Miami first thoughts: What I learned in the Hurricanes’ dominant Week 1 win

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — The Miami Hurricanes put an end to a five-game losing skid at home and began Mario Cristobal’s second season in impressive fashion Friday night.

But they will need to beat No. 23 Texas A&M next week at home — or prove that they can take a punch from a heavyweight — before we can trust things are headed in the right direction.

Friday, the Canes basically wore down Miami (Ohio) with a series of first-half jabs before putting them away, 38-3, behind a couple of powerful touchdown runs in the fourth quarter.

What should the Canes take away from a win over a 17-point underdog coming off a 6-7 season? Here are some thoughts:

1. Lance Guidry’s defensive scheme looks like a good fit for Miami’s personnel — and that’s really important. Coming off of a season in which they gave up too many big pass plays, lost starting defensive tackle Darrell Jackson to the transfer portal (Florida State) and were just average at stopping the run, the Canes clearly looked much improved on this side of the ball. This performance might have even convinced me to believe they’ll finish better than the 7-5 that I predicted prior to the season (I’m not all the way there yet).

The most impressive part: There were very few blown coverages or missed assignments. For the most part, it looked like Miami’s defense was where it needed to be. You couldn’t say that often enough last season.

“Offensively, obviously, we didn’t really get anything done,” RedHawks coach Chuck Martin said. “We had like two or three first downs in the first half and couldn’t run the ball at all.”

Miami (Ohio) rushed for only 51 yards — 38 of which came on two plays in the fourth quarter with the backups in. The Canes also held the RedHawks to just 2-of-12 on third down — something Guidry’s defense was very good at in his previous stop at Marshall.

Outside of one busted coverage in the first half when nickelback Te’Cory Couch was beaten inside on a 30-yard pass play, it’s hard to recall the Canes’ starting defensive unit making any other mental mistakes. A year ago, the Hurricanes gave up an ACC-worst 15 pass plays of 30 yards or more.

The longest pass play of the night for the RedHawks, a 37-yarder, came late in the fourth quarter when freshman Damari Brown was beaten on a spectacular leaping catch by Cade McDonald. Cristobal even said Brown was where he needed to be. It was just a great catch.

What was the secret to the Canes’ success?

“We kind of kept it simple,” All-American safety Kam Kinchens said. “Keep it as simple as possible, and play fast.”

That’s what good defenses do. Last year, Miami’s defense looked like it was lost in thought. Not Friday.

2. Miami’s starting offensive line didn’t dominate, but its size and athleticism were evident in helping the Hurricanes take control of the game.

When Cristobal and offensive line coach Alex Mirabal pop the game film on, they are going to enjoy what they see from Jalen Rivers, Javion Cohen, Matt Lee, Anez Cooper and Francis Mauigoa. It wasn’t always consistent — and some of the long runs were the product of the backs being shifty — but in the end, this is what Cristobal had in mind when he retooled his offensive line.

“They protected their quarterback really well and as the game went on our defense played too many snaps,” Martin said. “As we got worn down, they ran the ball better and better in the second half.”

Cristobal didn’t put his second-team offensive line into the game until late in the fourth quarter. Outside of one holding penalty and four false starts, the first team did its job protecting quarterback Tyler Van Dyke (he wasn’t sacked) and opening big holes for all four of the running backs.

Some of Miami’s biggest runs came when the Canes used multiple tight end sets and ran off tackle. Matthew McCoy and Samson Okunlola, backup offensive tackles, put on tight end-numbered jerseys and lined up as extra blockers in those formations. Miami finished with 250 rushing yards and averaged 6.9 yards per carry.

Those holes “are way bigger (than last year),” said Henry Parrish, who started at running back and led the Hurricanes with 90 yards and a touchdown on nine carries. Parrish had a pivotal 37-yard burst late in the second quarter to set up Andy Borregales’ third field goal, which made it 16-3 at the half.

The RedHawks, who returned nine starters on defense, allowed 3.91 yards per carry last season (fifth in the MAC) and held Kentucky to only 50 yards rushing in a Week 1 loss in Lexington.

Next week, the Hurricanes figure to have a tougher challenge running against one of the most talented teams in the county. But after Miami ranked 95th and 98th the last two seasons in yards per carry, this was the kind of debut Cristobal wanted to see from his offensive line and backs.

3. Van Dyke’s “bruised” finger is something to monitor going forward.

Offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson kept the game plan relatively simple for Van Dyke, who finished 17-of-22 for 201 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Van Dyke got the ball out quickly to his receivers in space and let them make plays. That’ll probably work against a lot of opponents this season.

That said, Van Dyke didn’t throw the ball downfield very often. Was that a product of discomfort in his right index finger that was covered in black tape? He bruised it two weeks ago in practice and missed time.

“Not much,” Van Dyke said when asked how much the finger bothered him. “Just a little bruise. I feel 100 percent.”

If we’re being honest, it didn’t necessarily always look like that was the case. Van Dyke’s first-half interception looked like a ball he didn’t put nearly enough zip on. He did come back later, though, and made his best throw of the night on the final play of the third quarter when he hit Xavier Restrepo in stride down the sideline for a 26-yard gain.

Miami’s going to need more of those kinds of throws from Van Dyke to beat the Aggies next week.

4. Colbie Young played like a No. 1 receiver — before he got banged up.

Young led the Hurricanes with 79 yards receiving, including a 44-yard touchdown grab on a screen on the opening drive of the game. Miami’s offense, though, stalled a bit after Young limped off to the sideline with under a minute to play in the opening quarter. He had three catches for 64 yards to that point. It looked like Young tweaked his foot or calf while blocking on a screen pass.

He spent the second quarter on a stationary bike trying to loosen up and returned in the third quarter to make a catch on the second series of the second half for a 15-yard gain. We really didn’t see Young, though, much after that. Miami’s pass offense looked different when Young was on the field. He drew attention and was explosive when the ball was in his hands.

5. Freshman Emory Williams appears to be the backup quarterback, and he’s probably the right guy for the job.

Williams, a former Elite 11 Finalist, didn’t get into Friday’s game until the fourth quarter after the Hurricanes extended their lead to 31-3. But he looked more than competent running Shannon’s offense — he completed all three of his attempts for 42 yards, including a nice third-down pass to fellow freshman Riley Williams for a conversion.

Jacurri Brown started twice last season and went 1-1 with a solid performance in a win at Georgia Tech, but he didn’t perform well in the spring game or Miami’s fall scrimmage, struggling with accuracy.

It was good to see Cristobal reward Williams with some late-game snaps — he said the freshman “earned it” in practice.

Brown has a high ceiling, but he needs to develop more consistency. I’d love to see Dawson create a special package for him. You can’t waste his elite speed and athleticism on the bench.

(Photo of Tyler Van Dyke: Sam Navarro / USA Today)

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