Miami head coach Mario Cristobal’s 52nd birthday on Saturday may have been his worst yet, as the Miami Hurricanes fell to heavy underdog Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU), 45-31, at Hard Rock Stadium.
“Obviously, [it was a] poor job by me. Poor job by our organization. And credit Middle Tennessee for doing what they did,” Cristobal said. “They coached better than us, and they played better than us. They were better. We didn’t do a good enough job. There is no excuse.”
The Hurricanes started the game carelessly. They committed three turnovers in their first three offensive drives, including two interceptions by quarterback Tyler Van Dyke on his first two throws — one of which was returned by defensive end Zaylin Wood for a touchdown.
“Scheme change, it’s different. Almost 65% of his receiving production is gone, and the injury to Xavier [Restrepo] is having us develop guys who are working hard to get better,” Cristobal said of Van Dyke’s struggles.
The defense also had significant mishaps in the game, including multiple coverage breakdowns that led to long touchdowns. MTSU quarterback Chase Cunningham had touchdown passes of 71, 69 and 98 yards. On top of that, an 89-yard pass placed MTSU in the red zone in the second quarter.
Cunningham ended his day with 408 passing yards. 351 of those yards came from five plays, three of which were touchdowns.
Down 24-10 at halftime, Miami had arguably its most lackluster half of football all season. Multiple mistakes on both sides of the ball had fans at Hard Rock Stadium booing for large portions of the first half.
“It’s about as bad as we can play. About as bad as we can execute. It’s on all of us,” Cristobal said. “We get the ball [after the half]. We’ve got to do something with it.”
However, what Miami fans thought was bad just got worse. At the beginning of the third quarter, Cunningham found wide receiver Elijah Metcalf wide open for a 69-yard touchdown.
That’s when Miami decided it needed a change, replacing Van Dyke with backup quarterback Jake Garcia. Garcia, a former four-star recruit, was thrown into his first big-time situation on Saturday, as his only other appearance this season was in the late stages of the season opener against Bethune-Cookman.
As soon as he entered, momentum took a swing. On Garcia’s first drive, Miami marched 72 yards on five plays and ended up scoring with a Thaddius Franklin touchdown.
“[Garcia] provided some big plays,” Cristobal said. “He threw the ball well. He created some opportunities to go down and score. He did a really good job.”
A third-and-out by MTSU allowed for another great Garcia-led drive. However, it ended on fourth-and-goal when tight end Will Mallory got hit while attempting to catch the ball, turning it over on downs.
On the next play, Cunningham connected with England-Chisholm again for a 98-yard touchdown, putting the game at 38-17.
By the time the final whistle blew, Hard Rock Stadium was empty.
Miami has a bye next week, before Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) play begins against the University of North Carolina on Saturday, Oct. 8, at Hard Rock Stadium.