Dave DiFranco would like to relive one of the happiest moments in his football career Saturday. To that end, he and his teammates have been busy this week preparing for the annual meeting with their area rival, the University of Cincinnati.
Miami OL Dave DiFranco / Photo: Mike Smith
It will be the 113th meeting between the schools football teams when they clash at 7:30 p.m. at UCs Nippert Stadium. At stake in the oldest rivalry west of the Alleghenies is a tangible symbol of bragging rights the Victory Bell.
DiFranco vividly recalls rushing across the field with his teammates after the final seconds ticked off of a Miami win in 2005. It was my red-shirt freshman year. We played them here and got after them pretty good. I saw action most of the second half against them, DiFranco said. It felt real good running over there and getting that bell.
As a senior, DiFranco knows victory wont come easy. The RedHawks will face challenges on both sides of the ball. In either case, it starts up front, and DiFranco is part of a reconfigured Miami offensive line that will try to keep its quarterback clean and the running holes green.
Coach always says, It starts up front. The offense goes as we go. Youve got to control the line of scrimmage, DiFranco said.
To date, the RedHawks havent exactly been an offensive juggernaut. Miami had one touchdown in its first two games before putting four offensive TDs on the board in last weeks 38-27 win over Charleston Southern University.
Miami's offensive struggles, however, are at least partially related to factors outside the offensive line. First, Miami faced some strong, highly regarded defenses - with particularly strong secondaries - in Vanderbilt and Michigan to start the season.
|Photo: Mike Smith
Second, while Miami has moved the ball at times, it has also committed some costly mistakes, including fumbles, dropped passes and interceptions. Unfortunately for the RedHawks, quite a few of the miscues occurred early in games not only thwarting Miamis offense, but setting up the opponent's offense at the same time. The RedHawks have been outscored by a total of 34-3 in the first quarter so far this season. They outscored opponents in each of the other three quarters.
Its been a lot of self-inflicted wounds, said DiFranco, who believes avoiding early mistakes is particularly important against Cincinnati . Weve just got to start fast. Last year they jumped on us (23-0) right away, he said. You cant put yourself in a hole like that in a rivalry game.
DiFranco is expecting another physical game at Cincinnati , but he thinks the RedHawks line can hold its own against any opponent on the schedule. I dont think weve been (out-played physically) by anybody, he said.
Miami lost a pair of four-year letter winners from its 2007 O-line when Steve Meister (center) and Charlie Norden (left tackle) moved on. The coaching staff reshaped the 2008 line around seniors DiFranco, Steve Sutter and Josh Sattertwait. DiFranco returned to his left guard position to start 2008, but when an injury to Bob Gully during the Michigan game put him on the shelf, DiFranco moved over to left tackle.
I like guard better, because you get to be really physical, DiFranco said. Youre up there, and its happening right now. Every play, youre banging with somebody.
|Its something every Miami football player thinks about 365 days a year that and the MAC championship. That bell has been away from home the last two years, and we need to get it back.
Nonetheless, DiFranco indicated moving to left tackle for the time being wasnt a big deal. In fact, it has some plusses. In 05 and 06, I was at left tackle, he said. Left tackle is fun, too. You get to be more athletic and do more things in space against more athletic pass rushers and things like that.
The LaGrange, Ohio native is definitely expecting some athleticism from his opposite this week. Lamont Nelms and Conner Barwin hold down the defensive end spots for Cincinnati . Barwin, who also spent some time with the Bearcats basketball team at one time, moved to defense this year after previously playing as a tight end.
They are a big challenge for us, DiFranco said of the UC defensive line. On the outside, theyve got two athletic guys who play with high motors. On the inside, theyve got Terrell Byrd, whos been a force in there since 05. He just plays real well and has good leverage. Despite being a defensive tackle and working inside, Byrd had eight sacks last year, with two against Miami .
One of the players likely to meet Byrd Saturday is RedHawks sophomore Nate Williams, who broke into the starting lineup when Gully was injured. According to DiFranco, Williams has already acquitted himself relatively well. I think (our new line combination) went real well. Nate stepped in and we all trusted him. He had to get that first game under his belt, DiFranco said. I think that will help him with his confidence.
Williams was part of the lineup last week when the RedHawks kept quarterback Daniel Raudabaugh clean with a no-sack performance. The line also helped running back Thomas Merriweather pick up three touchdowns.
Thomas is a real strong runner in between the tackles, DiFranco said. He gets down hill and gets his shoulders square. He always seems to fall forward, which you like that in a running back. Hes only going to get better.
DiFranco noted running back Andre Bratton is also starting to show signs of his recovery from a knee injury suffered during last years Cincinnati game. That injury ended Brattons 2007 campaign.
DiFranco had a significant injury of his own last season. He suffered a high ankle sprain against Vanderbilt. The ankle was still so bad the following week, DiFranco didnt know if he could handle came competition. Nonetheless, he had one of his better games in a good season. In the game pressure, adrenaline took over, and I was able to get through it, he said.
DiFranco played 882 snaps in 2007, tops among Miami s returning linemen. The injury set me back a little less each week, but it was still a setback. I still had to get treatment and miss practices during the week. I was in a boot and a cleat the rest of the year, he said. Even with the injury, he graded out at 84 percent with a team best 85 knockdowns and 10 pins. After the season, he received third team all-MAC honors.
Following the UC game, Miami will turn its attention to the MAC portion of its schedule. DiFranco noted the conference is extremely balanced with a lot of experienced talent. Miami, he said, is like many teams in the league. We can beat anybody in the league, and anybody can beat us. Weve got to prepare every week.
While Miami played Charleston Southern last week (a 38-27 win), Cincinnati had a week off following a 52-26 loss to Oklahoma . The score was closer than the final numbers made it look. Midway through the third quarter, Oklahoma held a 28-20 lead.
In addition to losing the game, however, Cincinnati lost starting quarterback Dustin Grutza to a broken leg. Tony Pike replaced him and will again be under center for the Bearcats this week. Miami coach Shane Montgomery, however, said he expects to see at least two quarterbacks for the Cats. That could mean an appearance by Demetrius Jones, a transfer from Notre Dame.
Regardless of who lines up for Cincinnati , the goal is the same for DiFranco and his teammates. They want to hear the sweet tone of the Victory Bell.
Its something every Miami football player thinks about 365 days a year that and the MAC championship, DiFranco said. That bell has been away from home the last two years, and we need to get it back.