Miami Hurricanes mailbag: Can the team put the loss to Georgia Tech behind it?

Miami’s season took a turn last Saturday when a late, hard-to-believe decision made by coach Mario Cristobal led to an epic meltdown in a loss to Georgia Tech.

Can the No. 25 Hurricanes recover this week with an upset win at North Carolina? Or, could the season quickly spiral out of control? It’s clear there’s a lot on the minds of Canes fans in the aftermath of he-should’ve-taken-a-knee-gate.

(Note: Submitted questions have been lightly edited for clarity and length.)

I know it’s a moot point, but does the staff submit complaints to the ACC about officiating? Our defensive line rarely ever gets a holding call, and we had a touchdown wiped away by one. The taunting flag on Corey Flagg Jr. is something that could be called every play. — Marcus W.

Miami certainly has some reasonable beef with ACC officials, but not so much for the holding or taunting penalties.

Take the fact replays clearly showed Don Chaney Jr.’s elbow was down before he was stripped of the football late in the game. And the fact it appears Yellow Jackets receiver Christian Leary began his slide into the end zone on the winning touchdown a a half-yard short of the goal line?

Both of those plays were reviewed upstairs during the game, and Miami obviously came out on the wrong side. Cristobal said Monday the team had reached out to the league for clarity on the costly Chaney fumble, but had yet to hear back. Don’t hold your breath, Marcus. Nobody overturns a result for blowing a call.

But I think Miami does have a penalty problem. It’s had one for a while. It ranks 11th out of 14 teams in the ACC in penalties drawn per game (7.2) and 12th in penalty yards per game (70.8). This is a bit staggering, but Miami hasn’t finished in the top half of the league in fewest penalties since 2013. Is it a discipline issue? Is Miami getting picked on? I’m not sure. But those are the facts.

I am concerned about how the loss to Georgia Tech may affect player morale. Do you get the sense these players can put it behind them and have a solid showing throughout the ACC schedule? — Jason B.

You’re right to be worried, Jason. This program doesn’t seem to recover well after it suffers its first loss of the season. Last year, Miami’s first loss turned into a three-game skid. In 2021, Miami lost its opener to Alabama, barely survived the following week against Appalachian State and then lost three of its next four (the only win was against Central Connecticut State).

But Cristobal was brought in to change the culture and weed out the quitters. We’ll find out quickly this week against UNC if the culture has really changed. That’s about as tough a loss a team can take. But I’m a believer this team is different. The leadership in the locker room certainly is, and this freshman class is pretty special. Even if Miami doesn’t beat a very good UNC team, I’m expecting these guys to show up and play hard.

Is it possible for Cristobal to be head coach in title only, and we hire a real, serious, coach to actually do all the football things? Mario could recruit, talk to boosters, etc. and the other coach would handle things like clock management, fourth-down decisions, etc. We could call this person head of football operations. No, but in all seriousness, why am I a fan of this team? — Zachary P.

Very funny, Zachary. This is what you get with Cristobal. He’s going to stock the shelves with talent, and then he’s going to coach like a former offensive lineman who wants to dominate the line of scrimmage first and foremost. It’s not always going to be pretty. I think what we saw Saturday will probably end up being the ugliest clock management moment of the Cristobal regime. (It has to be, right?)

Still, I wouldn’t trade Cristobal’s ability to recruit — or what he’s learned along the way through his mistakes — for another head coach if I were a Miami fan. Think about some of his predecessors. Manny Diaz wouldn’t fight for elite recruits with the same fervor as Cristobal, and his defense fell apart. Al Golden wouldn’t fire his defensive coordinator and friend — even though the scheme clearly didn’t fit the personnel. Cristobal fired his offensive coordinator after a horrific first season and swapped out seven other assistants following a 5-7 campaign. I know Miami is pouring more money and resources into football than it had in the past. But it’s only doing so because it has Cristobal. Settle in. It’s year two. Ride the ups and downs. Maybe, he’ll learn from this fiasco and take a knee every time he has a late lead going forward.

Cristobal had to be trying to pad the stats, right? Even before the fumble, they were breaking the huddle early and snapping the ball with time on the clock. The fumble was the culmination of something very rotten that entire drive. It defies explanation. — Brandon K.

