a new season as every coach, but it certainly was with full awareness of what his team is up against when traveling to Kinnick Stadium to face the Hawkeyes, who are trying for their 13th straight regular season victory.

Here we take a dive into Iowa’s Week 1 opponent — 5 Things about the Miami RedHawks.

1. Rebuilding Process

In the five seasons since 2010, when Miami went 10-4 and beat Middle Tennessee State in the GoDaddy.com Bowl, the RedHawks have gone 13-47. That includes a winless 0-12 campaign in 2013 in which then-head-coach Don Treadwell got fired five games in.

Martin, entering his third season leading the program, is 5-19 in his first two seasons.

None of the above is great news if you’re a Miami fan, coach or player, and all of the above suggests Iowa is catching the RedHawks at a time where the threat of an upset isn’t huge. But Martin is bullish on his program and the improvements they’ve made. They bring back starting quarterback Billy Bahl and leading rusher Alonzo Smith, and Martin believes they found something through spring and fall camp.

“In my mind, we’ve turned the corner — and I’m not even saying turned the corner (in terms of) wins and losses. I think everybody that watches us this year is going to notice a vastly different Miami football team,” Martin said. “We’re bigger, stronger, faster, we’re more confident; we execute at a much higher level.

“We beat (Massachusetts) in Game 12 last year. Our team would beat the team we took to UMass by two or three touchdowns. We’re that much of a different team. We’ve got a ways to go … but we’re very happy with where we’re at and where we’re headed.”

2. Let's Get Physical

The RedHawks might be in a better place, but Martin admitted he was basically “starting from scratch” when he took over in 2014. The program lacked the playmaking ability it takes to win in the MAC, let alone against teams in Power-5 conferences. In the particularly tough three-season stretch — the one with split head coaches in 2013, then the last two — that saw Miami go 5-31, they lacked size up front on both sides of the ball.

Martin spoke at length Monday in the teleconference about his respect for Iowa, Kirk Ferentz and the way the Hawkeyes play football. It’s no surprise, then, that Martin wants Miami to play like Iowa.

There’s no better way to start the season and no better team to do it against than one that emulates the kind of football you want to play, he said. The word “physical” got thrown around — a lot.

“For us, as we’re trying to build our program here, we’re trying to become a physical football team,” Martin said. “Coming out of the blocks with a physical program like Iowa, you’re going to give your kids a good barometer of what physical football looks like on every single snap, on both sides of the ball and on special teams. It’s a great opportunity to learn, to compete against a team that’s as physical as they come.

“Iowa plays the style of football we play here at Miami, in our league. In some respects it’s not a great matchup. In other respects, it gives you an idea of how we want to play football.”

3. Spread The Wealth

Iowa is a 27.5-point favorite headed into Saturday’s game, according to VegasInsider.com. Of course, that’s for entertainment purposes only, but it’s obviously who is expected to win the game and by how much.

Martin was frank about what’s expected, and that he, his coaches and his players aren’t immune to that, either. Getting his team to play hard every down despite knowing how good Iowa is and how few people expect them to compete all the way through is the toughest task before the RedHawks make the trip to Iowa City.

“It’s harder when you’re that big of an underdog to get the kids to focus on the next play. … Kids are smart and they know what’s going on — they know who you’re playing and know the odds,” Martin said. “When you’re a big-time underdog or big-time favorite, sometimes it’s hard to get kids to focus on the next play.

“To me it’s, ‘How many of those battles can we win?’ If there’s going to be 150 snaps on Saturday, how many can Miami’s team win? … Any time you win one against a program the caliber of Iowa, it’s good for your program.”

As for the home team, Iowa went 7-6 last year against the spread, with one push (Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship game). This week’s 27.5-point spread is bigger than any game last season (the Hawkeyes were favored by 25.5 and covered against North Texas), and the biggest since being favored by 39 against Eastern Illinois in 2010 (did not cover; won 37-7) and Ball State in 2005 (covered, won 56-0). In the Ferentz era, the Hawkeyes have been favored by 20 or more 20 times, went 12-8 against the spread and 19-1 in the games.

Again, that’s for entertainment purposes only.

4. All-Time vs. Power 5

The Miami RedHawk football program was founded in 1962, and since then, the RedHawks have faced 26 teams from Power-5 conferences, and nine teams from the Big Ten.

Miami is 25-56 against Power-5 opponents and is 5-28 against Big Ten teams throughout its history. Not shockingly, the most success the RedHawks had against premiere opponents came when some guy named Ben Roethlisberger was quarterback for them from 2001-03. Big Ben led the RedHawks to two wins against Power-5 schools: in 2002 (Aug. 31, 2002 at North Carolina) and in Miami’s 13-1 season in 2003, beating Northwestern in Evanston, Ill.

Miami’s most recent win against what is now a Power-5 school was against Syracuse (now ACC, then in the Big East) in 2007. Since then, the RedHawks have gone 0-13 against Power-5 opponents — playing two each season, except for 2012, 2014-15 — and 0-7 against Big Ten opponents.

Iowa and Miami have played three times, from 2001-03, all of which featured Roethlisberger under center. The Hawkeyes won all three.

5. Players To Watch

Billy Bahl, soph, QB; 6-4, 237 — Bahl started 11 games as a freshman — never a great sign for the state of a team — and threw for 1,409 yards, eight touchdowns and 13 interceptions at 44.5 percent completion. It’s a lot to ask a true frosh to step into the fire like that and be effective, so he should be more prepared this time around.

Alonzo Smith, soph, RB; 5-10, 221 — Smith was the Redhawks’ leading rusher as a redshirt freshman (sensing a trend yet?) at 498 yards and 4.0 yards per carry, with five total touchdowns. He saw limited work in the passing game, catching 10 passes for 79 yards. If Miami wants to be more physical and like Iowa, this is where it starts.

Paul Moses, junior, LB; 6-0, 232 — Moses got his first major playing time last season as a sophomore, playing in all 12 games and finishing as the third leading tackler with 71 total tackles, three sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss. He’s the top returning defender, as well, and will have a tremendous responsibility tracking Iowa from the middle of the field.

l Comments: (319) 368-8884; jeremiah.davis@thegazette.com

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