We can debate the merits of winning-curing-all and losses-killing-perspective at another time.
For now, focus must remain on the Miami Hurricanes finding a way to survive the Virginia Cavaliers in overtime on Saturday afternoon at HardRock—extending the win-streak to two games and pushing UM to 6-2 on the season; “The U” now bowl eligible after wrapping 2022 a dismal 5-7.
Are there some glaring issues with this Miami team? Sure. Is this team getting better and passing both the smell and eye test a year two rolls on under Mario Cristobal, even if there have been some hiccups? Absolutely.
One would be remised to not acknowledge that quarterback Tyler Van Dyke has lost some serious mojo over the past couple week, which is concerning when looking at a November that includes road trips to North Carolina State, Florida State and Boston College—as well as a tough home showdown on Senior Day against a red hot Louisville team
Statistically topping many a best-of list weeks entering Georgia Tech weekend, Van Dyke had 11 touchdowns to one interception on the season after a fast 4-0 start— lauded for dissecting Texas A&M’s fast and talented SEC defense the second week of September, while taking care of business against lesser foes like the other Miami, Bethune-Cookman and Temple.
Over his past three starts, a seven-interception onslaught—one that put Miami in a hole against Georgia Tech, one that arguably cost the Canes against the turnover-less Tar Heels in Chapel Hill and this most-recent two-turnover outing forcing a late ground-and-pound rally against Virginia—where the offensive line and freshman running back Mark Fletcher were the difference late fourth quarter and in overtime, as nothing about Van Dyke’s quarterback play screamed game-winning-drive in regulation.
Earlier in the year, the rest of the ACC didn’t have film on Miami quarterbacks under first-year offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson.
A month in, Van Dyke better-resembles Teddy KGB in the gambling film Rounders after Mike McDermott figured out his tell with the twisting of the Oreos—and defenses have since busted up Van Dyke all night.
TOUGH SLEDDING AHEAD FOR MIAMI FINAL MONTH OF SEASON
How this is solved between Van Dyke, Dawson and Cristobal over the final month of the regular season—time will tell—but a focus on the bigger picture needs to remain at the forefront as year two comes to a close and Miami gets back in the lab this off-season, recruiting like beasts, pulling ballers from the portal and getting ready continue this quest of building a champion come 2024.
Perspective matters and if there’s one thing that’s become crystal clear year two of the Cristobal era; just how short memories are regarding the brutality of last season, expectations going into a new one and a lack of patience exuded once the Hurricanes experienced a modicum of early success this fall.
Miami couldn’t find the end zone last year in College Station and the week after a bye it saw Middle Tennessee State lay 45 points on the Canes in one of the most embarrassing losses in recent memory—which is saying a lot when taking into account a 2019 “home” loss to Florida International on the hallowed ground where the Orange Bowl once stood.
The fingerprints of former head coach Manny Diaz remained on the 2022 version of the Hurricanes; over-celebrating after taking an early third-quarter lead against Duke, before the Blue Devils tore off a 28-0 run rout the Canes, 45-21—as well as a lay-down 45-3 home loss to rival Florida State, with Van Dyke sidelined due to injury. Not to mention the full-blown no-show against a four-loss Pittsburgh squad that held a 35-3 lead going into the fourth quarter before Miami tacked on a few cheap scores.
Fans wanted to deny the culture problem that existed in Coral Gables, but when you had a roster full of country clubbers and betas who were accustomed to Diaz playing favorites, giving guys passes and not holding players accountable—the whole desire to be liked and accepted opposed to feared and respected—resulting in a divided locker room, half full of guys committed to doing the work while others mailed it, more concerned with their personal brands and social media feeds.
Outside of Miami being a non-factor in the college football landscape for the better part of two decades, the Hurricanes bottomed-out last fall when their third head coach in five seasons offered up the program’s third “rebuild” in seven years—yet sitting here in year two, there are knocks for eking out wins or falling in Chapel Hill to a good program in their fifth year with a seasoned head coach.
Anyone losing their minds in regards to a grind-it-out, find-a-way overtime win against Virginia this past weekend, again, head over to YouTube and pull up that abortion of an outing in Charlottesville last fall—one where the Canes eked out a four-overtime, 14-12 win,while a since-transferred back-up quarterback celebrated an ugly victory like Miami just captured a conference title.
This was never a national championship-caliber team in 2023, no matter how much the Crown Royal tried to convince you otherwise in the wake of closing out the Aggies—a game where Canes overcame deficits and diversity, or momentarily looked like old school Miami by way of a kick return, hard hits resulting in fumbles, or perfectly-thrown deep ball touchdowns.