We can speculate all we want about whether getting Chaney his first 100-yard rushing performance was the motivator or if Cristobal simply wanted his team to finish the game strong. The bottom line is, the team showed no indications at all, as you pointed out, that it was contemplating taking a knee and zero concern that it would give the ball back to the Yellow Jackets.

Some fans have sent me clips of Miami offensive line coach Alex Mirabal coming over to say something to offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson late in the game, theorizing Mirabal was telling him to take a knee. It honestly doesn’t matter what happened anymore. Dawson and his offense turned it over, and the defense gave up a touchdown. It was a horrific final minute of football that falls on the shoulders of the head coach for allowing it to happen.

Why are we bad coming off a bye week? I think it’s like five years in a row we’ve lost after the bye. Which offense is the real Miami offense? The first four games or this Georgia Tech game, which looked exactly like last year? — Chris M.

The bye week struggles are a legitimate issue. They’ve now lost three in a row and five of six coming off a one-week bye dating back to the 2017 season.

As for the offense, I’m somewhere in the middle. If you look at some of the receiving numbers, it’s incredible how little the running backs and tight ends have been involved (only 16 of the team’s 146 targets). When 75 percent of the throws are going to three guys — Xavier Restrepo, Jacolby George and Colbie Young — it becomes easy for the defense to pick up tendencies and turn its focus to where Tyler Van Dyke likes to go with the ball.

We’ll soon find out how good Dawson really is. What has he saved for UNC and Clemson? Can he incorporate a tight end into his offense once Elijah Arroyo returns?

Where does this rank in boneheaded plays you’ve ever seen? From Pop Warner to college, have you ever witnessed something as inexcusable in a game? — Jeffrey C.

Nothing I’ve witnessed in person at the college or pro level comes close to what I saw on Saturday. But my co-host on the “Wide Right” podcast, Carlos Ledo, shared a story this week about a game he gave away when he was 10 years old. Ledo played quarterback growing up (in high school as well), and his friend wanted him to throw the ball to him late in the game for another touchdown instead of taking a knee. Ledo defied his coach and tossed a pass that bounced off his buddy’s hands and was returned for a winning touchdown by the other team as time expired.

Is it possible that Van Dyke is not that good? I thought (former offensive coordinator) Josh Gattis sucked, but it couldn’t have all been his fault last year. — Zee C.

That was definitely a rough game for Van Dyke. His three interceptions and four turnover-worthy passes definitely marked the low point for him this season. But I’ll be the first to defend him when it comes to him being a good college quarterback. I think he is in the right offense. Last year’s offense clearly wasn’t a good fit.

Now, is TVD elite? Is he a first-round pick? No. Our Nick Baumgardner lists him as a Tier 6 quarterback.

TVD has issues locking onto receivers and not looking off defensive backs. He struggles at times beyond his first or second read, and sometimes he forces the ball. But I’d still take him over a lot of other quarterbacks Miami’s had since Ken Dorsey left.

After what happened against Georgia Tech, what are reasonable expectations for the rest of the season? And looking ahead, is it fair to think next season’s starting quarterback will come from the portal? — Mike H.

I projected 7-5 prior to the season and was thinking 9-3 after the win over Texas A&M. Now, I’m backing to sitting at 7-5 or 8-4.

As for the quarterback position, it all depends on if TVD decides to go pro. I think coaches are encouraging him to come back. Will he? I don’t think so. But it’s still early.

Can you assess the damage to recruiting because of this fiasco? — James F.

As our Ari Wasserman wrote earlier this week, one game result usually doesn’t affect a recruiting class. Miami added a commitment from top-100 2024 recruit and four-star receiver Ny Carr the day after the loss. Does that mean the Canes won’t be affected on the trail by Cristobal’s poor late-game decision-making? I’m not saying that.

Jeremiah Smith, the top receiver in the country, was there with other elite recruits and had to be disappointed to see Miami flop after a 4-0 start. But recruiting is a long game. So much goes into it. If Miami responds by beating North Carolina and Clemson the next two weeks, I don’t think many recruits will care what happened against Georgia Tech. But if the Canes fall apart from here on out, everyone will point to this moment as when Cristobal lost his grip on the 2024 class. It all can change on a razor’s edge.


Why would a blue-chip prospect commit to Miami after that debacle? Recruiting mailbag

 (Photo of Mario Cristobal: Lauren Sopourn / Getty Images)

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