Team preview: Miami (Ohio)

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(All information as of June 20, 2007)


Miami prides itself on being one of the premier football programs in the nation. From its widely known reputation as the "cradle of coaches," where coaching immortals such as Woody Hayes, Bo Schembechler, Bill Arnsparger and Randy Walker, just to name a few, have passed through Miami on their way to coaching acclaim, to its recent run of 12 consecutive winning seasons, halted by last year's 2-10 season, this is not a program accustomed to losing.

Before last season, Miami's worst outing since finishing 2-8-1 in Tim Rose's final year as head coach in 1989, the RedHawks had claimed either a MAC outright title or East Division title in each of the last three seasons, including bowl appearances in 2004 (defeating Louisville in the GMAC Bowl, 49-28) and 2005 (losing to Iowa State 17-13 in the Independence Bowl). Bowl games and championships had become the norm in Oxford, and don't think for a moment that third-year head coach Shane Montgomery is not aware of that.

Montgomery was hired as Miami's head coach just before the school's 2005 Independence Bowl appearance, after then-head coach Terry Hoeppner's departure to Indiana. Montgomery, an assistant under Hoeppner, and credited with the development of eventual Super Bowl champion quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, became one of the youngest head coaches in Division I-A at the time.

In his first season at Miami, Montgomery guided the RedHawks to a 7-4 finish, good enough for a share of the MAC East Division crown but not good enough for a bowl bid. The MAC had only two available bowl slots that season, the Motor City Bowl and the GMAC Bowl. But the frustration of not playing in a bowl in 2005 paled in comparison to the season that would follow for Montgomery.
"It was certainly a difficult season," said Montgomery, reflecting on the 2006 campaign that saw Miami stumble badly out of the gate, losing its first six games before edging Buffalo for its first win and then not winning again until defeating Bowling Green in the second-to-last game of the season.
"I am definitely happy to put last season behind us, but if there was an upside to what happened last year, it was the fact that a lot of our younger players got a chance to get some game experience," Montgomery said. "We had to play a lot of our younger guys a lot sooner than expected [because of injuries]. We really got hit hard with injuries to the offensive line and our offensive production dropped from one of the best in the nation, averaging almost 34 points per game, to scoring less than 20 points a game. We just couldn't run the ball."

Injuries to the offensive line played a large role, and three of the key players on the offensive line are expected to be back to full strength this year after missing significant time. Left tackle Charlie Norden, center Steve Meister and right guard Matt McKeown should all return in time for the fall and will anchor a line that last year, without their imposing presence, gave up 49 sacks. To add to the offensive woes from last season, Miami had expected a big year out of tailback Brandon Murphy, who had rushed for more than 1000 yards in 2005 en route to being selected second-team All-MAC.
"Brandon was really limited almost the entire season with an ankle injury. Even when he was playing, he was nowhere near 100 percent, and the ankle just was not healing," Montgomery said.

Murphy has recovered and, says Montgomery, "had a really good spring," He's expected to again be a big part of the RedHawks' offense. Sophomore Andre Bratton will back up Murphy. Last year, as a redshirt freshman, Bratton was pressed into duty and responded by leading the RedHawks with 285 yards rushing.

With injuries limiting Murphy to only 280 yards rushing in 2006, first-year starting quarterback Mike Kokal was a marked man. But despite being sacked an average of nearly four times per game, Kokal still managed to place among the nation's leaders in total offense behind a make-shift offensive line and a nearly non-existent running attack, passing for 14 touchdowns and tossing only eight interceptions. Kokal also finished third on the team in rushing. The senior holds the edge for the starting spot over sophomore Daniel Raudabaugh heading into the fall.

If there was one area of strength for Miami last season, it was in its receiving corps, but that all changes this season as the RedHawks lose six wide receivers from last year's crew, including the multi-talented Ryne Robinson, selected in the NFL draft by the Carolina Panthers.