January 5, 2011

GoDaddy.com Bowl: Miami (Ohio) vs. MTSU

GODADDY.COM BOWL

Miami (Ohio) (9-4)
vs. Middle Tennessee (6-6)
WHEN: Jan. 6, 8 p.m.
WHERE: Ladd Stadium, Mobile, Ala.
TV: ESPN (Carter Blackburn will do play-by-play, with Mike Bellotti and Brock Huard as the analysts).
THE LINE: Middle Tennessee by 1.
RECORDS VS. BOWL TEAMS: Miami 1-3, MTSU 1-2.
NCAA SCHEDULE STRENGTH: Miami 114th, MTSU 120th.
BCS RANKINGS: Neither team is ranked.
OFFICIATING CREW: From the SEC.
COACHES: Miami - Lance Guidry (interim coach, first bowl); MTSU - Rick Stockstill (1-1 in bowls).
WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: It's the only game of the day. And after a football-less Wednesday -- the first day in 10 without the sport -- you'll want to see some football, even if it's a game as unappetizing as this one. You'll notice that each team has one win over a bowl-bound opponent; those wins came in each team's most recent game. In addition, Miami can tie an NCAA mark for one-season improvement; the RedHawks won just once last season, and a win over MTSU would give them a nine-victory improvement, tying the record set by Hawaii in 1999.
KEY STATS: Miami is eighth in the nation in forcing turnovers, with 30; the RedHawks have a plus-eight turnover margin. MTSU has committed 33 turnovers, the second-most nationally. The Blue Raiders have a nation's-worst minus-16 turnover margin.

Miami (Ohio) can tie an NCAA record for a one-season turnaround, but if the RedHawks are to do so, they'll do it with an interim coach.

Miami (9-4), which shockingly won the MAC title one season after finishing 1-11, meets Middle Tennessee (6-6) in Thursday night's GoDaddy.com Bowl, which until this season was known as the GMAC Bowl.

After an upset of Northern Illinois in the MAC title game, RedHawks coach Mike Haywood -- who was in his second season -- was hired away by Pittsburgh.

But Haywood now finds himself unemployed after Pitt fired him over the weekend after he was arrested on a domestic violence charge.

Miami's interim coach for the bowl will be secondary coach Lance Guidry.

Miami can tie Hawaii's NCAA record for a turnaround with a victory over the Blue Raiders. Hawaii was winless in 1998, then won nine games in '99 in June Jones' first season.

This is the RedHawks' 10th bowl appearance overall and its first since the 2004 Independence Bowl. In Miami's last trip to Mobile, the RedHawks beat Louisville in the 2003 GMAC Bowl behind a 376-yard performance by Ben Roethlisberger in his final college game. That capped a 13-1 season for Miami.

Middle Tennessee State had to win its last three regular-season games to become bowl eligible. The Blue Raiders are bowling for the second season in a row and the third time in five seasons. They finished third in the Sun Belt.

This is the third and final MAC-Sun Belt meeting of this posteason. The Sun Belt won the first two, with Troy hammering Ohio U. in the New Orleans Bowl and Florida International edging Toledo on a last-play field goal in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl.

WHO GETS THE EDGE?

Miami rush offense vs. MTSU rush defense: Miami has one of the worst rushing attacks in the nation. The RedHawks have run for more than 100 yards in a game just four times in 13 contests. But a positive for Miami is that three of those outings came in the final month of the season. TB Thomas Merriweather has rushed for 821 yards and 10 TDs, and he basically is Miami's entire rushing attack. MTSU has been bad against the run, allowing 193.8 yards per game. The Blue Raiders have held just two foes to fewer than 100 yards and have allowed more than 250 yards four times. Edge: Even.

