Behind Enemy Lines: Miami (Ohio) football beat writer Lukas Nelson discusses CMU game


Central Michigan wide receiver JaCorey Sullivan catches a pass in the MAC Championship game against Miami (OH) Dec. 7 at Ford Field in Detroit, MI.

Central Michigan Life's Christian Booher spoke with Miami (Ohio) football beat writer Lukas Nelson of the Miami (Student) to preview CMU's game against the RedHawks at Yager Stadium. The RedHawks are 1-3, coming off a loss to Army. 

It's the 30th all-time meeting between these schools, with Miami leading the series 15-13-1. 

Nelson discussed Miami's quarterback situation, playmakers on both sides of the ball, where this team stands in the conference title race and more in this exclusive Q&A. 

Miami has used two quarterbacks, Brett Gabbert and AJ Mayer, through its first two games. What’s the outlook on the quarterback situation?

I think Gabbert will get the bulk of the snaps, but you never know who will be the first to take the first snap. Through two games now, including last week against Army, AJ Mayer took the first snap even though Gabbert was first on the depth chart. I think that Gabbert is definitely the one that is gonna be throwing the ball a lot more, although Mayer has thrown the ball some. 

But they do like to bring in Mayer on third and short situations for sneaks or bring him in and make it look like they’re gonna sneak but then actually throw. He’s actually connected on at least one deep ball so far too. So, I think Gabbert’s gonna get the bulk of the snaps but Mayer will come in situationally. And they’ve definitely done a good job at disguising whether or not he’s gonna throw. They won’t lean on him just running. 

Miami has played three tough non-conference opponents. What has been learned about this team through the rigorous slate? 

There’s not really a ton to learn from them because the non-conference schedule is tough. I know two years ago the way this team looked in non-conference versus what they did in conference was very different. So I’m not really sure there’s a ton to takeaway especially since their running backs so far have been Keyon Mozee, David Afari and Kevin Davis. I think those guys will get a lot of touches but coach Chuck Martin said he’s hoping to have Tyre Shelton and Jaylon Bester back. So, really, the thing that has stuck out the most is the way they’re using their quarterbacks. 

On defense, who are some of the standouts? 

I would say, so far, the leader in tackles and the guy that has looked the best is (linebacker) Ivan Pace Jr. His freshman year, they used him a lot as a pass rusher. Now, he’s kind of playing as a normal linebacker. He’s getting a lot of tackles, he’s really athletic and fast and is strong enough to lay the wood. Sterling Weatherford is really good too. One guy I’m surprised he hasn’t broken out as much as I thought he would is Dominique Robinson on the defensive line. He just hasn’t been as productive as I thought he’d be considering what he did last year but Kameron Butler and Lonnie Phelps on the defensive line have been really, really good. 

So, really, Ivan Pace Jr., Weatherford, Mike Brown at safety. It’s the usual suspects that have been good for them the last three years are really stepping up. Also, Matthew Salopek, who is a safety but can also play linebacker if needed. He’s actually second on the team in tackles so he’s been really good too. 

Players aside, are there similarities between this team and the group that beat CMU in the MAC championship game two years ago, and is this team a contender for the championship?

Yeah, I definitely think they are. I think just looking at their roster, you can see a lot of guys from that team that are big contributors now or some of them that were smaller contributors that are in bigger roles. I think one similarity between that season and now is that coming into that season, I know there were some questions on the offensive line and as the season went on, the line got better. Those questions got answered. I think that’s something to look for as the rest of the season goes on. If they’re gonna be contenders, it’s because someone on the offensive line stepped up. 

What is your score prediction for Saturday’s game?

Miami (Ohio) 30, CMU 24