Team preview: Miami (Ohio)
Blue Ribbon Yearbook previews the 2005 college football season, exclusively on Insider.
Shane Montgomery knows that he is part of an elite group. Only 32 men have held the position of head football coach at Miami (Ohio) University, and when some of your predecessors were named Sid Gillman, Woody Hayes, Ara Parseghian and Bo Schembechler, it doesn't take long to realize why Miami is known as the "Cradle of Coaches." As if following Terry Hoeppner, the second-winningest coach in Miami history who was hired as head coach at Indiana on Dec. 17, wasn't enough of a challenge. "Looking at the guys that have been here, it's especially humbling to know that I am here as head coach," said the 38-year-old Montgomery, who became the youngest coach in Division I-A when he was hired to succeed Hoeppner in front of a national television audience on ESPN before the Independence Bowl on Dec. 28. "There's a lot of responsibility that comes with this job and the people that have been here before and the tradition here," Montgomery said. "And, to be honest, I think the future is brighter." He could be right, but it won't be easy. Miami doesn't just have a football tradition, it has a tradition of excellence. Montgomery, after serving as offensive coordinator for four seasons, takes over a RedHawk program that has won the MAC East the last two seasons and made back-to-back bowl appearances. The RedHawks have had a winning record each of the last 11 seasons. Montgomery, who is viewed as one of the brightest offensive minds in college football, has played a big part in the RedHawks' recent success. His 2003 offense, led by Ben Roethlisberger, ranked second in the country in yards per game (501.1) and broke MAC records for total offense (7,016 yards) and touchdowns rushing and passing (74) in a season. Last season, with five new starters, Miami generated 399.7 yards per game (34th in the country) and was 11th in passing (279.6 yards per game). Montgomery still plans to call the offensive plays this season and with seven starters returning on offense, including quarterback Josh Betts and a stable of receivers, the RedHawks should soar once again. "There will be a few wrinkles that we add every year, but one of the things that I wanted to do when I got the job was to keep the schemes pretty much the same on both sides of the ball," said Montgomery, a three-year starter at quarterback for North Carolina State who threw for a school-record 535 yards against Duke in 1989. The biggest question on offense will be running back, where Luke Clemens and Mike Smith combined for 1,211 yards and 18 touchdowns last season. Both are gone. Defensively, Miami returns seven starters, including three senior linebackers, in its aggressive 4-3 package. End Marcus Johnson and outside linebacker Terna Nande were first-team All-MAC performers last season and should continue to make big plays. The challenges will be replacing defensive tackles Will Rueff and Larry Burt, strong safety Matt Pusateri and cornerback Alphonso Hodge. Hodge was drafted in the fifth round by the Kansas City Chiefs in April and Burt and Pusateri each signed free-agent contracts with the Cleveland Browns. "We've got a lot of seniors, a lot of starters coming back, but a lot of young players that haven't played a lot in big roles," Montgomery said. They aren't the only ones with new duties. Hoeppner took five assistants to Indiana with him, so there will also be an adjustment period for the players and new staff. "I think the transition has been pretty smooth," Montgomery said. "It helped a lot being here and knowing the kids and having worked with them."
If you think Montgomery has a tough act to follow, what do you think Josh Betts (6-3, 225) went through taking over for Roethlisberger last season? While he didn't put up Big Ben numbers, Betts performed admirably. The senior finished with 267 completions in 442 attempts (.604) for 3,495 yards, 23 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Betts, who ranked 13th in the country in total offense, passed for at least 200 yards in 12-of-13 games and became just the second quarterback in Miami history to pass for more than 3,000 yards. He is a good drop-back passer who can also make things happen with his feet; he scored three rushing touchdowns last season. "He had, what I thought, was a solid year," Montgomery said. "He throws the ball real well and moves around the pocket real well. He's just getting better and better." The RedHawks, who turned the ball over a MAC-worst 30 times last season, would like to reduce their giveaways in '05. Four of Betts' interceptions came against Michigan and he had three other games with two picks. Experience, and the healthy return of Martin Nance, should help him reduce those numbers. With Betts entrenched as the starter, the big question for Miami this fall is "who will be No. 2?" Sophomore Mike Kokal (6-2, 192) and red-shirt freshman Jared Elliott (6-5, 217) are battling for the job. Kokal saw action in four games in 2004, completing 9-of-16 passes for 102 yards and two interceptions. Elliott has the size and arm to make every throw, but also has mobility. He ran for 900 yards and 14 touchdowns as a senior at Page High School in Franklin, Tenn. The RedHawks are hoping that each has another season to develop without having to be pressed into extensive action this fall.
