The Miami Hurricanes are 3-0 after hitting the ground running to start the 2023 football season.
Unlike other seasons in recent memory, “The U” is truly passing the smell test and actually looks the part year two under head coach Mario Cristobal—who realized halfway through year one that a soft roster of broken-down betas and resolve-lacking quitters were not going to put in that foundational work to start building a championship-caliber program.
As a result, the handful of alpha dogs on board doubled-down and got back to business, while the weak-willed took their ball, put in their transfer papers and took their talents elsewhere—much to the chagrin or nobody.
A season-opener at HardRock on a Friday night against Miami of Ohio weeks back ended any speculation as to what kind of team Cristobal would field in year two.
Critics were fast with their edgy “upset alert” picks—pointing g back to last year’s home loss against Middle Tennessee State as an easy dig against a once-proud program that had gone off course over the past couple of decades.
The Redhawks and their little lippy, sound bite-delivering quarterback dropped his one-liner about who would be “the real Miami” when the clock hit 0:00 and thankfully the Hurricanes showed up ready for business against the feisty little MAC program; 243 yards passing, 250 on the ground and a definitive 38-3 victory while holding the “other” Miami to a measly 215 total yards.
Tyler Van Dyke looked the part—healthy and back under center—while the Canes’ offensive line was a revamped forced, a bevy of running backs made their mark and the receiving corps looked reborn. As did a swarming defense that still has a few holes, but is playing with enough passion and purpose that will help make up for any shortcomings.
There was also that sigh of relief and necessary exhale after seeing Shannon Dawson and Lance Guidry making their debuts as first-year offensive and defensive coordinators for Miami.
Sending the inept Josh Gattis packing and feeling no love lost when Kevin Steele was poached by Alabama—addition by subtraction was only half the battle. Cristobal hitting on their replacements was the bigger piece of that puzzle and the play-calling and preparation by both new coaches and their improved units—the change was palpable and the year one to year two growth looked undeniable.
Of course, the other Miami was the appetizer and the main course was a rematch against Texas A&M in another one of those early season-defining games that would set a precedent.
MAKING UP FOR LAST YEAR’S WOES AT KYLE FIELD
A win against the Aggies wouldn’t ensure success in 2023 anymore than last year’s loss in College Station had to dictate how 2022 would play out—but one would be remised to admit Miami never bounced back after falling 17-9 on the road last fall.
The offense went into a shell, the Canes couldn’t score in the redzone and a winnable game slipped away, which resulted in lost faith and hope going into a bye week—before a half-assed effort two weeks later against Middle Tennessee State; a few Miami players admitting post-game they weren’t ready for the Blue Raiders and felt they were good enough to go through the motions against a lesser program.
Miami looked to bounce back against a North Carolina program that’s had their number—but the comeback fell short, 27-24—because that’s what a losing mindset does; it reinvents ways to lose and causes teams to step down instead of up.
Weeks later, a slow start against Duke before getting big-headed after grabbing an early third quarter lead—taking the foot off the gas and unraveling defensively—before the Blue Devils put up the game’s final 24 points in an embarrassing 45-21 loss.
It was lather, rinse repeat from that point on.
Eke out an ugly win over Virginia. Get rolled at home by Florida State. Show up defensively at Georgia Tech. Forget how to stop opposing offenses against Clemson and Pittsburgh.
By the time 5-7 was officially in the books, it would’ve been hard-pressed to find a Miami fan who actually clamored for a sixth win for bowl eligibility as nothing about last year’s Hurricanes team was going to soak up those post-season practices and set a tone for 2023.
Put this bitch out to pasture; 2022 was a wrap.
Miami wasn’t even out of the month of November before the rats start abandoning the ship, as 24 player transferred out—some by choice, while others were “encouraged” to take their talents elsewhere.
From there, it was out with the old and in with the new. Miami pulled in the 15th-best portal class with 11 new players this season—and those instant-impact upgrades are paying dividends one month in, as are a handful of hit-the-ground running true freshman.
DON’T BUY MEDIA’S PREMATURE “BACK” CHATTER
All that to say, probably a good time to give the disclaimer that no matter what a build-’em-up-to-knock-’em-down media tries to sell, the Miami Hurricanes are nowhere near “back”—and won’t be—until competing annually for conference and national championships.
A dominant win over a loaded, talent-heavy SEC roster like the one Texas A&M boasts—that simply put Miami on a good early track and set a tone that carried over to last week’s clean, concise, all-business approach in doing what it was supposed to against Bethune Cookman.
Score fast and early, finish drives, eliminate penalties, stay healthy and sit the first stringers after the opening drive of the second half—getting back-ups valuable playing time, with an on-to-the-next energy after proving there was no Aggies hangover or lethargy when playing to a virtually empty stadium on a rainy Thursday night against the Wildcats.
