Miami’s offense likes to go to the air early and often.
This is a major change of pace for a UMass team that has seen two scrambling quarterbacks and an All-Big East running game during its first three weeks as an FBS program. How it responds to Miami’s air attack will be a good indicator of where the Minutemen are as they head into the pass-happy portion of its conference slate.
To put it simply: Zac Dysert is one of the best quarterbacks in the history of Miami football.
Dysert is on every notable MAC passing record list, and by the end of this season will likely pass former Redhawk Ben Roethlisberger for most passing yards in school history (10,829). He ranks third behind Oklahoma’s Landry Jones and USC’s Matt Barkley in career passing yards among active FBS quarterbacks.
He is also Miami’s first ever three-time captain.
The first three games of the 2012 season haven’t been kind to the 6’4, 228-pound gunslinger. While Dysert has put up impressive passing yards (705), he has also thrown as many touchdowns (2) as he has interceptions.
There could be a number of reasons for Dyster’s relatively slow start. It could be that the Redhawks just finished a murderous schedule that took them to Ohio State and Boise State. It could be that Dysert is on his fifth quarterback coach. Most likely, the problem has something to do with the absence of junior wide receiver Nick Harwell.
Harwell injured his knee against Southern Illinois in the second game of the season. He didn’t travel to Boise State, and he is not listed on the depth chart (See: Pg. 9) for the UMass game. Harwell is far and away Dysert’s favorite target. Last year, he had 97 catches for 1,425 yards and nine touchdowns.
While Dysert may be missing his go-to receiver, he is still very much a player to watch out for. Miami’s offense revolves around this guy, and if he finds another target, he will put up big numbers.
The Redhawks were quite literally the worst rushing team in the country last year.
Miami had five different players start at running back in 2011, but no one was able to get anything going. The Redhawks averaged a meager 78.8 yards per game, causing the offense to lean on the steady arm of Dysert.
After a season to forget, the Redhawks have effectively pressed the reset button. Miami has been relying on true freshman Jamire Westbrook and redshirt sophomore Spencer Treadwell to breathe new life into the running game. Treadwell leads the team with 94 yards and a touchdown, while Westbrook has 53 yards and a touchdown of his own. Neither has been able to separate from the pack – or from tacklers. Both average under 4 yards per carry.
If Miami wants to return to form, it needs to find more consistency in the backfield. Teams are keying in on Dysert because they know that the Redhawks can’t do anything on the ground.
Selfishly, I want true freshman Jack Snowball to get some playing time because, well, his last name is Snowball.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
After Harwell went down, the question became: Who’s next?
It appears that senior Andy Cruse is ready to answer the call. After Harwell’s injury against Southern Illinois, Cruse picked up the slack and finished the game with 12 receptions for 60 yards and a touchdown. He followed that up with six catches for 41 yards and a touchdown against Boise State.
Cruse is more of a slot receiver, and really doesn’t get many yards after catch. So far, he has averaged less than six yards per catch. While he can test the secondary, Cruse seems like the kind of receiver that UMass linebackers will have to worry about.
David Frazier took over as starter after Harwell’s injury and caught three passes for 63 yards against Boise State. Frazier is more of a deep threat than Cruse and broke off for a 53-yard catch against the Broncos.
Dawan Scott is a relatively experienced receiver and has played in in 14 games for the Redhawks. Scott was originally slated to play running back for Miami but made the switch to wideout where he has caught 33 passed for 565 yards in his career. He has also returned nine kicks for 158 yards. This guy is another potential deep threat – last year he made Buffalo pay with a 71-yard reception.
At tight end, both Dustin White and Steve Marck see time. Marck is more of a receiving threat and has 108 yards receiving so far this season. He is starting to get back into shape after missing the entire 2011 season due to knee surgery.
The Redhawks’ offensive line was one of the worst in the MAC last year. Miami allowed 47 sacks and failed to open any holes for its running backs. It’s clear that offensive line was the focus of the 2012 recruiting class: Three of Miami’s top 10 recruits were big, Rust Belt linemen.
It appears the line is off to a slightly better start. During the first three games of this season, Miami has allowed eight sacks.
Sophomore Zach Lewis will start at left tackle this weekend. Lewis is the tallest (6’6) lineman on the team and has started nine times during his career. Lewis, an Illinois product, was under-recruited coming out of high school but has been a steady member the Redhawks’ line. Josh Harvey will play right tackle and is the biggest guy on the team (355 pounds).
Marcus Matthews can pretty much play anywhere on the line, and this weekend he will get the nod at left guard. He has 12 starts, including the last nine in a row. At right guard, sophomore Trevan Brown will get his second start (Fun Fact: Brown is related to NFL Hall of Famer Jack Tatum).
At center, Brad Bednar will continue to start in place of injured JoJo Williams. Bednar is another guy that can play anywhere on the line and has 41 consecutive starts at either center or left tackle.
Miami is a one-dimensional team, but that one dimension is pretty good.
For the first time this season, the Minutemen will be tested by a pure pocket passer. UConn had a tough running game, and Indiana and Michigan had quarterbacks that made UMass pay through the air and on the ground. Dysert can pick a defense apart, and while he does have the capability to scramble a bit, that is not his forte.
UMass’ secondary should match up well, experience-wise, with Miami’s receivers. The Minutemen are starting Antoine Tharpe and Randall Jette at cornerback, while Darren Thellen and the resurgent Christian Birt will be manning the deep field. With Harwell likely out of the lineup, there is really no one to double cover. It will be a good game to see exactly how good this unit can play.
Miami’s offensive line really hasn’t improved that much since last year, so this will be a measuring stick for how well UMass’ front can do when it isn’t facing BCS-level athletes. If the Minutemen allow more than 100 yards rushing out of one back, there is cause for concern.
The Redhawks are going to score, but I don’t see them putting up Michigan or Indiana numbers. If Mike Wegzyn and the UMass offense can keep the defense off the field long enough, this could be closer than a lot of people think.