Sophomore Brandon Murphy (5-8, 189), a speedster who played well after getting some time late last season, takes over the starting job after the departure of Clemens (899 yards, 12 TDs) and Smith (312 yards, six TDs). Murphy ran for 248 yards on 48 carries (5.2 average) and scored four touchdowns. He carried eight times for 90 yards against Akron and nine times for 75 yards and two touchdowns against Central Florida. He added 10 pounds of muscle in the off-season while maintaining his 4.45 speed in the 40-yard dash. "He's small but really explosive," Montgomery said. "He gives us something that we really haven't had lately, a guy who can take it the distance." Montgomery said he could use three tailbacks this season and is looking for continued progress from sophomores Akim Lannaman (6-2, 219), Cory Jones (5-10, 198) and Austin Sykes (6-0, 242) and red-shirt freshman Jimmy Calhoun (6-0, 217). Lannaman carried six times last season and has the size and speed to be a contributor on offense after seeing some time on special teams. Jones has showed steady improvement since arriving at Miami, cutting .2 of a second off his 40 time. The bruising Sykes has battled injuries but was healthy enough to lead all rushers with 51 yards in the spring game. Calhoun was a standout on the scout team last season and has the right combination of size and speed to possibly be a contributor. The RedHawks have not called upon their fullback much in recent years, but could increase the role of the position in order to bolster the running game. Converted tight end Matt Vofele (6-3, 246), a junior, could get the first call. Mainly a short-yardage and special teams performer last season, Vofele caught one pass. Red-shirt freshman Nick DeBartolo (6-1, 234) has soft hands and could also crack the lineup.
Even without the departed Michael Larkin, Miami's all-time receiving leader who set an NCAA record by catching a pass in 50 straight games, the receivers are one of the RedHawks' greatest strengths. "We have a receiving corps that rivals anyone," Montgomery said. Few receivers (or defensive backs) can match up physically with Nance or keep up with speedy junior Ryne Robinson. Nance (6-5, 210) was leading the RedHawks in receiving when he tore the ACL in his left knee against Marshall in Week 5 last season, leaving Miami without the player who caught 90 passes for 1,498 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2003. "He was a difference-maker for us two years ago," Montgomery said. He's expected to be one again. Nance, who had a 34-inch vertical leap and ran a 4.37 40 before being injured, spent the spring rehabbing and is expected to enter fall camp close to 100 percent. He finished last season with 25 catches for 337 yards and a touchdown before his injury. Robinson (5-10, 165), one of the nation's top punt returners, emerged as a receiver after Nance went down. He caught 49 of his team-high 64 passes in the final eight games and finished the season with 934 yards and four touchdowns. He posted four 100-yard receiving games, including a 10-catch, 153-yard effort at Buffalo and is most dangerous running after the catch. Junior R.J. Corbin (6-1, 203) has been a steady performer while starting on the inside the last two seasons. He ranked third on the team with 26 catches for 319 yards and a touchdown. Senior Josh Williams (6-2, 220) also emerged as a big-play threat last season, catching 21 passes for 402 yards (19.1 average) and a touchdown. Junior Ryan Busing (6-3, 200), the twin brother of starting linebacker John, got extensive reps at the starting inside receiver spot in the spring and the converted quarterback could be more of a factor after catching 11 passes for 96 yards last season. Junior Marcus Tate (5-9, 143), a converted defensive back, sophomore Patrick O'Bryan (6-1, 199) and red-shirt freshman Sean McVay (5-10, 182) could also work themselves into the mix. Miami is solid at tight end with the "Tyler Brothers," seniors Dan Tyler and Tyler Vogel both returning. Tyler (6-5, 244) is the returning starter. He caught 12 passes for 126 yards last season and spent the off-season adding muscle. Vogel (6-6, 253) saw his first extended playing time on offense last season, catching one pass. Justin Davis (6-5, 229), who has played wide receiver and linebacker at Miami, has been moved to tight end and could be someone to watch if he adds weight and adapts to his new position.
