We continue our season previews with a look at Illinois' final non-conference opponent, and also the first MAC school to hit the docket this season. Because what would a non-conference schedule be for a Big Ten team without a MAC opponent on it?
This year's MAC opponent is the Miami (Ohio) Redhawks. A school with plenty of football tradition -- it's the Cradle of Coaches dontcha know -- but also a team that's certainly beatable.
So let's get to the learnin'.
Name: Miami (Ohio) Redhawks
From: Oxford, Ohio
2012 Record: 4-8 (3-5)
Returning Starters: Eight offense, six defense, both specialists
The man in charge of the Redhawks is Don Treadwell, and that's a name some of you may be familiar with. That's because Treadwell spent four seasons as Michigan State's offensive coordinator from 2007 through 2010 (he also served as MSU's receivers coach for three years from 2000 to 2002). Well, Treadwell left East Lansing for Oxford and it's possible he's regretting that decision.
You see, he's entering his third year at Miami and he's gone 4-8 in each of his first seasons despite the fact he had a pretty good quarterback to work with in Zac Dysert. And even though Treadwell's expertise is on the offensive side of the ball, the Redhawks haven't exactly been lighting up a scoreboard, which is how you know Treadwell comes from Michigan State and the Jim Tressel coaching tree (he was Youngstown State's offensive coordinator while Tressel was there).
Given that the third season is so often the make-or-break campaign for a head coach, it's not silly to think that Treadwell is coaching for his job this year.
History With Illinois
Surprisingly, this is only the third time we'll be playing Miami (Ohio). You'd think that with an established relationship between the Big Ten and the MAC it would have happened a lot more often, but the last time these two teams met was in 1941.
Pearl Harbor was only weeks away from being bombed and the United States from entering another World War.
The first meeting was in 1932, and the Illini have won both meetings by a combined score of 65-7. So let's hope that tradition continues. Not the bombing tradition.
What Do We Know About The Offense
As we've gone over, Don Treadwell is a member of the Jim Tressel coaching tree, and we've seen him at Michigan State. So we know that he likes an offense that's balanced and safe. Punting isn't a bad thing. Now that wasn't totally the case last season as Miami threw the ball 62% of the time. However, most of that had to do with the fact the Redhawks were trailing a lot and needed to play catch up.
When given the option we're looking at a ball-control offense. Unfortunately for Miami, in order to truly control the ball, you need to run and this team did not run all that well last year. It's average of 3.06 yards per carry last season was good enough to rank 115th in the country. Also, the 3.08 sacks allowed per game was good enough for 113th (Illinois allowed 3.25 a game, by the way).
This is a pretty good indication that Miami's biggest problem would be finding an offensive line, but chances are it will be an improved unit this year as four starters return, but it is still a young unit without a senior.
How About The Defense?
Ball control and defense. Ball control and defense. The ball control was actually better than the defense last year. After allowing only 22.9 points per game in Treadwell's first season the defense gave up 34.9 points per game in 2013. That's 12 points more a game.
Oh, and even less impressive than that was the 6.34 yards allowed per play, which was not the worst in the MAC, but it was 111th in the country. It's also not a very opportunistic defense, as the Redhawks forced only 14 turnovers last season, though 12 interceptions in 12 games isn't terrible. What's not so good is the 15 sacks in 12 games.
If there's reason to think the unit can improve in 2013 it's that defensive end Wes Williams, linebacker Chris Wade, safety Brison Burris and cornerback Dayonne Nunley all return. All but Burris are seniors, and if these four improve at key positions, the entire defense will benefit. And Miami certainly needs its defense to improve.
Who On This Team Should I Be Aware Of?
This spot would have been about receiver Nick Harwell, who in the last three seasons, had caught 229 passes for 3,166 yards and 23 touchdowns. With a young Illinois secondary Harwell was the kind of guy who might have had a huge day in Champaign.
Unfortunately for Miami, and fortunately for Illinois, Harwell transferred to Kansas. That leaves receiver Dawan Scott as the only true playmaker on this offense.
However, the player to really be aware of is the previously mentioned Dayonne Nunley. He might just be the best player on the team, and he's a two-time All-MAC first team player. Last season he only had three interceptions but he broke up eight passes. He has 11 interceptions and has broken up 25 games in his career. In other words, you're better off avoiding his side of the field.
Can The Illini Win This Game?
Yes, in fact, this is a game they not only should win, but it's almost a must-win. At least it is if the Illini want to have any hope of getting to a bowl game this season.
The Redhawks are a team that has struggled the last few years and really shouldn't be all that much better in 2013, particularly with the loss of Zac Dysert and Nick Harwell on offense. Even if the defense does get better, I just don't see this team putting up enough points to make it matter.
So, yeah, the Illini can win this game. And they will.