2023 Cure Bowl Preview: Miami (OH) vs Appalachian State

It's the most wonderful time of the year and the 2023 Cure Bowl pits the MAC Champion Redhawks against the Sun Belt's Appalachian State.
It's the most wonderful time of the year and the 2023 Cure Bowl pits the MAC Champion Redhawks against the Sun Belt's Appalachian State.

The third bowl game of the season is the 2023 Cure Bowl which pits the MAC Champions Miami (OH) Redhawks (11-2, 8-1 MAC) against the Sun Belt’s Appalachian State Mountaineers (8-5, 6-3 Sun Belt). This marks the first-ever matchup between the two programs.

Miami (OH) defied the odds this year and took down defending MAC Champions and overwhelming favorite Toledo in the championship. For the first time since 2010, the Redhawks won at least 10 games. The 11 wins Miami (OH) earned this year were the most since the program won 13 back in 2003. After dropping The Confusion Bowl, the Redhawks only lost to Toledo in the regular season. It was that game that ended starting quarterback Brett Gabbert‘s season. They went on to avenge that loss later in Detroit. The crowning achievement, aside from the MAC title, was the 31-24 win over Cincinnati, snapping a 16-game losing streak to its in-state rival.

On the other side, the Mountaineers had themselves a successful season as well. Thanks to James Madison being ineligible for post-season play (at the time), Appalachian State played Troy for the Sun Belt crown, where it ultimately fell, 49-23. Its four regular-season losses each came by one score to four bowl-eligible teams and even took down four other bowl-bound teams. The best win of the year was actually at home with College Gameday in attendance when Appalachian State took down the previously unbeaten James Madison. This year would look vastly different if the Mountaineers had managed to win those narrow losses.

The Redhawks come into this game with a 6-6 bowl mark while Appalachian State sports an impressive 6-1 record. Each of those bowls for the Mountaineers came since 2015 with last year being the lone bowlless season (6-6 with two FCS wins).

It’s Miami (OH) vs. Appalachian State for the 2023 Cure Bowl

How to Watch

Date: December 16th
Time: 3:30 P.M. EST
Venue: FBC Mortgage Stadium, Orlando, FL
How to Watch: ABC/ESPN+

Monitoring Transfers and Opt-Outs

When it comes to talented Group of 5 players, the Transfer Portal is an enticing option. Both the MAC and Sun Belt have had legit athletes make the jump and these two programs were not immune.

Miami (OH), in relief of Gabbert, turned to Aveon Smith. Just like last year, Smith led the Redhawks’ offense efficiently and effectively. This year, Smith accounted for 638 yards and two touchdowns through the air and added 280 yards and a score on the ground. Last year, Smith accounted for a total of 1,852 yards and 17 touchdowns. With Gabbert announcing that he will be returning to Oxford next year, Smith has elected to jump into the Portal.

Oddly enough, that’s it for Miami (OH). The Redhawks are returning a lot of talent for 2024 but more on that later.

Appalachian State will not be missing an overwhelming amount of production overall, but certainly more than Miami (OH) is. Leading the way out is leading rusher, Nate Noel. The dynamic back hasn’t been able to capture the magic of 2021 but he did account for 834 yards and five touchdowns this year. Joining him from the offensive side are receivers Dashaun Davis and Milan Tucker. While they finished fourth and sixth in receptions, respectively, they did amount to 686 yards and four touchdowns for the Mountaineers.

The Appalachian State defensive line depth took a hit with Donovan Spellman hitting the Portal.

In total, the Redhawks have four players heading out whereas Appalachian State has 10 leaving.

When Miami (OH) Has the Ball

When it comes to the MAC, Miami (OH) is not home to one of the best offensive attacks but it still has a few players to watch. With Gabbert hurt and Smith on the way out, redshirt sophomore Henry Hesson will get the start. He’s only attempted five passes at the collegiate level. The Redhawks will have to lean on Rashad Amos, the dynamic running back. He ran for 896 yards and 12 touchdowns at just over five yards per carry.

The other significant part of the offense is Gage Larvadain. He easily led the way with 643 yards and six touchdowns. In total, this Miami (OH) offense managed just 26.9 points per game. It sported a very balanced attack all year and will likely continue that to take the pressure off of the inexperience at quarterback.

As a unit, the Appalachian State defense was taken advantage of all year. It allowed 28.4 points per game and nearly 400 yards per game. First-Team All-Sun Belt linebacker Andrew Parker led the way with his 108 tackles, six tackles for loss, and two sacks.

Despite allowing a fair chunk of yardage through the air, the Mountaineers have an opportunistic secondary with a pair of defensive backs with four interceptions each. Jordan Favors added a forced fumble to his four-interception mark. Meanwhile, two of Tyrek Funderburk‘s four interceptions were returned for touchdowns in back-to-back games.

When Appalachian State Has the Ball

The Sun Belt Newcomer of the Year and Second-Team All-Sun Belt quarterback Joey Aguilar leads an impressive Appalachian State offense. His 33 touchdown passes were the best in the conference and third in the FBS. He also added 3,271 yards. He commanded an offense that scored 34.8 points per game (21st in FBS) and 450 yards of total offense per game (20th in FBS).

Even without Noel, Aguilar has weapons to play with. At running back, Kanye Roberts will take the reigns and it’s not like he’s a stranger to working for it. He amassed 648 yards for a team-leading seven touchdowns off of 113 carries. Roberts even added 110 receiving yards. Aguilar’s favorite receiver was Kaedin Robinson by far. Robinson’s 2023 campaign will continue in this game as he looks to add to his 787 yards and 10 touchdowns.

The strength of the Miami (OH) team leading up to the 2023 Cure Bowl is its defense. Ranking seventh in scoring, 27th in passing defense, 35th in rush defense, and 27th in total defense, Miami (OH) was able to lean on the unit to stifle an elite Toledo offense in the MAC Championship. They’re led by a pair of 100+ tacklers, Matthew Salopek and Ty Wise. Salopek earned MAC Defensive Player of the Year and would have had plenty of suitors had he jumped in the Portal.

Up front, fellow First-Team All-MAC selection Caiden Woullard dominated to the tune of 11 tackles for loss and nine-and-a-half sacks. Overall, this defense was very hot and cold. On a few occasions, they were gashed for over 400 yards. At the same time, they held seven opponents to 351 total yards or less.

Predicting the 2023 Cure Bowl

Leaning on defense is a winning combination for many teams in bowls. Miami (OH) is rolling into this one with a brand-new quarterback but is returning most of its productivity. Appalachian State is coming into the game feeling good despite a loss to Troy in the Sun Belt Championship. All in all, this game could be a precursor to next year and both programs could be well-suited to run it back and win their respective conferences.

For this one, Appalachian State wins, 27-24.

 

 

It's the most wonderful time of the year and the 2023 Cure Bowl pits the MAC Champion Redhawks against the Sun Belt's Appalachian State.
Photo courtesy of the Cure Bowl.

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