Miami (Ohio) has slim MAC East hopes

There is one team that has MAC championship hopes alive between Temple and Miami (Ohio).

It’s not the team anybody expected going into the season.

Miami (7-4, 6-1) does need help, but the RedHawks still have a shot in the MAC East. They need to beat the Owls (8-3, 5-2) tonight in a nationally televised game from Oxford, then hope Ohio loses to Kent State on Friday.

Ohio (8-3, 6-1) beat Temple last week to eliminate the Owls from contention. The Bobcats beat Miami earlier in the season, so if they win out, they go to the MAC title game against Northern Illinois on Dec. 3.

Temple was the preseason favorite to win the East, but Miami has been the biggest surprise in the league and the country. Winning the game would give Miami automatic entry into a bowl game, because the two MAC title game participants are guaranteed spots.

That is important for a team that already has the best turnaround in the country, at plus-six games. If Miami finishes 7-5, there are no bowl guarantees. This season, teams with winning records from non-AQ conferences are no longer given consideration ahead of 6-6 teams from the power leagues.

After going 1-11 last season, Miami is trying to make a bowl game for the first time since 2004. Coach Mike Haywood said he tried not to pay too much attention to the bowl scenarios and what could await his team past this game.

“We can’t worry about those things,” Haywood said. “We have to be better than our opponent and we have to win the football game. The bowl coalitions take care of that from that point on.”

Haywood is prepared for a physical game. In fact, that is the first thing he stressed to his team following its 19-14 win over Akron last week. Temple has an excellent running game with Matt Brown and Bernard Pierce, though Pierce is out after injuring his hamstring on the opening play last week against Ohio. Also out for Temple is starting linebacker Peanut Joseph, who sustained a season-ending knee injury against Ohio.

The Bobcats physically handled Temple, providing a blueprint for Miami to follow.

“We’re going to have to spend some guys in the box to stop their run game, and when we decide to spend a guy down in the box it’s going to put us one-on-one on the outside,” Haywood said. “We’re going to have to do a good job of covering because they have big physical receivers.”

Miami is going to need its power run game to work with Thomas Merriweather because the RedHawks are starting redshirt freshman Austin Boucher at quarterback for the second straight week. With starter Zac Dysert out with a spleen injury, Boucher made his debut last week at Akron and went 22-of-32 for 213 yards. Merriweather helped take the pressure off, with 141 yards and a touchdown on the ground.

Still, this will be a much better defensive unit than the one Miami played last week.

“Austin Boucher is a young man that’s extremely smart,” Haywood said. “He’s been really been waiting for his opportunity. (Last week) we tried to reduce the package to give him more confidence. He came in this week asking for more things in the package. Guys believe and trust in him. He’ll do a good job and continue to do a good job. We’re going to have to open it up a little more to be successful.”