The constant re-litigating of the winning-cures-all-while-losing-exposes-warts sentiment rolls on as Miami faithful continue flailing in their efforts to live through yet another rebuilding season.
For anyone still paying attention and looking for a logic-driven conversation—opposed to the barrage of emotion-fueled rants that follow every loss—supporters have to accept and deal with what is, instead of constantly trying to sell what they believe things should look like.
The Hurricanes dropped their third game in a row this past weekend, on Senior Day in the home finale. After a hot 4-0 start, “The U” has now gone 2-4 since—for reasons we’ll soon delve into.
Miami wound up hanging tough all afternoon in a back-and-forth, 38-31 battle against No. 10 Louisville; one that will send the Cardinals to their first-ever ACC Championship game, while dropping the Canes to 6-5 on the season.
This loss comes on the heels of Miami falling late to No 4 Florida State on the road last week, with Emory Williams making his first-ever road start. In an always-hostile road environment for the Hurricanes the true freshman hung tough, before breaking his arm diving to convert a fourth down in the game’s final minutes, trailing 27-20.
The once-great, since-maligned, recently-benched Tyler Van Dyke stepped in to try and lead Miami to glory in Tallahassee, but after two quick first downs it was a 4th-and-10 situation where the benched starting quarterback was picked off after heaving it into coverage and the Hurricanes’ upset bid fell short.
REBUILDING HICCUPS AND LEARNING CURVES
Accepting the sentiment that moral victories aren’t celebratory, close losses at least have to be acknowledged as part of the grand scheme, overall bigger picture and building blocks for programs in rebuild-mode.
The late, great Florida State head coach Bobby Bowden left us with a slew of feel-good quotes; none more important than the sentiment that, “First you lose big, then you lose close, then you win close—and finally you win big.”
While this dated, somewhat cliché saying understandably brings zero solace in the midst of a three-game losing streak—Miami is undoubtedly in the losing-close-winning-some-close-ones year two, after Mario Cristobal had to strip this thing down to the studs year one—as there was more than surface damage going on with the program he inherited.
The concept of “learning how to win” might sound a bit trite, but when you observe some of the mistakes Miami has made and struggles this program’s had over the past couple of seasons, it more than adds up.
Take unranked Florida State squad last fall—sitting at 5-3 in year three under head coach Mike Norvell and rolling into HardRock early November—laying a 45-3 pasting on Cristobal’s year-one program, while the Hurricanes were at 4-5 with an injured Van Dyke; this beating coming just weeks after embarrassing home losses to Middle Tennessee State and Duke.
Two weeks after Florida State ate Miami’s lunch, the Canes strolled into Death Valley and caught a 40-10 beatdown from a Clemson squad—who like the Noles, went on to field a similar-looking team in 2023 compared to their 2022 versions—same quarterbacks under center, key contributors returning and what not.
Miami absorbed back-to-back losses before taking on Clemson in October; the infamous non-kneel against Georgia Tech, followed by a turnover-defined disaster at North Carolina—where Van Dyke and the Canes gave it away four times while the Tar Heels protected the football in that 41-31 road loss for UM.
Van Dyke pulled up limp for Clemson, Williams got the start and the Canes went on to tame the Tigers in double overtime, 28-20—and eight-point win over a team that rolled them by more than four touchdowns less than a year prior.
The next big moment; the challenge of taking on a Playoffs-focused, fourth-ranked Florida State program—one who spent the past year living off the 42-point pasting they’d put on Miami—with sentiments it’d be worse this year, as the Noles rode a 15-game win-streak into this year’s showdown.
Williams was back in the saddle as coaches benched Van Dyke for a three-interception outing at North Carolina State a week prior—and the freshman kept Miami in the game all afternoon; an early 10-0 deficit turned into 10-10 at halftime—which realistically could’ve been more had ACC zebras not inexplicably whiffed on a non-safety call that would’ve made it 10-9 and Hurricanes’ ball with two minutes remaining.
