Miami football: Bye-week stock report
It’s about to get real for the Miami Hurricanes.
The Canes are 4-0, but just 1 of those victories was against a Power 5 team (Texas A&M).
After this weekend’s bye, the Canes will play 8 straight ACC games, starting with Saturday’s visit from Georgia Tech.
With this natural pause in the schedule, it’s time to assess the team:
Most valuable player: Tyler Van Dyke is more accurate than ever this year. Healthier, too. And better overall. In 2021, his 1st year as Miami’s starter, he completed 62% of his passes during a breakout season that included 25 touchdown passes and just 6 interceptions. Last year, he completed 63% of his passes, but injuries kept his production down (10 TDs, 5 INTs). This year, he is completing an impressive 74.7% percent of his passes, and he has 11 TD passes and just 1 pick.
Top freshman: Francis Mauigoa – a 5-star offensive lineman – won the starting right-tackle job in fall camp and has lived up to the hype. There have been a couple of bumps – think penalty-sack-pressures allowed – but he has been excellent overall considering his age and the difficulty of his position.
Most surprising player: Another freshman, backup quarterback Emory Williams – ranked No. 21 among Miami’s highly touted group of rookies – has looked very good throwing the ball. Tall at 6-foot-5, Williams has no problem looking for targets from the pocket. It’s a small sample size at the end of games, but Williams has completed 80% of his passes (12 for 15) for 144 yards with no interceptions.
Most improved players: Wide receiver Jacolby George has 21 catches and 4 touchdowns. In 2 previous seasons, he had just 20 catches and 1 touchdown. Fifth-year nickel back Te’Cory Couch has 3 interceptions in 4 games. Prior to this season, he had just 1 pick in 37 games.
Most disappointing players: Fourth-year defensive lineman Akheem Mesidor has just 1 tackle for loss and 1 sack. Last year, he had 10.5 tackles for loss and 7 sacks – both career highs. He played 11 games last season, but he has logged just 2 contests this year. Injuries are his big issue as he missed Miami’s past 2 games. The Hurricanes need him to get healthy so he can get after quarterbacks. To a lesser extent, wide receiver Tyler Harrell also has been disappointing. He previously played 3 years at Louisville and 1 at Alabama, catching just 22 total passes. We should not have expected much. But with his experience and touted speed, there were high hopes. So far, he has just 2 catches and has been beaten out for playing time and targets by Hurricanes holdovers.
Key statistic(s): Miami is allowing just 48 rushing yards per game, an average of 1.9 per carry. It’s a lot easier to play defense when you shut down the running game.
Strongest position: The Canes have 5 running backs who could start for a lot of teams. Henry Parrish Jr. leads the team in rushing yards (331), average per carry (7.9) and running TDs (3). But there’s plenty of depth behind him. There’s Donald Chaney Jr., who was slowed by injuries the past 2 years (just 3 total games). He is averaging a career-best 6.8 per carry, and it’s the way he’s doing it – running over defenders. Ajay Allen, who played for Nebraska last year, is averaging 5.3 yards and has looked good in a backup role, showing some nifty moves. Then there are the 2 stud freshmen, 4-star recruit Mark Fletcher Jr. and 3-star recruit Chris Johnson Jr. Fletcher, who is averaging 5.5 yards per carry, is Miami’s biggest back at 6-2 and 225 pounds. He is the hammer who loves contact and can pick up blitzes. Johnson, who is averaging 6.6 yards, is the light switch because he is just that sudden. As a sophomore, he won a state title as the anchorman in the 4×100 relay. As a junior, he won gold again, in the 100 and 200 meters. On the football field, he is good at making the 1st potential tackler miss, and then he’s off. The beauty of what Miami has built at running back is that much of it is homegrown as Parrish is from Miami’s Columbus High; Chaney’s from Miami’s Belen Jesuit; and Johnson (Dillard) and Fletcher (American Heritage) are from the Fort Lauderdale area. Quirky note: 4 of Miami’s 5 running backs, listed above, go by “Jr.”
Wild card: If TreVonte’ Citizen can get healthy, he makes the running back room even deeper. A 4-star recruit from the Class of 2022, Citizen has yet to make an impact at Miami … but he could soon. Then again, Miami has a 4-star running back committed for 2024 (Kevin Riley of Alabama) and a 3-star runner in the same class (Chris Wheatley Humphrey of South Broward). This is the way it was during Miami’s glory days, when the Canes flooded their depth chart with talent.
Weakest position: The Canes got 61 catches from tight ends last year. This year, just 4 catches for 55 yards from tight ends. That’s an average of just 1 tight-end reception per game. The biggest reason for the drop-off is the graduation of Will Mallory, who had 42 catches for 538 yards and 3 touchdowns last year. He now is playing for the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts. The starter this year is veteran Cam McCormick, who mostly is a blocker. Freshman Riley Williams and 2nd-year player Jaleel Skinner have potential as pass-catchers, and the same thing goes for Elijah Arroyo if he can get healthy.
Biggest concern: All-American safety Kamren Kinchens has missed the past 2 games with what is believed to be a concussion. There is no replacing Kinchens with anyone of equal ability or anything close. Kinchens, who has 7 interceptions over his past 14 games, would provide Miami with a huge boost if he is able to return.
Biggest trend: The offensive line is greatly improved. Left tackle Jalen Rivers, left guard Javion Cohen, center Matt Lee, right guard Anez Cooper and right tackle and aforementioned Francis Mauigoa have blended nicely. Cohen (Alabama) and Lee (Central Florida) arrived this year as transfers, and they are among the best in the nation at their spots. Mauigoa was a 5-star recruit, and Rivers is a former 4-star recruit. The biggest surprise of the group is former 3-star recruit Cooper, who has lost 50 pounds – down to 350 – and he is hell on wheels when he pulls to the left side, running over defenders. Cooper, who played some basketball as an Alabama prep standout, clearly is athletic for his size. The depth on the offensive line is in question beyond 5-star freshman Samson Okunlola and fellow young tackle Matt McCoy. Former NFL draft prospect Zion Nelson, also a tackle, could provide a lift if he can return from injury at about midseason.
Biggest missing piece: Aside from getting the tight ends involved in pass-catching, Miami also would be smart to throw the ball more to its running backs, who so far have combined for just 3 receptions, all from Parrish. With 48 career receptions over 3-plus seasons, Parrish certainly can do more. It also would be interesting to see Johnson in space with his speed. Allen, with his moves, would be dangerous, and Fletcher and Chaney (11 grabs as a freshman) could be targets, too. So far, Miami’s passing game has focused almost exclusively on wide receivers Xavier Restrepo (24 catches, 14.8 average), George (21 catches, 13.9) and Colbie Young (17 catches, 14.2). But it would be nice to see Miami diversify its attack a bit more.
Biggest upcoming game: That would be Nov. 11 at 5th-ranked Florida State in what could be a massive showdown if these trends continue. Other tough road games include at No. 15 North Carolina and at N.C. State. The home schedule includes traditional power Clemson and on-the-rise Louisville.