The RedHawks are in great shape up front, with four starters returning, including four-year starter Todd Londot. Londot (6-7, 300) has started 32 straight games and been a second-team All-MAC selection each of the last two seasons. His tremendous size and athleticism allowed him to move from center to right tackle for the final seven games last season, but he is back at center in 2005. Senior Mark Kracium (6-5, 295) returns at left tackle, where he started all 13 games last season. At 6-6 and 321 pounds, senior Nate Bunce, Miami's most imposing lineman is entering his third season as a starter at right guard. Sophomore Charlie Norden (6-6, 314) split time at right tackle and right guard last season and will begin 2005 at right tackle. He has the potential to become a dominant player with experience. Sophomore Steve Meister (6-2, 293) saw time at right guard last season and is penciled in as the starter at left guard. He is a cerebral player who should be a fixture in the lineup for the next three seasons. The one thing the RedHawks don't have up front is proven depth. Red-shirt freshmen Dave DiFranco (6-6, 323) and Matt McKeown (6-4, 275) have talent, but lack game experience. Josh Satterthwait (6-4, 280), another red-shirt freshman, has been moved from tight end and may develop into Miami's left tackle of the future.
After splitting the job with Jared Parseghian last season, senior Todd Soderquist will have the job to himself in '05. Soderquist (6-2, 210) has a strong leg and has made 10 of 14 field goals and 43 of 45 PATs during his career.
Miami has talent up front but may need to do some juggling in order to get its best players on the field. Marcus Johnson (6-3, 260) made the move from tackle to end in 2004 and used a strong off-season as a springboard to first-team all-league honors. The senior used his combination of quickness and strength to lead the RedHawks in sacks (7.5) and tackles for loss (12.5). He also ranked fifth on the team in total tackles with 54. With Rueff and Burt gone, senior Jarrod Rich (6-3, 257) is expected to move from his starting spot at right end to right tackle. Rich, who made 36 tackles and three sacks last season, bench presses 435 pounds and should be able to adjust to the inside. Senior John Glavin (6-0, 278) was part of a three-man rotation with Rueff and Burt and made six starts last season. He has been a regular contributor for three seasons and earned MAC East Defensive-Player-of-the-Week honors after sacking Akron's Charlie Frye three times in division-clinching win. He has a good motor and led the DTs with 39 tackles last season. With Rich at tackle, sophomore Craig Mester (6-5, 242) is the favorite to start at right end. Mester has good speed and made an impact as a freshman with 14 tackles, including 5.5 for losses, and five sacks. Junior Tranaine Sills (6-1, 254) battled injuries last season but is a natural pass rusher who could be a factor on passing downs. Sills led the nation in sacks (27) as a high school senior at Northwestern High School in Miami (Fla.). Sophomore Otto Linwood (6-1, 317) could provide depth at tackle and Montgomery is counting on at least one or two of his four red-shirt freshmen, possibly James Case (6-2, 251), stepping forward and earning playing time.
