2011 GoDaddy.com Bowl
Miami Univ. (9-4) vs.
Mid. Tn. (6-6)
Thursday, January 6th, 1:30, ESPN
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By Pete Fiutak
Fine, so go ahead and make all the snarky comments you want about how the GoDaddy.com Bowl is the living proof of why there are too many bowl games, and yes, the timing might be unfortunate, serving as a mid-week snack between the Sugar and the Cotton, but the desperate hope will be for this game to jump up and surprise like it did last year when it was the GMAC Bowl.
Alright, it’s a stretch.
The GMAC Bowl was traditionally the biggest dog of the bunch, and an argument could be made that the run from 2002’s Marshall win over Louisville to the 2009 Tulsa 45-13 beatdown of Ball State was the ugliest seven game bowl stretch in college football history, and then Central Michigan and Troy gave the world the best bowl game of the 2009-2010 season with a 44-41 double overtime classic.
Miami University and Middle Tennessee aren’t 2009 Central Michigan and Troy, but it could still be an entertaining game.
Miami went on an improbable run from the bottom of the college football food chain to MAC Champion in just a year under Mike Haywood. He parlayed the team’s success into landing the Pitt job, but one charge of domestic violence later, and the new era ended before it could begin. For MU, defensive backs coach Lance Guidry will try to keep the momentum going from the stunning win over Northern Illinois in an attempt to come up with the program’s first bowl win since the Ben Roethlisberger 2003 team beat Louisville in the GMAC.
The RedHawks don’t score, they don’t run the ball, and they’re not particularly strong on special teams. But they have a fantastic short-to-midrange passing game, they don’t make a slew of mistakes, and they have a defense that finished the season red hot, allowing no more than 21 points in any of the final five games.
Granted, MU got a few monster breaks in the win over NIU. The Huskies dropped more balls than Times Square on December 31st, and it took a miraculous fourth down play to get into a position to win. Even so, this is probably where the team would’ve ended up in a bowl game had it lost. For not having much of an offense, it’s a relatively fun team to watch thanks to an aggressive defense and interesting attack that throws a lot, even if it doesn’t go anywhere. And now it’s time to uphold the reputation of the MAC.
Middle Tennessee came into the season as the best team in the Sun Belt, but the season didn’t get rolling until it was too late thanks to an early suspension of star quarter Dwight Dasher, and his problems on the field once he came back. There were times when the Blue Raiders played up to their capabilities and potential, but more often than not the sputtered and struggled to move the offense while the defense couldn’t stop anyone who could run the ball effectively.
Like Miami, Middle Tennessee is a bad team/fun watch. The defensive front is one of the most active in the nation, getting to the backfield and to the quarterback on a regular basis, and Dasher, for all his faults, is one of the league’s most dynamic playmakers. The problem is that he turns the ball over … a lot.
Middle Tennessee was dead last in the nation in turnover margin and it wasn’t even close. The passing game is inefficient, and the only win of note came in the season finale at FIU. But that win over the Golden Panthers kept FIU from winning the Sun Belt outright. With FIU beating Toledo in the Little Caesars and with Troy thumping Ohio in the New Orleans, the Sun Belt has a chance to go 3-0 in the bowl games and can make a bit of a statement among the lower conferences.
A win would do wonders for the Middle Tennessee season. The Blue Raiders didn’t win the Sun Belt, but they got to their third bowl in the last five years, and the second in a row, even with all the problems on both sides of the ball. After beating Southern Miss in a fun New Orleans Bowl, the team can start to get a reputation for being a good bowl team with a win, and it would also end the season with a four game winning streak.
If MU wins, it’ll mean it has moved on without Haywood. This will still be among the early favorites for the MAC title, but it would be nice if it could close strong and prove to the world that win over NIU wasn’t a fluke.
Players to Watch: It didn’t quite work out as planned early on for Dwight Dasher, Middle Tennessee’s magnificent senior quarterback. After being suspended for the first four games of the season for taking what was called a loan of $1,500, he returned to the team for the late September game against Louisiana-Lafayette and struggled. He threw 12 interceptions and just three touchdown passes in five games, and while he made up for it at times with his running ability, he wasn’t the 1,154-yard dasher of two years ago. Picks have always been a problem for him, and against a stingy Miami defense that’s great at keeping the ball away, he has to be flawless like he was in last year’s bowl win over Southern Miss, completing 15-of-25 passes for 162 yards and two touchdowns, and running for 201 yards and two scores.
For Miami, the good news is that QB Zac Dysert was so good that he earned Second-Team All-MAC honors. The bad news is that he was knocked out for the year after suffering a lacerated spleen. Sophomore Austin Boucher stepped in and won the two games he needed to get to the MAC title game, and then he was terrific completing 29-of-46 passes for 333 yards and a score in the phenomenal win. He’s not Dysert, but he’s a nice passer with excellent mobility, running for 37 yards against Temple. The Middle Tennessee secondary is solid, but as long as Boucher’s decision-making ability is sharp, he should be able to keep the chains moving.
