Photo via Bill Carter.
As mentioned yesterday, the 2011 Missouri Football Preview is a no-go, but we want to share the content we had thrown together regardless. Below is the first opponent preview. These pieces somewhat build off of my ridiculously long, stat-heavy SBN profiles to provide more of a narrative than numbers overload. Still, I'll try to link to the SBN pieces as well.
Miami finds itself in familiar territory in 2011: Replacing another coach hired away by a bigger program. Such is life for a program known as the "Cradle of Coaches." In its history, Miami has lost Woody Hayes to Ohio State, Ara Parseghian to Northwestern, Bo Schembechler to Michigan, Bill Mallory to Colorado, Dick Crum to North Carolina, Tom Reed to N.C. State, Randy Walker to Northwestern and Terry Hoeppner to Indiana. This season, Miami replaces Mike Haywood, who was hired away by Pitt only to be fired 16 days later after a felony domestic violence charge became public.
Don Treadwell takes the reins in Oxford in 2011, 29 years after graduating from Miami as a four-year starter at wide receiver, including a First Team All-MAC appearance as a junior. Treadwell spent the last four years as the offensive coordinator at Michigan State (including an emergency stint as interim head coach last season), where his offense ranked in the middle of the Big Ten in points and yards per game during an 11-1 regular season prior to a New Year’s Day implosion in a 49-7 loss to Alabama.
His new squad is coming off a tremendous turnaround in 2010, as the Redhawks went from 1-11 in 2009 to 10-4 and a MAC Championship a season ago. But a closer look reveals a season lived on the margins, as Miami went 6-0 in games decided by seven points or less. Miami returns 17 starters and appears primed at another run in the surprisingly solid MAC East Division, but are they ready for another trip to Faurot Field?
A year ago, Missouri put together its second-most efficient offensive performance of the last six seasons (behind only Missouri’s 2008 home opener against SEMO). Missouri registered its fastest touchdown in the Gary Pinkel era, as Carl Gettis scored eight seconds into the game on a fumble recovery for touchdown on the first play from scrimmage. Missouri pushed to a 21-0 first quarter lead and eventually coasted to a 51-13 win.
A quick look at the Redhawk offense from a year ago paints a picture of a unit that was moderately efficient, but sorely lacked explosiveness and finishing ability. And though his 2010 Michigan State team was surprisingly explosive, that description may somewhat fall in line with Treadwell’s recent history, as his Michigan State teams played a style that would make football purists swoon.
Treadwell’s Michigan State teams were almost exactly at the national averages on run-pass ratios for both standard downs and passing downs, signaling that Treadwell ran when he was "supposed to" and did the same with the pass. But if Treadwell is going to reignite an explosive element that laid dormant in Miami’s offense in 2010, he may lean heavily on 6-1 sophomore receiver Nick Harwell. The Air Force Prep School product averaged more than 95 receiving yards per game during the last nine games of the season, including a 219-yard performance against Ohio.
Senior Chris Givens is expected to start at Miami’s X receiver spot but has fallen victim to injuries throughout his career. In 2009, he received a medical redshirt after tearing the larbum off his bone in a loss to Boise State, and in 2010, he sprained his ankle in the midst of a season-high 104-yard performance against Kent State, ultimately missing the next three games (in which Miami went 1-2). Junior Andy Cruse should be the No. 3 target, though he’ll need to replicate his early season performance (22 catches for 323 yards) rather than his performance in November and December (three catches for 19 yards).
But while the receiver trio is set, the quarterback remains in question. Zac Dysert started the season for Miami, only to injure his spleen and be replaced by then-redshirt-freshman Austin Boucher. The two quarterbacks exited the spring in a virtual deadlock for the starting position, and the competition may be more about their mental qualities than their physical qualities. The quarterbacks are expected to assume more responsibility for calling protections and routes under Treadwell.
Treadwell often had the luxury of strong running back play in East Lansing, but between the graduation of Hazelwood East product Thomas Merriweather and the dismissal of potential replacement Tracy Woods, Miami finds itself with a hole at tailback. The running game should be bolstered by a line that returns four starters, but the absence of a workhorse back puts Miami’s entire offensive backfield in question.
Gone from the Miami coaching staff is former defensive coordinator Carl Reese, the former Missouri fullback and two-time Mizzou assistant. In his place steps Pete Rekstis, who fielded one of the top defenses among mid-majors in 2010 as the defensive coordinator at Kent State. During his playing days, Rekstis started at free safety for four years during Jim Tressel’s tenure at Youngstown State, where he would later coach in various capacities from 1999-2003. Rekstis’ strong performance at Kent State led some local writers to campaign for him to assume the head coaching role, but Rekstis ultimately traded MAC East allegiances in leaving for Miami.
