Honeymoon over, what's next for Canes?
It was a spectacular wedding.
The 10-year contract Mario Cristobal received during December is more job security than any Miami Hurricanes coach has ever received, and the $80 million owed to him in that deal makes him richer than any of the giants in UM history.
But honeymoons don’t last long.
The Hurricanes blasted Bethune-Cookman 70-13 while Miami fans danced in the aisles, wedding cake still dripping from their chins.
But the 1st sign of trouble in this grand marriage happened the very next week as Miami trailed Southern Miss before rallying in the 2nd half for a 30-7 win.
The 1st real fight happened last week, and it didn’t go well. Miami was dreadful on offense, losing at then-No. 24 Texas A&M 17-9.
But just because the honeymoon is over doesn’t mean the marriage is doomed. It just means there’s a lot of therapy and hard work ahead if Cristobal is to live up to his promise to restore the Hurricanes’ program to greatness, which, of course, means at least a national championship.
There’s a long way to go, and that 10-year contract guarantees he will be given ample time to get there.
But there are questions, and here are 5 of them just a few days away from the next test for the 25th-ranked Canes (2-1), which will be Saturday against visiting Middle Tennessee State (2-1):
1. Can the special teams be fixed?
The “teams” performance against the Aggies was among the worst in Canes history … or at least recent memory.
It’s just hard to imagine anything that bad. The Hurricanes lost a fumble on a punt return, had a field-goal attempt blocked and missed a field-goal try badly. They also were pinned in their own end all night by the Aggies’ punter.
The fumbled punt return led to a very short field and a touchdown. You take away that mistake and the 2 issues on field goals, and Miami wins 15-10.
Of course, football doesn’t work that way.
But, as bad as the Canes were in this crucial phase of the game, it says here that it can be fixed. Andres Borregales normally is a reliable kicker who should get back on track immediately.
The punt-return fumble by Tyrique Stevenson came after he decided to field a punt on a hop. Yeah, probably not the best call on his part. But, let’s be honest, if he fields that ball and scores, he is hailed as the next Devin Hester. Stevenson was trying to make a play, and it didn’t work. He is talented, however, and the belief here is that he will bounce back.
2. Can the Canes be explosive enough at wide receiver?
This is a bigger question, and a positive answer isn’t as clear.
Miami still hasn’t gotten over losing its top 2 receivers from last season to graduation – Charleston Rambo and Mike Harley.
Losing those players clearly hurt. But Miami knew well in advance of this season that they were leaving. The loss just before last week’s game of Miami’s new top receiver, Xavier Restrepo, really crippled the offense.
Cristobal said following that game that Restrepo will miss at least 6 weeks, and that’s a crushing blow.
Brashard Smith is the natural replacement for Restrepo in the slot, but he was held to just 3 catches for 14 yards against the Aggies, and he had a huge drop on the final play. Smith is elusive and fast, but he has a lot to prove.
Frank Ladson was brought in from Clemson, but he had 0 catches against the Aggies. He has just 2 catches all season.
Reason for optimism?
Jacolby George, who returned from a 2-game suspension, made 3 grabs for 41 yards Saturday night. He showed some after-catch ability, breaking tackles and getting downfield, and Miami will need that on a consistent basis the rest of the year.
3. Has QB Tyler Van Dyke regressed under new management?
TVD fired 25 touchdown passes and had just 6 interceptions in 9 starts last year, including 8 contests against ACC teams.
This year, in 3 games – including just 1 against a Power 5 school – Van Dyke has 3 TD passes and 1 interception. The lack of receiving talent clearly is hurting TVD. The same could be said of a conservative, run-oriented game plan.
Let’s see what adjustments are made going forward.
4. Which defenders can take the proverbial next steps?
Safety James Williams, who is tied for the team lead with 15 tackles and also has an interception, would be the obvious 1st answer. We’d like to see Williams sent on more blitzes in addition to his role in coverage.
Defensive tackle Leonard Taylor, who is tied for the team lead with 3.5 tackles for losses, is emerging as a young star, beating double teams to get after quarterbacks.
Safety Kamren Kinchens, with 1 interception, might be the best ball-hawk on the team, and linebacker Corey Flagg and cornerbacks Stevenson and DJ Ivey also have played well.
5. What will be Miami’s ultimate place in the ACC standings?
Fifth-ranked Clemson clearly is atop the league’s power rankings.
Miami, as stated previously, is ranked No. 25, while Florida State, North Carolina and Syracuse received votes this week.
FSU went to Louisiana and beat LSU. FSU then went to Louisville, lost is quarterback early and still beat the Cardinals.
North Carolina (3-0) beat Appalachian State 63-61, a noteworthy win that continues to cast doubt on the UNC defense.
Syracuse (3-0) is the surprise of the ACC, at least so far, with noteworthy home wins against Louisville and Purdue. The Orange will get a national audience this Friday night when it hosts Virginia on ESPN.
Watch out for Pittsburgh, North Carolina State and Wake Forest.
Pitt (2-1) beat West Virginia 38-31 for its best win. Pitt also lost in overtime to Tennessee 34-27.
N.C. State (3-0) won’t get tested until Oct. 1 at Clemson. Wake Forest will get to host Clemson this Saturday.