Trying to pressure Boucher is one of the Sun Belt’s top pass rushers; senior Jamari Lattimore. At 6-3 and 231 pounds, he’s not all that big and is a bit rangy, but he can move making 11.5 sacks on the year and 64 tackles. With a great first step, he’s a blur off the ball and has terrific closing ability, but he’ll also have to sniff out the short passes and work a little like an outside linebacker at times against the quick-hitting MU offense.
Miami will win if ... the Blue Raider turnovers start flowing. Last in the nation in turnover margin, Middle Tennessee gave it up 33 times this year and came up with just 17 takeaways. When it rained, it poured with seven giveaways in the loss to Arkansas State, six against Georgia Tech, and four against both Austin Peay and Memphis. MT got better as the year went on with no fumbles and just two turnovers in the final three games, but it gave up the ball twice or more nine times this year. With a sputtering offense, Miami needs good field position and big defensive plays in key moments to win, and with 30 takaways on the year, it should be able to force a few big Middle Tennessee mistakes.
The key will be getting Middle Tennessee in third and long situations. The Blue Raider passing game isn’t efficient, so if the RedHawk D can clamp down on Dasher, Phillip Tanner, and the running game, then Dasher has to become a passer, he’ll have to take a few big chances, and that will be when the chances for mistakes will come. Middle Tennessee isn’t offensively equipped for a big comeback.
Middle Tennessee will win if ... the pass rush works. Miami doesn’t have any semblance of a running game and lives and dies on defensive takeaways and the short-to-midrange passing game. While Boucher won’t bomb away and won’t push the ball deep unless he has to, and his job is to get the ball out of his hands in a hurry and put it in the hands of his playmakers. However, the offensive line isn’t strong at keeping him upright, ranking 96th in the nation in sacks allowed, while Middle Tennessee has one of the best defenses in the nation with 33 sacks and 85 tackles for loss. The goal is for MU to hurry up more than normal and not let Boucher have time to go to his second option.
To put it simply, though, it all comes down to Dasher. In his final game, he’s the one player who can take the game over by himself and can carry his team to a win. If he can keep the mistakes to a minimum, mix in the running game a bit, and can keep the MU defense on its heels, the Middle Tennessee offense can move. He has get the passing game going like he did against FIU, throwing for 244 yards, and he has to play like this is the last game of his college career.
What will happen: This is a bad matchup for Miami, but so was the MAC Championship. The key will be turnovers. If MU is +2 in turnover margin, it’ll win, but it also needs to neutralize the Middle Tennessee pass rush. The RedHawks will play inspired defense, but the coaching turmoil and the play of Dasher will be too much to overcome. The Blue Raiders will mix it up enough offensively, and will get just enough big plays from the defensive front, to win its second bowl game in a row.
CFN Prediction: Middle Tennessee 27 … Miami 20 ... Line: Miami -1.5
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GoDaddy (GMAC) History
2010 Central Michigan, 44, Troy 51 2OT
Tulsa 45, Ball State 13his 35
Miami-Ohio 49, Louisville 28
Marshall 38, Louisville 15
Marshall 64, East Carolina 61
Southern Miss 28, TCU 21
TCU 28, East Carolina 14
Georgia 24, Michigan State 12
Pick ATS: Middle Tennessee
Confidence Score: 7
OVERALL CONFIDENCE (35 most - 1 least): 3 out of 35
Pete Fiutak: Pick ATS - Miami Pick Confidence -
- As the GMAC Bowl, this was, arguably, the best bowl of last season's games when Central Michigan won a thriller over Troy. Middle Tennessee came up with a big win over Sun Belt co-champ FIU to get here, while Miami shocked Northern Illinois to win the MAC title and solidify its spot in the pecking order. With the biggest turnaround in college football this season, this is all gravy for the RedHawks, while a disappointing year can end on a plus for a Blue Raider that was supposed to be good enough to walk away with the Sun Belt title.
Richard Cirminiello: Pick ATS -
Miami Pick Confidence -
- The long break might be good for Middle Tennessee QB Dwight Dasher, who was never quite right after being suspended for the first month. The talent is there for him to solve an underrated Miami defense.
Matt Zemek: Pick ATS - Middle
Tennessee Pick Confidence -
- The Blue Raiders underachieved and failed to win the Sun Belt, which they were expected to rule before the season started. The RedHawks overachieved, winning the MAC. This game is more important for Middle Tennessee, an important X-factor in bowls
Russ Mitchell: Pick ATS - Middle
Tennessee Pick Confidence -
- January 6th? See, this is where the current bowl system starts to break down, and the greed really spills out. C’mon, fellas – days after the New Year’s Day
smorgasbord and most of the BCS games, and you’re rolling out Miami U v. Middle Tenn? You’re losing momentum and viewers to the NFL now, as you should.
Barrett Sallee: Pick ATS - Middle
Tennessee Pick Confidence -
- Nobody expected Miami to be in this game, but its riding a five-game winning streak into Mobile despite losing quarterback Zac Dysert down the stretch.
Gabe Harris: Pick ATS - Miami Pick Confidence -
Brian Harbach: Pick ATS - Miami Pick Confidence -
Matthew Smith: Pick ATS - Miami Pick Confidence -
Billy Gomila: Pick ATS - Miami Pick Confidence
Clucko (A coin flip): Pick ATS - Middle
Tennessee Pick Confidence