Miami pass offense vs. MTSU pass defense: Backup QB Austin Boucher was pressed into duty in the final three regular-season games when starter Zac Dysert was lost for the season with a lacerated spleen. Boucher has done OK, throwing for 701 yards, three TDs and just one pick in his three starts. Miami has a solid receiving corps, headed by Armand Robinson; Nick Harwell is an effective complement. MTSU has a speedy and aggressive secondary, headed by CB Rod Issac and FS Jeremy Kellem. Miami has allowed 34 sacks, and MTSU has 33. MTSU DE Jamari Lattimore has 11.5 sacks and is a force off the edge. Edge: MTSU.

MTSU rush offense vs. Miami rush defense: MTSU goes three-deep at tailback, with Phillip Tanner (841 yards, 11 TDs) the main guy. QB Dwight Dasher has good speed and is dangerous on the option; he has rushed for 453 yards and seven TDs, and was phenomenal in last season's New Orleans Bowl victory over Southern Miss (201 yards, two TDs). Miami has been strong against the run, ranking 20th nationally (121.4 ypg). LBs Evan Harris and Jerrell Wedge are active and their quickness will be needed against Dasher. DTs Austin and Jordain Brown -- no relation -- need to hold up in the middle. Edge: Miami.

MTSU pass offense vs. Miami pass defense: Dasher has been a turnover machine as a passer, with 14 picks and six TDs; he missed the first four games of the season because of an NCAA-mandated suspension. MTSU has 10 receivers with at least 11 receptions but no one has more than 30, and there really isn't a go-to receiver on the roster. Miami has 17 picks and has allowed 13 TD passes. The safeties have been good all season. The pass rush is a good one, though there is no true standout. Nine players have at least two sacks each, and Miami has been effective with blitzes. Edge: Miami.

Miami special teams vs. MTSU special teams: Miami K Trevor Cook is 16-of-22 on field-goal attempts, including just 2-of-6 from beyond 40 yards; he has had three blocked. P Zac Murphy averages 40.2 yards per kick. The return units are poor, but the coverage units have been good. Miami blocked one punt this season and scored on it. Alan Gendreau gives MTSU the edge at kicker; he is 12-of-14 this season and has made a 55-yarder. Josh Davis has done a nice job at punter, as well, averaging 43.0 yards per boot. But Middle has had two punts blocked. Backup SS Eric Russell is a dangerous kickoff returner, and he has taken one back for a score. The coverage units have been solid. Edge: MTSU.

Miami coaches vs. MTSU coaches: Lance Guidry -- the father of Tennessee FS Janzen Jackson -- is Miami's interim coach for this one; he normally is the RedHawks' secondary coach. New coach Don Treadwell, who had been Michigan State's offensive coordinator, is expected to be on hand but only as a spectator. Middle won its final three regular-season games to become bowl eligible, the third time in five seasons the Blue Raiders are going bowling under coach Rick Stockstill. He deserves credit for keeping MTSU together after Dasher was suspended. Edge: MTSU.

X-factor: Miami's psyche is important. Yes, the RedHawks can tie an NCAA record for a one-season turnaround, but what kind of impact will the departure of former coach Mike Haywood have on the players? Miami opened as a three-point favorite, but MTSU now is favored by one.

Miami will win if: The RedHawks need to run the ball effectively. They have a big offensive front, and those guys must control the line of scrimmage. Defensively, the RedHawks have feasted off opponents' turnovers, and given MTSU's proclivity to turn it over, Miami has to be feeling good on that side of the ball.

MTSU will win if: It obviously would help if MTSU actually could hold on to the ball, but that seems unlikely; after all, if turnovers have been a problem for 12 games, why expect a change? MTSU can live with one or two turnovers, but any more than that and it gets dicey. MTSU also wants to force Miami to go to the air. The Blue Raiders' secondary is a good one, and Miami will not have sustained success throwing the ball against that group.

EXPERT PICKS

Olin Buchanan: Miami 37, Middle Tennessee 27
Tom Dienhart: Miami 28, Middle Tennessee 21
David Fox: Miami 21, Middle Tennessee 14
Mike Huguenin: Miami 31, Middle Tennessee 23
Steve Megargee: Miami 27, Middle Tennessee 20

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.



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