When Miami (Ohio) sophomore quarterback Zac Dysert suffered a lacerated spleen in the RedHawks’ 24-21 victory at Bowling Green on Nov. 10, putting him out 4-6 weeks, one would think Miami might be in trouble without one of the top quarterbacks in the Mid-American Conference.
However, with Dysert out, the RedHawks haven’t missed a beat with Austin Boucher leading the offense. The redshirt freshman has thrown for 368 yards, two touchdowns and one interception in wins against Akron and Temple while completing 62 percent of his passes, and once again will be under center for tonight’s MAC Championship Game against Northern Illinois.
Meanwhile, Miami has found a new weapon in running back Thomas Merriweather. The senior ran for 182 yards against Temple on Nov. 23, six days after a 141-yard effort against Akron.
The RedHawks, who have been one of the worst rushing teams in the nation this season, have made more of an effort to run the ball in recent weeks, and Merriweather has taken advantage of it after running for only 413 yards (41.3 yards per game) the first 10 games of the season.
“If you get too many men in the box they’re going to throw the bubble screen. If you get out and cover everybody they’re going to run the ball,” NIU coach Jerry Kill said. “They’re going to take what you give them.”
One of the keys to the resurgence of the Miami running game has been the health of its offensive line. Starting left tackle Matt Kennedy, a Mt. Prospect native, missed five games during the middle of the season while starting left guard Brandon Brooks missed the first seven games of the season.
Brooks had to take Kennedy’s spot against Ohio and Buffalo, but the RedHawks’ starting offensive line of Kennedy, Brooks, center Brad Bednar, right guard Nate Williams and right tackle Josh Harvey has been intact for the past three weeks – all Miami wins.
“I think they’re really starting to gel and bond together really well, and work together as areal cohesive unit in the run game as well as in the pass game,” Miami coach Mike Haywood said. “I think because of their efforts and the way they’re working well together has really given Merriweather some confidence in which he’s now starting to use better technique in following holes, reading the holes a lot better.”
Northern Illinois can expect to see a heavy dose of Merriweather, as well as a cool and collected Boucher tonight.
“Austin’s done a great job stepping up, not only on the field making plays, he’s really stepped up as a leader. Austin’s a really confident player,” said Miami senior wide receiver Armand Robinson, who leads the RedHawks in both catches (76) and receiving yards (805). “I just think he’s done a really good job, and I’m really confident in him getting the job done.”
In Boucher’s first start, Haywood and the Miami coaching staff went into the game with a condensed playbook. Against Temple, they opened it up a little bit more. Haywood says that Boucher has been getting better at reading defenses, understanding coverages and bringing motion in the run game.
Tonight, Haywood finally plans on opening up the playbook and giving Boucher more of a package to work with.
“You’re going to definitely see more (tonight). We’re going to have to open up the game a little bit more,” Haywood said. “He’s definitely going to have to do a really good job this week (reading) the blitz package of Northern Illinois. He’s going to have to be on time in getting the ball out of his hand a little bit quicker.”