Florida State pushed a 13-10 Miami lead to a 27-13 advantage of their own—before Williams hooked up with Jacolby George on an 80-yard strike—making it a 27-20 ballgame and giving Doak Campbell Stadium it’s first real “oh shit” moment of the season as 8:20 remained.
Miami forced a punt and Williams got the ball at the 12-yard line with 4:20 remaining—scrambling for a first down on 4th-and-2—only to break his non-throwing left arm in the process. Van Dyke entered, threw for two first downs and got the Hurricanes to midfield—before a few quick incompletions set up a do-or-die 4th-and-10 ball that was picked off; the quarterback’s eleventh interception since the wheels fell off against Georgia Tech’s zone defense.
TVD PART 2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO
With Williams out for the season, Van Dyke was re-tossed the keys to the offense by default—looking for some of his old mojo with tenth-ranked Louisville headed south and playing for a spot in the ACC title game against Florida State, should they beat Miami.
The blow-for-blow effort ended in favor of the Cardinals, in a game where Van Dyke was turnover-less for the first time since a road win at Temple in late September.
The quarterback threw for 327 yards and a touchdown, while obviously very banged up and taking a beating all game—commentators reporting for the first time all year that Van Dyke has been dealing with Morel-Lavallée—a painful soft tissue injury commonly seen with high-speed traumas like car accidents.
Despite the obvious disappointment of back-t0-back losses and a 6-4 record—where recent Miami teams would’ve absolutely mailed it in—the Canes put up 486 yards to the Cards’ 470.
Louisville turned it over once, while Miami protected the all—and time of possession was roughly even, as were third down and fourth down percentages and penalties—until the final minutes, at least.
Miami went from a disciplined three flags totaling 20 yards on the day, to picking up 30 yards in penalties on back-to-back possessions where two Hurricanes lost their shit and did infinitely more damage than a fourth down timeout that the pundits won’t let rest.
With 1st-and-Goal on the four-yard line after a pass interference call, the Canes were setting up for 4th-and-Goal from the one-yard line—after a Mark Fletcher run netted a yard on first down and Van Dyke had two back-to-back incompletions.
After seeing Louisville’s personnel on fourth down, Miami called timeout—letting the offense talk over what they saw defensively and making sure they were good with the play call.
Van Dyke took the snap, looked left for Xavier Restrepo—who got jammed up on his route—forcing Van Dyke to go right for George, in man coverage. The pass to the right side of the field sailed high—while the receiver immediately reacted as if he was again held—which was the case five plays earlier, resulting in the penalty that put Miami on the four-yard line in the first place.
Louisville would’ve taken over on their three yard line with 1:29 on the clock—against a Miami defense that had technically sacked both Clemson and Florida State quarterbacks in similar moments, despite biased conference officials seeing it otherwise.
Instead, George chose this moment to get baited by a chatty defender—going hands-to-the-face and walking right into an unsportsmanlike conduct call that gave the Cardinals the ball on the 18-yard line and some game-changing breathing room.
Miami would stuff three runs and use their final two timeouts—getting the ball back at the :29 mark, instead of just over a minute if there were a third timeout to have used on third down—a situation made worse when Brashard Smith pulled a George on the punt return, costing the Canes another precious 15 yards.
The use of Miami’s first timeout prior to the 4th-and-Goal from the three-yard line became a topic of discussion after the game—especially after Cristobal didn’t respond favorably to the query in the post-game presser.
After Fletcher picked up a yard on first down, Van Dyke threw incomplete on second and third, setting up a one-play, game-defining conversion—which explained offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson and Miami wanting to go over the play call and assignment after seeing the defensive personnel Louisville trotted on to the field.
A fourth down timeout would be a logical play call under normal circumstances, but there’s nothing normal about The State of The U as decades of disaster roll on.
Instead, this proved to be the moment of the game the dejected segment of the fan base wants to hang everything on—a it fits the “clock management” agenda and gives them their manufactured reason to make anything and everything about their disdain for Cristobal.
