Miami Redhawks coach Chuck Martin hopes to rekindle competitiveness in rivalry with UC
Victory Bell game has lost luster in recent years
Shannon Russell | WCPO Contributor
12:00 PM, Sep 15, 2017
2:32 PM, Sep 16, 2017
OXFORD, Ohio -- The oldest non-conference football rivalry in college football has not been much of a rivalry since 2005.
That’s the last time Miami University defeated the University of Cincinnati in the Battle for the Victory Bell, and that bell has not tolled for the RedHawks under its last three coaches. Current Miami players were grade schoolers at most when the program last downed UC in a 44-16 rout under Shane Montgomery.
But Miami’s 11-game victory drought in the series could be on the cusp of change when the teams play at 8 p.m. Saturday in Oxford’s Yager Stadium.
Coach Chuck Martin shepherded the program through the end of a 21-game losing streak in 2014 and a bowl game in 2016. A win over Cincinnati -- in its first year under Luke Fickell, at a time when the teams are better matched on the playing field -- could be the next step in Martin’s rebuilding process.
Martin said Miami’s side of the rivalry was a “disaster” when his staff took over three seasons ago.
“(UC) had blown us out, blown us out, kind of had their way with us for a while. And then obviously we’ve made it more competitive since we got here. But obviously to add more teeth to the rivalry, you’ve got to win the game at some point,” Martin said.
Despite the recent Victory Bell drought, Miami has historically dominated the rivalry. It has a 59-55-7 all-time edge over the Bearcats heading into the programs’ 122nd meeting.
When the wins in recent years continued to be one-sided, a subset of fans and critics thought the series had run its course. Some conjectured that UC had outgrown its Mid-American Conference opponent and would benefit from a more robust foe.
But UC’s trajectory under Brian Kelly and Butch Jones cooled under Tommy Tuberville, and the program went bowl game-less last season. Miami meanwhile ended its season in the St. Petersburg Bowl.
Not only will the Battle for the Victory Bell continue, but the schools announced just days ago that the rivalry was extended to 2029. It will feature five home games per school and three games at Paul Brown Stadium.
That announcement, to Martin, was great news.
“You never want to see rivalries go away. That’s not good for college football. The proximity’s awesome. It’s a really easy road game for whoever gets the road game. It’s a really simple trip. So from that standpoint there’s a lot of positives that we’ve extended this thing out,” Martin said.
Miami and UC enter Saturday’s game with 1-1 records and a common foe in Austin Peay. The Bearcats defeated the Governors 26-14; the RedHawks beat them 31-10.
Taking care of the ball will be paramount for Miami, which racked up five fumbles -- and lost four -- in its first two games. Special teams has at times been a nightmare, too, as Marshall returned two kickoffs for touchdowns in a season-opening defeat.
Quarterback Gus Ragland, a Moeller High grad, has passed for five touchdowns thus far, with wide receivers James Gardner and Jared Murphy, and tight end Ryan Smith, as his main targets. With help from running back Alonzo Smith’s average of 72 rushing yards, the RedHawks have outgained their first two foes 724 yards to 537.
Miami’s defense made a statement against Austin Peay, forcing three turnovers in the fourth quarter alone, but junior defensive back Deondre Daniels knows the Bearcats will be much more difficult to contain.
“They have some very skilled receivers, way better than Austin Peay. They’re big, fast, can catch. They can block. We’ve just got to stay disciplined and play fast,” Daniels said.
Martin lavished greater praise on UC, from their relentless play to their smart execution. He said the most important thing for Miami is to play its game.
“We’re going to have to eliminate mistakes on offense, we’re going to have to win the big play battle, we’re going to have to win the time of possession battle, we’re going to have win the turnover battle and we’re going to have to play really, really solid on special teams,” Martin said.
“If we play really well in all facets, we’re going to have a heck of a chance to make this a really competitive game and pull off a victory. If we don’t, they’re very athletic like Marshall. Every time we’re not where we’re supposed to be, they will take advantage and make us pay.”
Miami came close to ending their losing streak against the Bearcats last season. The RedHawks led UC entering the fourth quarter before falling 27-20 at Nippert Stadium.
This particular rivalry is new to Fickell, who has relied on those with ties to Miami games -- like former quarterback and current running backs coach Gino Guidugli -- to fill him in. But Fickell knows rivalries, and the importance of focusing throughout the week before emotionally packed games.
Fickell even broached the rivalry series with his team before games started.
“We did some stuff in camp, making sure our guys understand the history of the rivalry, what it’s really about, how it came to be such a rivalry, and the differences. Because I think that’s a big part of it,” Fickell said.
If Miami has its way, it will reroute the record books with a victory over UC on its Homecoming day. That success would be a major boost to the upwardly-moving RedHawks, as well as a meaningful outcome for many in and around the program.
“I know to our seniors it would mean a lot. I know to Miami football it would mean a lot. I know to all our very faithful alum and fans, it would mean a ton,” Martin said. “It’s probably the No. 1 thing I get throughout the year when everybody talks to me: ‘You’ve got to beat UC. You’ve got to beat UC.’”