Miami wasn’t even supposed to do too much in the Atlantic Coast Conference—picked fourth behind Florida State, Clemson and North Carolina—and with an obvious game-ending kneel-down to close out Georgia Tech, the Canes are 7-1 with a lone loss to the third-ranked Tar Heels, while knocking off second-ranked Clemson and prepping for a shot at top dog Florida State in two weeks, all underscoring how ahead of schedule Miami truly is in year two of this new regime.
Peruse social media or U-themed message boards and you’ll see a good chunk of fans who called for another 5-7 type season, while many agreed that 9-3 or 8-4 would be a huge step forward for the program in 2023 based on last year and the type of campaign that could build some solid momentum entering year three, which is oft where new head coaches take that step forward and make their marks.
YEAR THREE LEAPS FOWARD AFTER MODERATE YEAR TWO GROWTH
Case in point, Mike Norvell and Florida State—the Seminoles’ head coach going 3-6 in 2020, 5-7 in 2021 and breaking through with a 10-3 campaign year three in Tallahassee—while FSU sits undefeated and fourth in the first College Football Playoffs ranking days back.
Everything has been coming up roses for Norvell—whose Noles are riding a 14-game win-streak—yet going back to year two, an 0-4 start, a home loss to Jacksonville State and a 6-12 overall record before a last-minute win over Diaz-led Miami in mid-November.
The situation was so brutal, fans were actively talking about the struggles Florida State would have buying out Norvell’s contract after being on the hook to pay Willie Taggart roughly $14-million to go away—yet those same fans have lionized their fourth-year head coach over the past 14 months—underscoring the earlier sentiment that winning seems to cure all, while losing can completely ruin perspective.
Shifting back to Miami, as those early wins started racking up under Cristobal, so did the entitlement. The same folks who called for another sub-par season and a home loss to Texas A&M—also the crowd banging the drum the hardest that the Canes were back after rolling the Aggies—only to call or Cristobal’s firing after mishandling the end of the Georgia Tech game.
Despite Cristobal taking over a program that was 29-24 since a rout of third-ranked Notre Dame in late 2017, some early momentum in 2023 got this thing back to a place where losses were not only unacceptable—close, hard-fought victory are now taken for granted and winning ugly is deemed embarrassing.
Until two weeks ago, Miami hadn’t beaten Clemson at home since joining the ACC in 2004—a 2-6 overall record against the semi-newly minted powerhouse—while the Canes’ last win over the Tigers was on the road in 2009. Since then, Dabo Swinney sent Al Golden packing with a 58-0 beatdown in 2015, while Mark Richt took a 38-3 loss in the Canes’ lone ACC Championship appearance in 2017.
Since then, Diaz got worked 42-17 on the road during the quirky 2020 pandemic season, while Cristobal fell 40-10 at Memorial Stadium last fall, before finally taking out Clemson in overtime weeks back, 28-20—in a game where Van Dyke was sidelined and true freshman Emory Williams made his first-ever collegiate start, with only 15 attempts in garbage time against lesser competition this fall.
Miami’s defense held Clemson to 31 rushing yards on 34 tries, stripped a clutch running back on the goal line on what was a sure touchdown, forced a quarterback fumble and interception, overcame a ten-point fourth quarter deficit and ended the game on 4th-and-Inches with a heads-up defensive play… only to have a contingent of this fan base pissing and moaning that Cristobal and Dawson didn’t let their true freshman quarterback sling it all over the yard with 1:26 remaining after getting the ball back at the Miami 28-yard line—content to play for overtime—where the Hurricanes prevailed.
Those of you who see the absurdity in this, thank you. Those of you who don’t, seek help. Seriously.
Miami finally beat Clemson. Sure, these Tigers are a run below the program that played in the national title four of out five seasons a few years back—but it’s still a championship-caliber program with winning DNA—and is anybody really shocked that the Cavaliers gave the Hurricanes fits this past weekend? If so, you haven’t paid attention to this rivalry over the years—many a dogfight against this program from Charlottesville.
Last year’s quadruple overtime shit-show. A doinked-off-the-post last second field goal gone awry for Miami in 2021. Scrappy home wins in years prior—19-14 in a reshuffled 2020 season and a 17-9 defensive slugfest in 2019—while all good vibes from a comeback against Florida State in 2018 went out the window with an ugly 16-13 road loss to Virginia in 2018.
Between 2006 and 2014, Virginia reinvented ways to break Miami’s heart six out of nine times—including that 48-0 massacre in 2007 in the Orange Bowl finale—and the series now 12-8 in the Hurricanes favor since joining the ACC in 2004, proving the Hoos are a program that has had the Canes’ number even in years where it made no logical sense… yet the shortsightedness continues as fans bitch about coaches again playing for overtime in a game where the go-to veteran quarterback was again spotty and Miami leaned on the ground game to win a second overtime game in as many weeks.