Penn State has long been Linebacker U., but MAC units don't get much better than Miami's. Few players anywhere have the physical gifts of Terna Nande (6-1, 228), a senior who has been a starter since his freshman season. Nande has speed (4.36 40), strength (500-pound bench press, 620 squat) and athleticism (37-inch vertical leap), plus a nose for the football. He finished third on the team with 86 tackles, including 58 solo, and added nine tackles for losses and 3.5 sacks. "He's strong, he's athletic and he runs very well," Montgomery said. "He's gotten better as he's played and we like to blitz him a lot because he's so explosive." Like Nande, John Busing (6-3, 219) has been a playmaker since his true freshman season. An honorable mention All-MAC pick last season, Busing enters his third season as a starter after finishing second on the team in tackles in 2004. A true ball-hawk, he led the nation's linebackers with five interceptions in 2003 and has seven in his career. "He's an athletic kid. He can line up outside and cover receivers if he has to," Montgomery said. The man in the middle is senior Derek Rehage (6-2, 235), who is entering his second season as the starter. A former running back, Rehage has the speed to go sideline to sideline to make plays and is known for his big hits. He finished fifth on the team with 79 tackles and also registered 4.5 sacks. The RedHawks also have experienced reserves in seniors David Hutzelman and Bryan Tyson and junior Dontae Wright. Huntzelman (6-1, 227) is a solid special teams performer who backs up Rehage. Tyson (6-1, 210) plays behind Nande and could see action on passing downs and Wright (6-3, 230) has added weight and will see action behind Busing. Montgomery is counting on red-shirt freshmen Joe Coniglio (6-2, 227), Clayton Mullins (6-2, 205) and Chris Shula (5-11, 213) to gain experience and be ready to play in 2006. Shula is the son of former Cincinnati Bengals head coach David Shula and grandson of Pro Football Hall of Famer Don Shula.
The RedHawks will miss Pusateri and Hodge, but certainly have the players to step in and cover for them. Senior Darrell Hunter (6-1, 213) is a three-year starter who has developed into an NFL prospect because of his size, speed and skills. "He's a big corner that can really run (4.25 40-yard dash)," Montgomery said. "He's the fastest kid ever to play at Miami." A second-team All-MAC selection, Hunter has shut-down ability that allows Miami to leave him alone on receivers and turn others loose to make plays. He will move from the field corner to boundary corner this season. Senior Ryan Redd (5-10, 183) has played on passing downs the last two seasons and is the favorite to take over the field corner spot. Redd is a sure tackler (30 total tackles in 2004) who has three interceptions in his career. Lanky junior Frank Wiwo (6-3, 171), who made five starts at free safety last season, and junior Jerrid Gaines (5-11, 197) will also be in the mix at corner and in nickel and dime packages. Senior Steve Burke (6-0, 187) started 14 games at free safety as a sophomore and the first four last season before suffering a hand injury. He is back healthy and ready to return to his old post. Junior Joey Card (6-0, 197) is expected to take over for Pusateri, who started 48 straight games. Card also suffered a hand injury last season but is a playmaker who made 33 tackles and an interception. Wiwo can provide depth at safety and additional depth should come from junior Jeff Schroeder (5-11, 186), a former walk-on, and red-shirt freshman Robbie Wilson (6-0, 208).
Four-year starter Mike Wafzig (42.4 avg.) has moved on, opening the door for red-shirt freshman and Oxford, Ohio native Jacob Richardson (6-1, 190).
Robinson is a game-changing punt returner who was the MAC Special Teams Player of the Year and already holds the conference record for career punt return yardage (1,201) and touchdowns. His average (14.0) was down slightly last season, but that's because teams altered their game plans after watching him scorch Michigan with 139 yards in returns, including two deep into the red zone. Hunter and Murphy will provide a dangerous tandem on kickoff returns and junior long snapper Dave McClain (6-4, 228) has two solid seasons behind him.
For the most comprehensive previews available on all 119 Division I teams, order the "Bible" of college football, the 2005 Blue Ribbon College Football Yearbook, at www.blueribbonyearbook.com or call 1-866-805-BALL (2255).
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