There are many reasons to hype the 2022 Miami RedHawks, but the main one is wearing a No. 5 jersey. Brett Gabbert is the most established quarterback in the conference, and when MAC teams air sensational QB play, they’re often shortlisted by their contenders. Gabbert earned All-MAC honors last season after rushing for 2,648 yards in 10 games and an impressive 26-for-6 touchdown-to-interception ratio, and he is the only quarterback in the league to have the All-MAC honors Conference status claimed.
Gabbert led the RedHawks to a MAC championship as a true freshman in 2019, and last December he ushered in the team’s first bowl win in more than a decade — winning MVP honors with 230 yards and two touchdowns. In that Frisco Football Classic against North Texas, the third-year starter completed 71 percent of his passes, which could bode well for the future.
If Gabbert wants to take another leap and potentially achieve NFL status like his older brother Blaine, accuracy must become a focus. Gabbert attempts a variety of deep shots and has a fairly challenging shooting profile compared to other MAC quarterbacks, and his career completion percentage is 57.8. Gabbert does an excellent job of avoiding turnovers and throwing them away at the right moments, but if he can boost that completion rate well into his 60s, Miami’s offense could be fatal nationally.
Another aspect the junior quarterback will have to adjust to is life without Jack Sorenson. Sorenson was responsible for about 31 percent of Miami’s receptions and touchdowns and 39 percent of the team’s receiving yards last year. In 2020, he accounted for 50 percent of the RedHawks’ reception production, so it’s no secret he’s a longtime Gabbert favorite.
Without Sorenson, the RedHawks are waiting for a new No. 1 in the wideout. Mac Hippenhammer joined from Penn State in spring 2020 and enjoyed a breakout campaign in his second season at Oxford last fall. Hippenhammer complemented Sorenson’s game with 786 yards and five touchdowns to a T. After an everyday September, he saw his role surge when he tacked on 170 yards on eight receptions in a comeback win over Central Michigan.
Gabbert helped Sorenson pass the century mark in seven of Miami’s last eight games of 2021. So, as the new #1 option on offense, in 2022 Hippenhammer will be more comfortable with 100-yard receiving plays.
Another starting receiver role will be filled by Jalen Walker, whose tenure precedes Gabbert. Walker has been a consistent contributor for years, serving as a viable tertiary option in 2019 (418 yards, two touchdowns) and 2021 (398 yards, four touchdowns). The veteran RedHawk has made a name for himself as a big threat, with half of his career touchdowns coming from more than 30 yards — a prime receiver on this offense considering Gabbert tends to overlook downfield.
Aside from Hippenhammer and Walker, Miami doesn’t have a ton of wide receiver experience. No acting receiver on the list recorded 40 receiving yards last year, but the team sought the transfer portal for additional help, snapping Indiana’s Miles Marshall (22 receptions, 311 yards in 2021).
In terms of returning talent, Devon Dorsey has made receptions in three different games and Jeremiah Batiste earned playing time at the Frisco Football Classic when Hippenhammer was out, so these are prime candidates to move up into key receiver roles alongside Hippenhammer, Walker and Marshall. Also on the list are six redshirt freshmen and three true freshmen, allowing us to witness a youth movement at the Oxford position.
While the number of experienced receivers is small, Miami uses tight ends more often than most FBS teams. Jack Coldiron was a valuable tight-end seam threat last year, gaining 293 yards on 16 receptions — a staggering 18.3 yards per catch for his position. Nate Muersch was often called up for blocking in multi-tight end sets, but the burgeoning Red Zone threat also showcased his hands, amassing four touchdowns in five receptions last season.
Also, Miami makes significant use of the running backs in the airstrike. Kevin Davis and Kenny Tracy finished fourth and fifth on the receiving list last season, and combined for 646 yards and six touchdowns as rushers. But the key observation from the RedHawks’ running back room is that there is no feature back. The top portion of this depth chart fits the description of “running back by committee” as well as any other team in the country. Five players returning for 2022 have eclipsed 300 rushing yards while qualifying for Miami, but none have reached 750.
Jaylon Bester and Tire Shelton formed the dynamic duo from the 2019 MAC title season, and both halfbacks remain with the roster after hitting rough, injury-plagued roads to return to the griddle. Bester’s return was brief last season, but he showed his No. 1 skills back three years ago with the tune of 741 yards and 14 touchdowns. Shelton also returned from injury in October last year after missing all of 2020. He rushed for 245 yards and two touchdowns while twice leading the RedHawks in seven appearances.
Davis and Tracy should play important roles on passing downs, while Bester and Shelton should excel on first downs and short yards. But the running back expected to get the bulk of the carries is Keyon Mozee, who led the group in rushing yards and touchdowns in his first season after moving from Kansas State. Mozee has a build of 5’7 inches and weighs 179 pounds and his gait makes him a difficult catch for defenders. While Mozee should be on track for another productive season, expect all five halfbacks to constantly rotate and share the field.
Miami’s staggering numbers were among college football averages last year, but passing stats caused quite a stir. The RedHawks averaged a MAC-best 278.5 passing yards per contest and fired touchdowns at a higher rate than all but 15 teams in the country. Largely thanks to the lack of interceptions, they produced fewer turnovers than any MAC team with the exception of Toledo. With the Architect of both Passing Numbers and Turnover Prevention back on the lineup, Miami has the potential to become one of the deadlier skill position groups in 2022.