Miami’s season has reached the midway point, and after losing two games in a row to fall to 4-2, much of the positive momentum the program established in September seems to be slipping away.
Mario Cristobal’s new coordinator hires made vast improvements statistically in a lot of areas, but the team is still on pace to win between seven to eight games, as oddsmakers projected prior to the season. That’s a bit deflating considering the Hurricanes own the 13th-ranked scoring offense and 24th-ranked scoring defense.
The second-half schedule kicks off Saturday night with reigning ACC champion Clemson visiting Hard Rock Stadium. In November, Miami takes a trip to No. 4 Florida State before hosting No. 21 Louisville.
It could be a rocky finish for Cristobal in Year 2. Or Tyler Van Dyke and his supporting cast could pen a heck of a bounce-back story. Before the final six games of the regular season commence, let’s look back at some Hurricanes superlatives from the first six games.
The Hurricanes beat their first ranked opponent under Cristobal and first SEC foe in 10 years in Week 2 in a 48-33 win against Texas A&M.
The Aggies have since lost their starting quarterback to a season-ending injury and consecutive games to ranked Alabama and Tennessee teams to fall to 4-3. But the 48-point performance by Shannon Dawson’s offense against Texas A&M deserves some respect, considering the Aggies are allowing fewer than 20 points a game and lead the nation with 29 sacks.
Miami allowed only two sacks and rolled up 451 yards. Alabama’s 344-yard effort in a 26-20 win in College Station is the most anybody else has put up against A&M.
— ACC Network (@accnetwork) September 9, 2023
Van Dyke threw for 374 yards and five touchdowns in the win, including three to Jacolby George.
You might recall Miami’s late-game meltdown against Georgia Tech two Saturdays ago, which included Cristobal’s head-scratching decision to not take a knee before a lost fumble fueled the Yellow Jackets’ last-second miracle comeback.
The bottom line is Miami should be 5-1 and 1-1 in league play. Cristobal and his staff blew it.
Miami’s mind-numbing loss to Georgia Tech defies explanation. Now what?
Miami ranks 100th nationally and next-to-last in the ACC in turnovers lost with 12 through six games. Nine have come in the losses to Georgia Tech and North Carolina over the past two weeks. Most of them could’ve been avoided with some better decisions — by the coaching staff and the quarterback.
If Miami had protected the ball better, this next collection of stats would probably impress you more:
• Miami’s scoring offense (37.7 points per game) has improved 84 spots from a year ago (23.6 points per game), from 97th to 13th.
• Miami ranks seventh nationally with an average of 7.33 yards per play — 82 spots better than last season, when it averaged 5.34 yards per play.
• The Hurricanes are completing 70.9 percent of their passes — up 9.2 percentage points — and have already thrown 16 touchdown passes, only two fewer than last year’s season total.
• Defensively, the Hurricanes are giving up only 19 points per game (more than a touchdown less per contest) and rank 19th in yards per rush allowed — up 44 spots from a year ago with a 3.09 yards per carry average.
UCF transfer Matt Lee is The Athletic’s second-team midseason All-American center and PFF’s top-graded center. Per PFF, he’s allowed only two pressures in 206 pass blocking snaps and the Hurricanes have run for 393 yards — 5.77 yards per carry — to the immediate left and right of the center position this season.
Of the 16 transfers Miami signed after last season, seven have started at least one game for the Hurricanes. Tight end Cameron McCormick (Oregon), left guard Javion Cohen (Alabama), defensive tackle Branson Deen (Purdue), linebackers Francisco Mauigoa (Washington State) and K.J. Cloyd (Louisville) and cornerback Jaden Davis (Oklahoma) are the others.
Davis is the only other Miami transfer who grades out in the top 50 at his position among Power 5 players, according to PFF. He ranks 41st among cornerbacks.
Defensive lineman Rueben Bain Jr. and right tackle Francis Mauigoa have been outstanding since their arrivals. Expect them to appear on The Athletic’s Midseason All-Freshman Team later this week.
Bain leads Miami with 19 quarterback pressures and Mauigoa is the No. 2 graded offensive tackle among all freshmen in the country, per PFF.
Xavier Restrepo has been Miami’s most consistent offensive performer, and his 47 catches lead the ACC. His 574 receiving yards rank third in the league and his four touchdown catches are tied for eighth. His 211 yards after the catch rank seventh in the league and second on the team to George’s 234 yards, per TruMedia.
Restrepo, who has been targeted 61 times, is on pace to finish with 94 catches for 1,148 yards and eight touchdowns. Charleston Rambo set the school single-season marks for catches (79) and yards (1,172) two seasons ago. Leonard Hankerson set the touchdown catch mark (13) in 2010.
Bain is worthy, and so is Davis, but Mauigoa leads the team in tackles (28), tackles for loss (6.5) and forced fumbles (2) and is one of four players with an interception.
His emergence at middle linebacker has helped the Hurricanes become one of the best run defenses in the ACC and most improved tackling teams in the country.
Miami surrendered a season-high three sacks in the loss to North Carolina, but its offensive line is vastly improved and the best unit on the team. That should hardly come as a surprise, considering Cristobal’s involvement with it.
Per PFF, left tackle Jalen Rivers grades out 22nd among all starting offensive tackles and has allowed only two sacks and eight pressures in 213 pass blocking situations. As a team, Miami has allowed only 1.33 sacks per game — a big jump from last year, when it allowed 3.09 sacks per game and ranked 109th in the statistic. According to TruMedia, Miami ranks 10th in pressure rate and 22nd in sack rate allowed.
Navarro: Mario Cristobal’s Miami program needs to figure out how to win
Most important remaining game
Playing Florida State will always be the most impactful game because of what it means for recruiting when it comes to attracting the best players in the state of Florida. But at this point of the season, Miami needs to get to that Nov. 11 showdown in Tallahassee feeling better about itself than it currently does.
The Hurricanes have had a three-game losing skid in 12 of their past 17 seasons. To avoid doing it again, they’ll have to beat Clemson for the first time since 2010. The Tigers have won the past four meetings by a combined score of 178-30, including 40-10 last year in Death Valley.
Beating Clemson wouldn’t just right the ship for Cristobal. It would help him on the recruiting trail as well, sending a message across the Southeast in battleground states like Georgia that he’s not only accumulating talent, but winning with it.
Miami’s recruiting class moved up to No. 13 in the 247Sports Composite team rankings after it added top-100 receiver recruit Ny Carr earlier this month.
So far, Miami hasn’t lost any of its 23 commitments in the 2024 cycle. But we know the next two months — and how the team looks over its next six games — will dictate if the Canes can maintain a top-15 recruiting class. Several top-end recruits in Miami’s class are still being pursued by other programs.
Four-star defensive lineman LJ McCray (No. 106) of Daytona Beach (Fla.) Mainland is the next big uncommitted Miami target who will announce his college choice in the coming days. Florida State is the rumored favorite.
Projected final record
8-4. As long as Van Dyke is upright and in the game, Miami will surpass my preseason prediction of a 7-5 record. It’s just hard for me to imagine Miami won’t get to at least eight wins after seeing Louisville lose at Pittsburgh last weekend. Clemson and Florida State are the only teams who are better than the Hurricanes from a talent perspective on paper. But if Miami’s starting QB were to be knocked out for any amount of time, then all bets are off.
I’m not saying Miami can’t beat Clemson this weekend and drop another game at NC State or Boston College down the stretch. I just think if Van Dyke is healthy, Miami’s offense will score enough to win at least eight games.
(Photo of Xavier Restrepo: Lauren Sopourn / Getty Images)