Miami (Ohio) senior running back Austin Sykes helped make the RedHawks’ Homecoming game a special one last weekend.
The Allegheny County-native rushed for a career-high 124 yards and scored two touchdowns to help guide the Mid-American Conference East Division-leading RedHawks (4-3 overall, 3-0 MAC) to a 47-14 win over Bowling Green at Yager Stadium last Saturday.
The offensive explosion was a marked change for Miami. In the first six games of the season, the RedHawks averaged only 16 points per contest.
“We’re playing with a lot of confidence that we didn’t have earlier in the season,” coach Shane Montgomery said.
Almost 250 miles from Yager Stadium, the Owls found an offensive spark of their own against Akron. Trailing 20-3 in the fourth quarter, Temple scored 21 points in the final 15 minutes to beat the Zips, 24-20, last Saturday. It was the first time since 2002 that the Owls (2-5, 2-2) have won back-to-back games.
The Owls will attempt to go for a third consecutive win – a feat that Temple hasn’t accomplished since 1990 – against Miami at Lincoln Financial Field Saturday.
If statistics hold true, it will be a close game.
Miami is 11th in the MAC in scoring, averaging 20.4 points per game, while Temple is ranked right behind the RedHawks at 19.9 points per contest.
A tight game wouldn’t be anything new for either squad.
Three of the RedHawks’ four wins have come by less than seven points, while both of the Owls’ wins came on the team’s final offensive possession. In those games, the Owls have showed a level of resiliency that they didn’t display in their first five contests.
Against Northern Illinois, the Owls marched down the field and red-shirt sophomore kicker Jake Brownell nailed a 39-yard field goal with nine seconds left to give Temple a 16-15 win. One week later, red-shirt quarterback Adam DiMichele threw three touchdown passes in the fourth quarter to lead the Owls to a win over Akron. In the last two games, DiMichele has completed 41-of-66 passes for 444 yards and three touchdowns.
“They’re playing with a lot of confidence right now,” Montgomery said. “It’s going to be a challenge. To go on the road in this league is always tough.”
The Owls could’ve had one more close win on their resume if it wasn’t for a controversial call against Connecticut which negated a potential touchdown by junior Bruce Francis with less than a minute left in the game. The Owls lost to the Huskies, 22-17.
“That could’ve been our third win right there,” coach Al Golden said.
Throughout the season, Golden has preached the importance of finishing games. He said the team has been consistent in accomplishing that goal.
“I think we’ve finished in every game we’ve played in except for the Buffalo game,” Golden said about the Owls’ 42-7 loss to the Bulls on Sept. 8.
“Just because we’ve won the last two games doesn’t mean we haven’t finished in other games,” he added.
While, in Golden’s view, the Owls have shown resiliency in nearly every game this year, the characteristic has defined Miami’s season.
The banged-up RedHawks have lost several key players to injuries, including senior quarterback Mike Kokal and running backs Andre Bratton and Brandon Murphy. Furthermore, the Redhawks were challenged with a tough non-conference schedule. Miami started the season at 1-3 after three consecutive losses to Minnesota, Cincinnati and Colorado.
The RedHawks have ripped off three consecutive wins following the loss to Colorado. Miami has received key contributions from Sykes and sophomore quarterback Daniel Raudabaugh, both of whom stepped into starting roles when Kokal and Murphy went down.
“A lot of it’s about chemistry,” Montgomery said. “I felt really good about this team heading to the season because of our chemistry . . . I think our staff and players have done a tremendous job of keeping ourselves focused on what our goals are.”
Miami also boasted a talented defensive unit, which is No. 2 in the MAC in sacks with 15 this season. The RedHawks have 12 players who have collected at least one sack.
The Owls are the worst in the league in protecting the quarterback, allowing 22 sacks this season.
“It’s a nightmare,” Golden said. “They’re playing great defense right now.
“It’s going to be a test for us.”
Tyson McCloud can be reached at email@example.com.