In the process, Rekstis inherited a stout front seven. Miami was particularly strong against the run, especially when backed up against their own endzone. Opponents averaged 3.04 yards per carry between the Miami 39-21 yard lines, and Miami surrendered only 2.56 yards per rush in the red zone. Their individual strength is with junior tackle Austin Brown and senior Will linebacker Jerrell Wedge. Brown finished 2010 with 40 tackles (10 for loss, including three sacks) as well as two forced fumbles, two blocked kicks, two hurries, two break ups and a fumble recovery. Wedge is described by coaches as on of Miami’s premier run stoppers, as evidenced by his team-high 101 tackles including at least 0.5 tackles for loss in 12 of the team’s 14 games a season ago.
Though Brown and Wedge deserve many of the plaudits, they certainly won’t be lacking for support. Junior defensive end Jason Semmes registered six sacks among his 34 tackles in 13 games during his sophomore campaign. Then-freshman Will Diaz had limited tackles but still came away with three sacks, including two in a 23-3 win against Temple. Evan Harris (71 tackles, six interceptions), C.J. March (36.5 tackles) and Ryan Kennedy (25 tackles in six games) join Wedge to round out a corp of linebackers that wouldn’t look out of place in a major conference.
Despite the strength of the front seven, Miami’s defensive backfield was a minor cause for concern in 2010, if only because of the relative inexperience of youth. Junior D.J. Brown led Miami with 13 pass break-ups in his sophomore season. Sophomore Dayonne Nunley started as a freshman and had five interceptions. It is a testament to Brown and Nunley that the Miami pass defense was not an albatross in 2010 despite their combined youth.
SERIES SPOTLIGHT: Missouri 51, Miami 13 (September 25, 2010)
In perhaps their best overall performance of the season, Missouri scores eight seconds into the game when Carl Gettis returns a fumble for a touchdown. The Tigers lead 28-0 after 20 minutes thanks to touchdown runs by three different running backs -- Kendial Lawrence, Henry Josey and De’Vion Moore. Blaine Gabbert completes 15 of 21 passes (seven to T.J. Moe), and the combination of Lawrence, Josey, Moore and Marcus Murphy goes for 205 yards and four touchdowns on just 21 carries. The lead is 44-3 when Mizzou’s starters are removed.
Typically, we learn to take all non-conference efforts with a grain of salt. So when Mizzou posts an 80%+ success rate for the second time this season, we figure it doesn't mean much. And maybe it doesn't. But Mizzou's efforts against Miami and McNeese State were two of the three most efficient performances since the start of the 2005 season (where my play-by-play data begins). That means ... something, right?
Best Single-Game Mizzou Success Rates, Last 5+ Seasons
1. vs SEMO (9/6/2008): 84.0%
2. vs Miami-OH (9/25/2010): 82.4%
3. vs McNeese State (9/11/2010): 75.0%
4. vs Buffalo (9/20/2008): 69.7%
5. vs Colorado (10/28/2008): 66.7%
6. vs Murray State (9/2/2006): 64.5%
7. vs Nevada (9/13/2008): 64.5%
8. vs Baylor (11/1/2008): 64.5%
9. vs Iowa State (10/27/2007): 63.0%
10. vs Texas Tech (10/20/2007): 60.9%
(Five of the top ten came from the 2008 season; damn, that offense was a machine.)
Mizzou has played a couple of cupcakes each season, and their performances against Miami and McNeese State this year were more offensively effective than all but one game in the last 5+ seasons. Does that mean they're truly more efficient (notice I said "efficient" and not "explosive") than some of the great offenses in their recent history? Are they simply more capable of dominating inferior opponents while falling apart against superior opponents? We'll see. But playing at this level is never a truly bad thing.
FOOTBALL STUDY HALL
There is quite a bit to like about Miami this year -- an outstanding front seven, two solid quarterbacks, and a potential go-to receiver, to name three. But it is certainly worth reiterating that the Redhawks went 6-0 in close games last year and, from an F/+ perspective, really did not improve as much as their record would indicate. The improvement they did make is likely rather sustainable, but it was still only a step or two forward.
I really, really like Don Treadwell. I like the job he did in a fluid situation at Michigan State last year (head coach Mark D'Antonio suffered a heart attack, and Treadwell served as interim coach, beating Wisconsin in the process), and I think he could be capable of very good things in Oxford (and, therefore, the major conference job that he would naturally inherit in a few years). They are by no means a runaway favorite in the MAC, but they'll have a very good chance to defend their East Division crown. Our initial projections suggest an impressive four-way race between Miami, Temple, Ohio and Kent State, and that sounds about right to me.