Next up; a road trip to Temple and Miami’s first road game of the season, before a bye week and opening Atlantic Coast Conference play at home against Georgia Tech the first week of October.
All that win over Texas A&M did was keep Miami focused and hopefully undefeated before a season-defining road trip to Chapel Hill on October 14th, where the Canes will look for their fourth-ever win against the Tar Heels since joining the ACC.
Kenan Memorial Stadium has been a house of horrors for Miami these past two decades; ever-since Larry Coker and the third-ranked Hurricanes were upended in 2004 on a last-minute field goal, 31-28.
Randy Shannon couldn’t get out of the shadow of former mentor Butch Davis, losing on the road and at home three times in a row before his lone win at home in 2010 months before he was sent packing.
Al Golden was able to steal a couple road wins during his tenure (2011, 2013), while Mark Richt and the lucky-bounce Canes held on for a late win in 2017; one of many games that could’ve broken either way during that unexpected 10-0 start.
Hanging on against the likes of the Tar Heels, Yellow Jackets, Seminoles and Orange that season; it got the Hurricanes to 7-0 which resulted in back-to-back, prime time home games against No. 13 Virginia Tech and No. 3 Notre Dame, where Miami rolled and was hot shit for a few minutes—which wound up sparking some all of the undeserved “back” talk, which ended soon as it started up.
After a Senior Day win over Virginia, Miami rolled up to four-win Pittsburgh and laid an egg before getting clobbered by Clemson in the ACC Championship—which set up a consolation-prize Orange Bowl against a Wisconsin squad that outlasted the Canes in their own backyard.
The 0-3 finish dampened what felt like a promising season and from that 10-0 start through Diaz’s final game in 2021—Miami amassed a 28-24 record and is now on its third head coach over a five-year span—Richt going 7-9 down the stretch, while Diaz went 21-15 over his three-year run.
The focus on how bad it got; a reminder why 2022 played out as it did—and why those who felt all the “culture” chatter was a cop-out are now seeing first-hand what it’s like when a program is rebuild from the ground on up.
Cristobal obviously came in from Oregon hoping for some cosmetic changes to his alma mater, but under further inspection he fast realized it would take stripping Miami down to the studs and foundation for a full-blown renovation.
Many pointed to Southern Cal and a fast turnaround for Lincoln Riley, which had the opportunity to be turnkey as he is his own play caller and brought both his own high-octane offense and Heisman-worthy quarterback with him to Troy—all of which allowed him to pull the Biletnikoff-winning wide receiver out of the portal—making for a hell of a sales pitch to a slew of other transfers and a solid inaugural season.
Cristobal wasn’t afforded that same instant-fix luxury at Miami as culture has been embedded in this program’s DNA since the ’80s. When the culture is shit, the Canes are an utter disaster—but when the program top-to-bottom is on the same page, you see what you’re seeing early this season and have authentic reasons to believe winds of change are blowing in Coral Gables.
GUTS, GRIT AND A MISSING GO-FOR-THE-THROAT ENERGY
A quote from Dawson is blowing up on social media this week as the first-year coordinator’s late-fourth quarter back-and-forth on 3rd-and-8 is making the rounds.
Miami led 41-33 with 4:51 remaining and after a Henry Parrish run netted 13 yards on first down, the back was stuffed for three on the subsequent fresh set of downs. Van Dyke quickly found Xavier Restrepo for a five-yard gain, setting up a third-and-long.
According to The Atlantic article by friend-of-the-program Bruce Feldman, Cristobal let Dawson know he didn’t believe Miami would be able to run the clock out, to which the fiery coordinator dropped a line that will probably make its way into The U: Part III should that day ever come.
“Run the clock out? I’m trying to end this motherf**ker right here. If they match-up. we’re gonna throw the vertical,” Dawson retorted.
The response to the aggressiveness was understandably favorable, as the new coordinator delivered one final message as the offense took the field.
“We gotta go score again. We can’t put all the pressure on the field. We gotta help them out and give them a comfortable lead.”
One throw, reception and 64-scamper later, Van Dyke found Jacolby George in one-on-one coverage—the receiver bouncing back from his earlier muffed punt to haul in his third touchdown reception of the day—spinning off some lazy A&M tackles and scampering for the go-for-the-throat score and “comfortable” 15-point lead with 2:37 remaining.
The Aggies drove 65 yards over 14 plays, but the comeback was thwarted on 4th-and-Goal from the 10-yard line when Te’Cory Couch picked off Conner Weigman, setting up victory formation for the Canes.
Skeptics will say that it’s too early to believe, while others are simply too burned by two decades of trash football in Coral Gables to let themselves feel anything other than doubt—even when there are enough moving parts, actions and behaviors that should have even the harshest critic considering letting their guard down.
