Takeaways from Miami’s loss to NC State

In overtime of the homecoming game against Virginia, freshman Mark Fletcher, Jr. stiff arms freshman safety Caleb Hardy on his way to the end zone, ultimately winning the game 29-23. Photo credit: Charisma Jones

Miami headed into its week ten matchup against NC State, hoping to build off a two-game ACC winning streak. Instead, the Hurricanes were no match for the Wolfpack in a close-knit 20-6 loss.

“We know we can be a really good football team,” head coach Mario Cristobal said. “We’ve shown it in spurts. We have to make sure we do our best job as an organization to get better.”

The loss puts Miami at 6-3 and 2-3 in conference play before heading into the season’s last three games.

While Miami’s ACC championship hopes dwindle, the loss gives Miami a chance to look back at some of the team’s flaws before the big rivalry game in Tallahassee against Florida State this upcoming Saturday. Let’s get into the takeaways from last Saturday’s defeat.

Miami outplayed their opponent but still lost again.

The biggest takeaway from last Saturday is that Miami lost a game they should have won, and not for the first time this year.

NC State made the big plays when they mattered most, and Miami did not. There have been multiple games where the Hurricanes have complete control but can’t put down the hammer. On Saturday, Miami had more total yards, more first downs, and 19 first downs to NC State’s 12. The defense stepped up when needed, and the offense put themselves in a position to score but couldn’t finish the job on most drives.

Turnovers are what cost Miami. Other than a late interception when the game was out of reach, the other three turnovers either surrendered points for Miami or led to NC State getting on the scoreboard.

Multiple times this season, Miami’s had the opportunity to take controllable leads but have failed to do so due to the inability to finish off drives and costly errors. In a low-scoring game where mistakes matter most, Miami made too many mistakes.

The defense should keep up their production

The Hurricane’s defense has had its ups and downs this season, but Saturday was a much-encouraged outing. The first three quarters were dominant, and in total, the Wolfpack only had 231 total yards and went 3 for 11 on third down.

The defensive line has stepped up since the bye week, led by the play from true freshman Rueben Bain Jr. The unit added two more sacks against the Wolfpack, and overall, the defense has improved each week, with the young players continuing to get better.

The offense has lost its rhythm

The formula for success on offense was clear and worked for Miami in the first half of the year: Establish the run, get the ball out quickly to playmakers in space, and mix in some deep passes. New offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson also brought a sense of unpredictability within the play calling, which wasn’t seen last season and benefited the offense this year. Most importantly, Miami was finishing off drives with cementing touchdown runs or long passes. Since the game against Georgia Tech, that same magical flow deemed dominant is now somewhat lost.

While Saturday was the worst the offense has played, the past five games are a small sample size of the big problems happening within the unit. Tyler Van Dyke has not done much, but don’t put all the blame on the gunslinger because, overall, the offensive as a whole has been questionable.

“I think it’s not just pointing a finger at [quarterback] Tyler [Van Dyke]. I think, offensively, there are things we need to do better. The passing game certainly hasn’t been what it needed to be, especially when we started the season so strongly. … Sometimes, the routes are covered, smothered a little bit. Protection has been fairly good for the most part. … It’s a little bit of everything. We’ve got to coach it better. We’ve got to get our guys to perform better. We’ve got to design a couple things that might help us see things a little bit more clearly. But it’s a little bit of everything,” coach Cristobal said regarding the offense.

And Cristobal is correct; it does feel like a little bit of everything. The offense has been underproduced and has a different spark than it did. But these next few weeks can allow Dawson’s unit to find its identity again. If Miami can get back to establishing the run and mixing in the past, they will discover more future success.

The Tyler Van Dyke we saw early in the season is nowhere to be found.

In a spot where Tyler Van Dyke needed to lead the team, the quarterback threw 21 for 38, no touchdowns, and three interceptions in his worst game of the year. Van Dyke is 1-3 in his last four starts and has thrown at least two interceptions in each game. Compared to the beginning of the year, where Van Dyke threw for five touchdowns 374 yards on 70% completion, his second half has been a disaster.

Whether it is a confidence thing or a scheming issue, it may be time for the Hurricanes to move on from the Tyler Van Dyke experiment. While Van Dyke may have the tools to be a successful college quarterback, he hasn’t been able to put all the pieces together at Miami and is just not getting the job done.

If Van Dyke can regain confidence and return to where he was, the offense should stick with him. But a change of pace might be suitable for this team, and Emory Williams could be a safer option.

Miami has their two biggest games of the season coming up against No. 4 Florida State and No. 11 Louisville, and no doubt these will be the most challenging teams they have faced. Meanwhile, there can be a lot of positives that can come with the final stretch. Miami can benefit from dealing with adversity, and the loss to NC State will be a wake-up call. Their next game against FSU will take place Saturday at Doak Campbell Stadium, with kickoff at 8 p.m.