NCF Nation: 2011 Bowl

Miami (Ohio) beat Middle Tennessee 35-21 in the Bowl on Thursday night in Mobile, Ala. Here is a quick instant analysis:

How the game was won: Turnovers have hurt Middle Tennessee all season, and they hurt the Blue Raiders in the Bowl against Miami. They ended up with five turnovers -- including one interception returned for a touchdown. Middle Tennessee also failed to take advantage of several other opportunities, including a blocked field goal in the fourth quarter that gave it the ball at its own 44. After Middle Tennessee punted, Miami simply wore down the defense on the next drive, capping the game with an 11-play, 71-yard drive that ended when Austin Boucher threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Nick Harwell. Middle Tennessee quarterback Dwight Dasher was ineffective, throwing four second-half interceptions, while Boucher played well and moved to 4-0 as a starter since taking over for Zac Dysert (ribs). The RedHawks became the first team in FBS history to go from double-digit losses (1-11) to double-digit wins (10-4) in consecutive seasons.

Turning point: Trailing 28-21, the Middle Tennessee defense came up with a huge stop after Evan Harris' interception gave Miami the ball deep in Blue Raiders territory. Miami set up for a 32-yard field goal attempt, but it was blocked. Middle Tennessee could not take advantage of the mistake and never got any closer.

Player of the game: Boucher. Yes, he threw two interceptions, including one in the end zone at the end of the first half. But he also made the big plays when they counted and finished 22-of-36 for 288 yards and two touchdowns. It really is incredible that he has only started four games in his career.

Unsung hero of the game: Miami cornerback Dayonne Nunley. His 52-yard interception return for a touchdown early in the third quarter gave Miami its first lead of the game at 21-14. He also had a fumble recovery a play after Boucher threw his second interception to give the ball right back to his team.

What Miami learned: The RedHawks can hang their hat on an outstanding season, and were able to win the game despite the events of the last month. Coach Mike Haywood resigned to take a job at Pittsburgh, only to be fired following domestic assault charges. Interim coach Lance Guidry did a nice job leading the team, with new head coach Don Treadwell watching from the press box. There is plenty of young talent on this team, but you can be sure there will be a quarterback battle in the spring between Boucher and Dysert. Harwell should be a preseason All-MAC selection.

What Middle Tennessee learned: Dasher simply never recovered to be the quarterback he was in 2009 after sitting out the first four games of the season for violating NCAA rules. The Blue Raiders had too many turnovers and too many penalties this season as well. Now they must prepare for life after Dasher, running back Phillip Tanner and Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year Jamari Lattimore.

Andrea Adelson breaks down the matchup between Middle Tennessee and Miami (Ohio).

There was some cause for concern when Miami (Ohio) quarterback Zac Dysert went down with a rib injury in November. The RedHawks were in the thick of the MAC race, and would now turn to a redshirt freshman who had attempted 14 passes in his career.

Austin Boucher had no concerns. He knew he would take the opportunity and run with it. He most certainly did that, going 3-0 in his three starts since replacing Dysert. Among the wins were a 23-3 victory over Temple that kept the RedHawks in the race and a come-from-behind thriller to beat Northern Illinois in the conference title game.

[+] EnlargeAustin Boucher
Steven King/Icon SMIThe RedHawks are 3-0 in Austin Boucher's starts, including a win in the MAC championship.
He now leads Miami into its first bowl game since 2004, when it plays Middle Tennessee in the Bowl on Thursday night in Mobile, Ala.

"I came here to play and this is the game I love," Boucher said in a recent phone interview. "I knew once I got my start, I would take advantage and enjoy it. You want to be a part of something like that. The team rallied around me. They picked me up in my first game or two, and I tried to be the best leader I could be."

In his three starts, Boucher has gone 72-of-115 for 765 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. The defining drive happened with less than three minutes left against the heavily favored Huskies. Down 21-20, the RedHawks seemed on the outs with a fourth-and-20 on its 38 staring them down. But Boucher completed a 31-yard pass to Chris Givens. Boucher was sacked on the next play, but recovered on second down, throwing a 33-yard touchdown pass to Armand Robinson with 33 seconds left to give Miami a 26-21 lead. The ball was tipped, but Robinson was wide open and waltzed into the end zone.

"It was crazy at the time," Boucher recalled. "I couldn’t tell you what I was thinking about. I was reading the defense, we had a wide-open guy. I just focused on hitting the play that was unfolding."

The win helped Miami complete the best turnaround in the NCAA this season, going from 1-11 to 9-4. But it has been over a month since the RedHawks have played. For a team that closed the season with five straight wins and a conference title, you wonder how the layoff will impact the players.

"Every team has to wait, so it's the same on every field," Boucher said.

As for his future, there is certainly going to be a quarterback competition between Boucher and Dysert in the spring, with new coach Don Treadwell watching intently. Dysert was playing well before his injury, throwing for 2,406 yards with 13 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Boucher said he had no intention of transferring regardless of how the quarterback situation unfolds. Dysert is a sophomore this season.

"Just like every player here, including Zac, everyone wants to play," Boucher said. "I didn’t come here to be a backup. God’s given me an opportunity late in the season, so I've been enjoying it and I’ve taken advantage of it. It will be a battle in the spring. Zac is a phenomenal quarterback. I helped out toward the end of the season, so I think it will be a good battle in the spring."