Forget the incompletion itself, the no-call on potential pass interference or two huge unsportsmanlike conduct penalties completely flipping the field being a focal point and more-important topic of conversation—the seething portion of this fan base that will make everything about “coaching” will add this to their running list as they case-build against Cristobal game-by-game, drive-by-drive and play-by-play.
Those who have followed this thing for decades; all these knocks about being a garbage game day coach, as well as a next-level recruiter and stacker-of-talent—present day rants sound identical to the late 90’s knocks Butch Davis—banners flying over the Orange Bowl three games into year three, before a 1-2 start was fast 1-4, after losing the home banner-flying game against West Virginia and then getting destroyed 47-0 at No. 4 Florida State.
EVERYONE’S FAVORITE COACH RESIDES ELSEWHERE
Sticking with the running theme in these weekly recaps and the winning-cures-all-while-losing-exposes-warts narrative.
In this scenario, an attempt to villainize the coaching staff for using a timeout to go over the game’s most-important play thus far—a lose-lose outcome unless the Hurricanes scored, stopped the Cardinals in regulation and prevailed in overtime, as the win would’ve given everyone amnesia as to how Miami got it done—similar to the lack of nitpicking that occurred after overtime wins against Clemson and Virginia.
With another loss, the focus remains blaming the coaching staff at every turn as two decades of irrelevance and incompetence are immediately lumped onto the shoulders of every new staff, who is expected to deliver immediately—which also includes taking outlier situations and highlighting them for the sake of case-building.
Jeff Brohm and his year-one success at Louisville is one of many examples; the Cardinals going 10-1 with their first-year head coach—which leaves the jaded Miami fan pointing to the former Purdue coach’s success as a way to underscore their sentiment that Cristobal is a wrong-fit guy for Miami.
A year ago Lincoln Riley was the flavor of the year hire as the former Oklahoma head coach brought his own offense and his Heisman-worthy quarterback from Norman to Troy and Southern Cal hit the ground running with an 11-3 season for the Trojans.
Two losses to Utah were ignored in the storytelling, yet were the focal point in 2021 when Cristobal and his Ducks lost to the Utes in the regular season and Pac-12 Championship game—just like Riley would a year later—and the follow-up for USC was a 7-5 season, with a legit Heisman-winning quarterback under center in Caleb Williams; all blame shifting to recently-fired defensive coordinator Alex Grinch, who wasn’t the scapegoat last fall when the Trojans’ offense better-hummed with Biletnikoff winner Jordan Addison as a portal pick-up.
A year later—exit Riley, enter Brohm—the latest addition to the pedestal for the sake of stigmatizing Cristobal.
Of course the pro-Brohm debate will leave out the fact this year’s reshuffled, division-less ACC saw Louisville with a favorable schedule draw where there was no Florida State, Clemson or North Carolina on the schedule—who were No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 respectively in the conference preseason rankings.
ACC preseason No. 5 Louisville saw there highest-ranked conference foe in a road match-up against No. 4 North Carolina State, escaping Raleigh with a 13-10 victory—while preseason No. 6 Miami matched them statistically and took them to the wire.
As for the season’s lone loss; that came against No. 8 Pittsburgh, where the Panthers rolled the Cardinals, 38-17… but why let facts get in the way of one’s slanted argument?
Same to be said for cries that Miami was “undisciplined” after George and Smith had their individual meltdowns. The Hurricanes play a clean game all day long—never shooting themselves in the foot and finally winning the turnover battle—yet two receivers taking the bait and letting emotions get the better of them; it’s an indictment on the staff and somehow a lack of discipline across the board is the culprit?
Florida State quarterback Jordan Travis sustained a season-ending ankle injury during a first quarter run against North Alabama hours after Miami and Louisville were in the books—which not only diminishes the Noles chances at running the table—it could arguably impact both their regular season finale at Florida, as well as their shot at an ACC Championship.
Translation; Brohm and his Cardinals just caught another break in their quest for a conference title—but for the sake of the salty Canes fan looking to amplify the first-year head coach’s narrative, the Travis injury will barely be a footnote while creating another way to stack the deck against Cristobal.
