Lutz: Miami isn’t back just yet, but the Hurricanes are on the track back to success

Junior wide receiver Brashard Smith celebrates with teammates Xavier Restrepo and Jacolby George after his second quarter touchdown during Miami's game against Bethune-Cookman at Hard Rock Stadium on Sept. 14, 2023. Photo credit: Alexandra Fisher

“How ‘bout them Hurricanes!” Mario Cristobal exclaimed to his team as Miami got its first win against a ranked opponent since the second-year coach took over last Saturday against Texas A&M.

The Hurricanes have started their 2023 campaign 3-0 after wins over Texas A&M and Bethune-Cookman. The undefeated start has the team excited for what’s next.

While Miami football has a strong history, the past few seasons, many of which had high expectations, have been underwhelming.

“This program has an unparalleled tradition and an exciting future ahead of it. I can’t wait to compete for championships and help mold our student-athletes into leaders on and off the field who will make our university, our community, and our loyal fanbase proud.” Cristobal said during his opening press conference as Miami’s head coach in 2021.

Expectations were high in 2021 when Cristobal was hired as the UM’s coach. Recruits piled in immediately, and Miami seemed to have a better-than-average roster already put together. Quarterback Tyler Van Dyke was returning after an encouraging redshirt freshman season. Cristobal hired Josh Gattis as the offensive coordinator and Kevin Steele as the defensive coordinator. Gattis had just made the College Football Playoff at Michigan, and Steele was regarded as a well-known coach with decades of experience.

Miami started 2-0 in 2022, but after its first loss of the season to Texas A&M, the wheels started to fall off. Miami ended the season 5-7, with its most notable loss coming at home to Middle Tennessee State.

Miami started 2023 fresh. In February, the Hurricanes hired Shannon Dawson as the offensive coordinator and Lance Guidry as the defensive coordinator. Dawson was an offensive coordinator at Houston in years prior and had success in an air-raid-style offense. Guidry is an aggressive defensive mind who had taken the defensive coordinator position at Tulane before being lured to Miami by Cristobal.

Fast forward through the offseason, and the program started to gain momentum. Miami welcomed a top-10 recruiting class and had productive spring and summer practices. The Hurricanes looked primed to improve heading into Cristobal’s second season.

In the first game, the offense couldn’t be stopped, and the defense was dominant in a 38-3 rout over Miami (Ohio). Dawson and Guidry looked like an immediate scheme and personality fit for the team. The hype was sparked by a much more exciting matchup in Week 2 against Texas A&M.

The beginning of the game felt a little bit like the start of a game from last season. Miami was down 10-0 in the first quarter, but the team stayed composed.

“I think last year we would have quit,” Van Dyke said. “We’re a totally different team. The leaders stepped up, players stepped up. We held each other accountable the entire offseason. We told each other we can’t give up on big games like this.”

The Hurricanes roared back against the Aggies, with Van Dyke being the gas behind the fire. Miami’s captain threw for 374 yards and five touchdowns. Last season, Van Dyke was not able to make changes at the line of scrimmage. This season, there is a completely different level of trust between the third-year starter and his coordinator.

“He had a clear command of where everyone was,” Dawson said about Van Dyke. “His timing, the ball going to the right guy, It just felt like he was in complete control of everything.”

The Hurricanes’ offense has looked completely on the same page. In Week 1, the answer was running the ball, and it did so for 250 yards. When the run wasn’t as effective against Texas A&M, Dawson was able to switch it up and consistently roll with the pass.

The offensive line has been a focal point for this Mario Cristobal-led team. This season, UM acquired top transfers Matt Lee and Javion Cohen, as well as consensus-rated five-star prospect Francis Mauigoa, and these new additions have impressed so far.

Through the first two games, Miami has run the ball well, and Van Dyke has hardly been touched. The new-look offensive line looks to be the strongest unit on the team.

The weapons were on full display against the SEC foe. The Hurricanes’ receivers racked up 241 yards after the catch and Brashard Smith took back a 98-yard kick return for a touchdown.

Texas A&M quarterback Connor Weigman was near perfect in Week 1 but struggled against Miami. The Hurricanes’ defense has been aggressive so far this season, and it has paid off. Constant pressure on second and third downs forced Weigman to force throws, leading to a 31-for-53 statline.

While Miami’s contest against Bethune-Cookman wasn’t much of a challenge, itd id show improvement against the Wildcats compared to last season’s matchup. Miami’s defense held the Wildcats to 165 total yards of offense, compared to last season’s 349 yards. The offense did what they needed to in both games, but Van Dyke was a little more sharp in this year’s contest, completing 19 of his 23 pass attempts.

Looking ahead on the schedule, Miami has a road game at Temple and then a bye week before ACC play starts. While there aren’t any big-time matchups for a couple of weeks, it’s crucial Miami stays on itstoes and carries momentum.

“We came to Miami because, besides the fact that we love Miami, we knew that when Miami is done the right way, it’s the best one of them all. We are taking steps in the right direction. We are progressing. We are nowhere near arrived. We are nowhere near where we want to be, but today was a big step in the direction we want to go and I’m just extremely proud of everyone in that locker room,” Cristobal said.

Miami has earned its three wins, especially its game against a tough SEC team with loads of talent on both ends. A 3-0 start isn’t an ACC Championship, and it isn’t a college football playoff berth, but it feels like the start of something new, a new era at Miami. This isn’t the old University of Miami football program with the swagger and hype from the 1980s; instead, it is a new swagger and new brand led by Cristobal.