MOBILE, Ala. (AP) – Lance Guidry might be new to college coaching, but he’s a veteran of the pregame speech.
So in an effort to motivate his team prior to the GoDaddy.com Bowl, Miami of Ohio’s interim coach unveiled a new helmet, explaining how the numbers on the side, specific logo and stripes down the center were symbolic of the program’s history.
Then this year’s team went out and made some history of its own.
Miami beat Middle Tennessee 35-21 on Thursday night to become the first Football Bowl Subdivision program to win 10 games in a season one year after losing 10. The RedHawks (10-4) finished a dismal 1-11 in 2009, but recovered to win the Mid-American Conference title and end this season on a six-game winning streak.
“I’ve always given pregame speeches like that,” said Guidry, whose speech was broadcast on ESPN. “When I was in high school, I always did a pretty good job with pregame speeches. I thought about a lot of things going into the game and a lot of things I could use to motivate them.”
There’s no denying the results.
Redshirt freshman Austin Boucher, making just the fourth start of his career, completed 22 of 35 passes for 289 yards and two touchdowns. Thomas Merriweather rushed for 100 yards and two scores, while Nick Harwell caught seven passes for 86 yards and a TD.
The RedHawks also forced five MTSU turnovers. Dayonne Nunley recovered a fumble and also returned a 52-yard interception for a touchdown – a spectacular play that included several broken tackles and a tightrope act down the sideline.
Boucher, who took over the offense in November after starter Zac Dysert was lost for the season due to a lacerated kidney, wasn’t perfect in his first bowl, throwing two interceptions. But when the big throw had to be made, he delivered.
“At the beginning we had a lot of penalties, a lot of mistakes, some blown assignments and you could tell we were a little rusty,” Boucher said. “But we shook off the dust and we just got back to playing our game. We made some plays when the plays needed to be made.”
Though the RedHawks have had a remarkable turnaround season, it hasn’t been without adversity. Maybe the most trying situation came just a few weeks ago, when coach Mike Haywood accepted the head coaching job at Pittsburgh. Haywood has since been fired from Pitt after being arrested on a felony domestic violence charge. On Monday, a magistrate entered a not guilty plea for Haywood on the felony charge.
Guidry – the team’s defensive backs coach the last two years – was charged with holding the RedHawks together.
He did that and more, leading Miami to its first bowl win since 2003.
“Hats off to the coaches that hung in there,” Guidry said. “They don’t know where their next check’s going to come from, but they did a great job preparing the kids.”
As for Middle Tennessee (6-7), which won three straight games at the end of the regular season to gain bowl eligibility, its hopes were undone by a familiar nemesis – turnovers.
“We got beat by a good football team tonight,” MTSU coach Rick Stockstill said. “But we helped them a ton.”
Dwight Dasher completed 18 of 29 passes for 162 yards and also rushed for a team-high 90 yards, but threw four interceptions in the second half. It’s been a tough season for the senior, who missed the first four games of the season after he was suspended by the NCAA for receiving an impermissible loan. He finished the year with six touchdown passes and 18 interceptions.
“It was my mistakes,” Dasher said. “I should have made better decisions.”