WHEN THE LEGEND REPLACES REALITY
The anti-Cristobal fan also seems to love the Mario-handcuffs-his-coordinators narrative—something that started becoming a social media go-to after jaded Oregon fans played their we-never-wanted-him-anyways card when their former head coach returned to his alma mater; on the heels of Ducks fans citing facilities and a big time Nike contract as reasons Cristobal would never leave Eugene.
Of course this has never been proven, while articles after Miami’s rout of Texas A&M back in September speak to the contrary.
The Atlantic featured a blow-by-blow of the Canes’ final offensive series—specifically the sideline interaction on a 3rd-and-7 from the UM 36-yard line—with 2:37 left on the ticking clock in a game Miami led 41-33.
If Cristobal were the micromanager and slow-playing head coach he’s being accused of, why didn’t Miami run the ball and force Texas A&M to take a timeout if not converting?
“I don’t think we can run the clock out,” Cristobal told Dawson. “Run the clock out?” Dawson replied. “I’m trying to end this motherf**ker right here. If they match up, we’re gonna throw the vertical.”
The article went on to say that Cristobal “loved what he heard”—as did the players—as Dawson huddled-up his offense. “We gotta go score again,” he told them. “We can’t put all the pressure on the field. We gotta help them out and give them a comfortable lead.”
Miami took the field, the offensive line gave protection, Van Dyke got back, George got open and a 64-yard touchdown strike was the end result—Miami 48, Texas A&M 33 with 2:37 remaining–Te’Cory Couch with the fourth down interception to seal the victory.
Proof that winning cures all?
Imagine for a moment George doesn’t haul in that pass—an incompletion stopping the clock, Miami now punting on 4th-and-7—allowing the know-it-all Cristobal hater to bitch incessantly how the Canes now should’ve run the ball, forcing the Aggies to burn one of their two remaining timeouts.
Texas A&M arguably would’ve gotten the ball back with good field position—two timeouts and two-and-a-half minutes remaining—trailing by eight, where a touchdown and two-point conversion tie things up 41-41.
TURNOVERS TRUMP COACHING IMPERFECTIONS
The exhaustive walk down early season memory lane was done to underscore the bigger picture for Miami as this program looked to take a step forward year two under Cristobal.
Anyone not willingly admitting the Hurricanes better look the part in 2023 than they did in 2022—you’re not to be taken seriously as you show your ass in this conversation.
Furthermore, constantly putting everything on coaching opposed to real-life circumstances is misguided and a sign of a fan who is probably catching way too much shit on Twitter from rivals fans, having run his mouth all off-season and overhyping what Miami was going to look like here in year two.
Pinning all of the blame on Van Dyke is unfair, but failing to weave him into the storyline where this season fell apart—that’s also completely disingenuous; especially if the weekly argument is that Cristobal is the lone culprit.
Did the second-year Miami head coach absolutely make the gaffe of a lifetime when not taking a knee against Georgia Tech? Absolutely. It was and ego-driven, amateur hour, machismo-fueled move that single-handedly cost the Hurricanes a game that was 20-17 in that moment—where the clock would’ve run out and the comeback would’ve been complete—and while it can’t directly be blamed for a loss at North Carolina the following week, at minimum it was an unnecessary distraction that hung over the program for weeks.
Still, putting the non-knee aside, Van Dyke’s inability to read a zone defense became an infinitely bigger problem—and this night was just the tip of the iceberg, as the meltdown would literally last for the next six games—including the ripple effect that saw him benched twice for a true freshman.
Three interceptions gifted to the Yellow Jackets—along with two fumbles—in a game Miami lost the turnover battle five to two; the Canes should’ve been kneeling up by at least three touchdowns—not three points.
A week later in Chapel Hill, the turnover battle was lost four to zero, as the Tar Heels protected the ball—Van Dyke credited with two interceptions, while fumbling a snap in the early third quarter of a 21-17 ball game where North Carolina had just retaken the lead.