Three games in, a case can be made regarding the brand of football Miami is playing, as well as the energy and attitude surrounding this program.
A fully-revamped offensive line; the perfect mix of transfers, newbies and a few hold over veterans has this unit looking as purposeful as any Canes unit over the past couple of decades—while the result of this type of precedent being put on the line—it’d obviously paying dividends in giving Van Dyke time to dissect offenses, while every running back on Miami’s roster has been absolutely feasting when given their moment in the sun.
The energy has also turned around a receiving room that looked like a liability last year.
Outside of Restrepo being healthy, and George looking the part—Colbie Young and Isaiah Horton are breaking out, while Brashard Smith is being put in position to succeed as both a wide out and returner—breaking off a 98-yard kick return early in the third quarter against the Aggies.
Resolve is also another culture-related piece of the puzzle missing last year, but front and center year two of this new regime.
DOMINANT WIN OVER A&M SETS TONE FOR REST OF SEASON
Compare and contrast the adversity last fall when miscues defined Miami’s first quarter against Middle Tennessee State, versus how it handled some early rough-sledding against Texas A&M weeks back.
Van Dyke’s first pass from scrimmage was intercepted by the Blue Raiders, resulting in a field goal—and his next snap saw him throwing a pick-six and the Canes fumbled four plays into their next drive.
Miami’s defense folded on back-to-back touchdown drives and a few minutes into the second quarter the Canes were in a 24-3 hole—never getting closer than 14 points for the duration of the contest.
Any proof that Miami was a fragile, undisciplined, lost and broke program—that was sussed out by the time 45-31 was in the books and a glorified high school from Mufreesboro, Tennessee took selfies and team photos all over HardRock.
Fast forward a year and it’s another crack at a revamped Texas A&M team—with an even deeper, more-talented roster—as well as offensive guru Bobby Petrino in the booth and expected to pick apart Guidry’s new defense.
Miami opens with a three-and-out and sees its brand-new punter stuffed—the Aggies taking over on the Canes’ 15-yard line and hitting pay dirt three plays later.
Facing a 3rd-and-10 a drive later, a holding call keeps aTm’s drive alive and six plays later, a 24-yard field goal makes it a 10-0 deficit.
The Canes respond with a clean, seven play, 75-yard possession—Van Dyke spreading it around to three receivers—highlighted by a 48-yard connection with Restrepo and finding Young for the score, making it a ball game.
Trailing 10-7, Miami stuffs Texas A&M on a 3rd-and-11 only to see George muff the punt on the Canes’ on nine-yard line. Two plays later, the Aggies go back up 17-7 and there’s the sense that UM is going to fold—the moment too big and the adversity too much to overcome.
Instead, a five-play, 75-yard drive—Van Dyke hooking up with Horton for the 52-yard score and it’s 17-14.
Both sides missed late second quarter field goals, but in a yet-discussed, balls-on-the-line moment with Dawson—Miami took over possession with :44 remaining and went to work.
After years of seeing the Canes run out, or mismanage the clock just before the half—a methodical, well-crafted, six-play, 75-yard drive.
Parrish runs for 18, Van Dyke to Young for a 32-yard gain—and then to Restrepo for a 19-yard pick-up—before the o-line bought the quarterback time to scramble, where he found George open in the back of the end zone.
A first half that absolutely almost got away from Miami saw the Canes leading 21-17 at the half, before holding the Aggies to a field goal to start the third. Momentum slowly shifting in a 21-20 ball game—Smith housed the kickoff and Miami was immediately back in control.
Texas A&M felt the heat, a receiver bit the dust and Kam Kinchens reeled in an interception—Weigman’s first of his career—returning it 28 yards and setting up a Miami field goal, a 31-20 advantage for the good guys.
The Aggies pulled to 31-26 and after a Canes’ punt, the pressure was back on Miami’s defense to respond. In poetic fashion on 3rd-and-1, Oklahoma transfer Jaden Davis got a hat on the ball and removed it from Amari Daniels, which Kinchens hopped on it as the quarter expired.
“Four Fingers” went up as the final quarter was set to start—as always at HardRock, thought it’s been meaningless since the glory days at the Orange Bowl.
Instead, new-look Miami capitalized on the field position and found the end zone five plays later and took a 41-26 lead after a field goal.
The Aggies made it 41-33 after a spirited drive, where the road team woke up and their 5-Star talented started playing up to their potential—but it was met with 3rd-and-8 and a culture-shifting team statement from a revamped staff that wanted to end that motherf**ker right there.
Game, set, match—and detailed account why buying into Miami early this 2023 season isn’t fool’s gold.
Lots of football left to play, but this fan base can finally let its guard down that things absolutely look and feel different three weeks into Cristobal’s second season—and that in itself is reason to believe.
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.