Incredible how long-time fans can understand this type history, as well as painfully understanding the irrelevance that’s surrounded this Miami program for decades—yet can’t fully appreciate grind-it-out wins and an improved program, overly-consumed by how the Georgia Tech game inexplicably unfolded, the fact that North Carolina saw its win-streak go to five games in the rivalry or that back-to-back games were closed out in a fashion coaches deemed appropriate based on personnel on the field, flow of the game and what gave the Canes the best odds to prevail.
GROW, FIND WAYS TO WIN, BECOME A CHAMPIONSHIP-CALIBER PROGRAM
Fact remains it is year two of the Cristobal era and when all is said and done, the “how” won’t matter—it will be that number, a dash and another number—where the final score won’t even matter; just the wins and losses total as another season loses and it’s back in the lab to build for year three.
Not kneeling, too many turnovers, overtime wins versus fourth quarter close-outs—the only narrative going into recruiting season will be the end game, not the nitty-gritty and how it all went down.
Championship caliber teams all have their moments of imperfection and their seasons of growth—especially early in their new regimes. Nobody just wakes up a winner day one. There are peaks and valley moments where growth occurs; a process where the small victories need to be celebrated along the way as they are fuel for programs that are learning how to close out games, how to show up prepared week in and week out and how to block out the type of outside noise and distractions that have plagued this program for years.
The snark seen online over the past few days from both fans and rivals, knocking these Hurricanes for “celebrating” needing overtime to beat a two-win Virginia team—as if these Cavaliers didn’t just take out North Carolina in Chapel Hill last weekend, ending a run at an undefeated season for Mack Brown in his second stint with the Tar Heels and their best start since the 1997 season.
Miami went on to beat that same Virginia team, hours before Georgia Tech capitalized on a stunned bunch and rallied late to upset North Carolina in Atlanta—the Yellow Jackets managing to beat both the Hurricanes and Tar Heels in a season where they also lost to Bowling Green.
Welcome to life as a mid-tier ACC football program, which is where Miami has pretty much hovered since joining the conference back in 2004—as evidenced by one Coastal Division title and zero ACC championships to show over the past two decades.
TWO DECADES OF IRRELEVANCE COMING TO AN END
A reminder for those struggling in the week-to-week emotions; Cristobal is looking to build the kind of program that doesn’t need to eke out wins over the likes of Georgia Tech and Virginia—while going toe-to-toe with a Florida State, Clemson or North Carolina annually—chasing conference titles and Playoffs berths… but that type of focus, consistency and dominance don’t happen overnight, or even by year two in most cases.
Mind-boggling to have to keep re-litigating the point, but one more time for the tone deaf or slow-to-accept-reality crowd—Cristobal was Miami’s sixth head coach over 17 seasons and third over a five-year span, at a university that legitimately hadn’t taken football seriously since dropping the ball on a contract renegotiation for Butch Davis in January 2001.
A decade-and-a-half with a liberal, football-averse university president—one who employed a kill-what-you-eat attitude towards athletics as the Hurricanes relied on dumping Nike for adidas or the Big East for the Atlantic Coast Conference to simply keep the lights on—which is how the Canes wound up with so many second- and third-choice, wrong-fit, not-ready-for-prime-time head coaches this century—yet fans are still gobsmacked this program isn’t already rolling heads early in the Cristobal era?
Same for any backsliding witnessed regarding Van Dyke, who came to Miami mildly-heralded in 2020 and is currently on his third offensive coordinator over those four seasons. Hardly a model of consistency and stability for a roster that still has some upperclassmen who have been around a handful of years.
A metamorphosis is underway in Coral Gables, people—and that’s all you need to focus right now. This program isn’t where it needs—or wants—to be, but the progress and steps forward are undeniable. The Hurricanes are no longer spinning their wheels and the lather, rinse, repeat process of past regimes trying to stumble their way to success—they’re no more.
An infrastructure is in place, an alpha dog head coach is at the helm, the right types of kids are being recruited and developed—as witnessed by playmaking true freshman like Rueben Bain, Francis Mauigoa, Ray Ray Joseph and Chris Johnson is showing just how bright the future looks. Not to mention transfer portal efforts that reeled in instant-impact cats like Ajay Allen, Jaden Davis, Matt Lee, Branson Dean, Francisco Maiugoa and Javion Cohen—as well as last year’s haul that included Akheem Mesidor, Daryl Porter, and Henry Parrish.
The blueprint has been laid and all that’s left is more experience, more bodies, more depth and more on-brand talent to load this roster so that Cristobal’s program can do something Miami’s last four head coaches didn’t do—win big and compete for titles, which is all that really matters at “The U”.
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.