The Canes defense would force a punt, which Van Dyke immediately gave back on a first down interception. Three plays later, the Tar Heels were in the end zone and the lead was now 28-17. Facing a crucial 3rd-and-7 on the next drive, Van Dyke took a sack and North Carolina put together a back-breaking nine play, 63-yard drive, going up 35-17.
Banged up and sidelined for Clemson a week later, Van Dyke yielded to Williams and Miami won the chess match—as well as the turnover battle, with one to the Tigers’ three—allowing for a 10-point fourth quarter rally that forced overtime, where defense prevailed in the second overtime and the Canes emerged victorious.
Van Dyke was back against Virginia a week later and had it not been for Kam Kinchens with a pick-six, Miami would’ve officially lost the last five games Van Dyke started—Georgia Tech, North Carolina, Virginia, North Carolina State and Louisville—as it was two interceptions given away to the Cavaliers and three the following week in a touchdown-less loss to the Wolfpack.
Seven attempts coming off the bench for Williams; Van Dyke coughed up his eleventh interception in five games—which saw a 15-to-5 turnover ratio for Miami over that stretch.
Can the triggered Cristobal critic turn the heat down for boil to simmer for a moment to at least acknowledge that a three-to-one turnover ratio average over a five-game stretch is an incomprehensible nightmare for a program who statistically had one of the best quarterbacks in the nation the first month of this season?
Who saw this collapse coming in the wake of Van Dyke throwing it all over the yard against Texas A&M—to the tune of 374 yards, five touchdowns and no turnovers?
IF IT AIN’T ONE THING, IT’S ANOTHER
The Hurricanes finally fielded their strongest overall offensive line starting line-up in decades, boasted four quality running backs in the stable and finally saw a trio of wide receivers turning the corner—Van Dyke was supposed to get that ball in the hands of playmakers and Miami was supposed to light up scoreboards this fall.
Sadly, it was too little too late by the time Van Dyke finally regained his composure against No. 10 Louisville—a respectable 327 yard, one touchdown outing that fell short. In a game where the quarterback was interception-less for the first time since a late September road trip to Temple—Miami’s inability to find the open tight end wound up being the difference in an even match-up.
Three big boys from Louisville were the difference in a seven-point game; the group combining for 112 yards and a touchdown on nine clutch haul-ins as Lance Guidry the Canes defense was on its heels all day.
The trio’s performance was impressive, but still couldn’t hold a candle to Clemson’s one-man wrecking crew Jake Briningstool, who had five monster grabs for 126 yards and two touchdowns in regulation against Miami—but remains a footnote on the season, as a monster takedown of Cade Klubnick in overtime by Corey Flagg will be the definitive moment of the game.
Why? Because Miami emerged victorious and winning cures all, while losing exposes all warts—another reason the Hurricanes need to get back to their championship-caliber ways.
Is Cristobal the guy that will lead “The U” back to glory? Better hope so, as a seventh head coach since 2006 will feel like yet another step back if the native son is unable to succeed at his alma mater.
Whether UM has or hasn’t found their answer with Cristobal, fact remains a two-year sampling after two decades of disappointment—it’s nowhere near enough.
Year three is where the magic usually begins to happen and year four should have Miami back in the national conversation.
Anything less than a 2025 contender—for $8,000,000 a year—all pitchforks out for Cristobal will be deserved and understood, but until then stop the case-building and suck it up, buttercup. “The U” didn’t go to shit overnight and won’t be rebuilt that way, either—no matter how much you want to take shots at the guy showing up daily actually working to right the ship.
Christian Bello has been covering University of Miami athletics since the mid-nineties. Getting his start with CanesTime, he eventually launched allCanesBlog—which led to a featured columnist stint with BleacherReport. He’s since rolled out the unfiltered, ItsAUThing.com where he’ll use his spare time to put decades of U-related knowledge to use for those who care to read. When he’s not writing about ‘The U’, Bello is a storyteller for some exciting brands and individuals—as well as a guitarist and songwriter for his Miami-bred band Company Jones, who released their debut album “The Glow” in 2021. Hit him on Twitter for all things U-related @ItsAUThingBLOG.