Posted by Jerry Hinnen
A flurry of Dwight Dasher interceptions helps Miami (Ohio) pull away from Middle Tennessee State, 35-21.
Offense: The RedHawks were rarely a thing of beauty tonight, punting six times, turning the ball over twice, and failing to score seven times in eight possessions over the second and third quarters. But as they've done all year, they didn't need a lot of flashiness to get the job done. Bruising back Thomas Merriweather ran for 101 yards on 27 carries with a pair of short-yardage touchdowns behind a line that mostly got the better of their MTSU counterparts; quarterback Austin Boucher tossed two picks but hit a consistent 22-of-36 for 8 yards an attempt and two scores; three different RedHawk receivers finished with at least 4 receptions and 60 yards.
Sure, they did some things wrong. But they did far more things right, and on a night when the Blue Raiders couldn't get out of their own way, that was plenty. Grade: B+
Defense: Miami struggled in the first half with Dasher's speed and elusiveness, but as soon as they figured out how to keep him in the pocket, the game was over; his four second-half picks were the decisive factor, with the Blue Raiders 4-of-13 showing on third-down conversions a close second. Giving up 6.6 yards a carry isn't good, but when your defense collects five turnovers and holds their opponent scoreless over the final seven possessions of a two-score game, one flaw's not going to ruin the whole performance. Grade: B+
Coaching: Miami seemed like a prime candidate to mail in their bowl performance, losing head coach Mike Haywood, coming off the high of the MAC championship, taking the long trip to Mobile (Ala.) to play one of the postseason's most lightly-regarded bowl games. But interim head coach Lance Guidry and the rest of the Miami staff had the RedHawks plenty ready to play. Grade: A
MIDDLE TENNESSEE STATE
Offense: The Blue Raider offense wasn't a total disaster; it put up a respectable 371 yards, averaged the aformentioned 6.6 yards per carry, and made enough big plays to keep MTSU in the game for three quarters. But five turnovers are about four too many, and over their final 13 possessions, none lasted longer than five plays. If you're giving the opponent back the ball that often -- either by punt or turnover -- they're going to outscore you eventually.
Also, those Dasher picks? Those weren't batted balls or great defensive plays; they were horrendous throws that handed Miami possession on a silver platter. Grade: D
Defense: It's hard to put too much blame on a Blue Raider defense that kept being put in such difficult situations by the offense, and that kept Miami off the board for so much of the middle of the game. But at the same time, giving up more than 400 total yards and three touchdown drives of 70 yards or more to a team as low-fi as Miami isn't something to crow about. Merriweather, Boucher, and the other RedHawk skill position players are solid performers, but they're also just not the kind of explosive athletes that tend to keep defensive coordinators up at night. It's not hard to think MTSU could have done better. Grade: C+
Coaching: The Blue Raiders played hard, no question about that. And it's not entirely the coaches' fault that Dasher was so intent on throwing the ball to the other team. But at some point, maybe Rick Stockstill and Co. should have done more to rein their quarterback in; with 14 interceptions on the season in only eight games coming in, it's not like they didn't know he had a penchant for being loose with the ball. Grade: C
FINAL GRADE: The GoDaddy.com Bowl was diverting enough. It had a lot of big and exciting plays, it stayed competitive through nearly 55 minutes, and there was a sideline interview with Danica Patrick in which she compared the atmosphere to the Indy 500. (The IRL folks are so happy for you on your move on to NASCAR, no doubt, Danica.) But there was no escaping the overwhelming feeling that this was, truly, a matchup between a 6-6 Sun Belt also-ran and the MAC team the Vegas bookies had still installed as a small underdog to them, being played in a city whose tourism commercial (featuring unflattering shots of a shipyard and a flotilla of tacky candy-colored faux-antebellum dresses) only emphasized that this was most assuredly the bowl season's equivalent of off-off-Broadway. It's hard to get too excited when the stakes seemed this low. Grade: C+