It’s week 3 of the College Football season, and the Miami Hurricanes face their first big test of the Mario Cristobal Era. The Canes, undefeated at 2-0, travel to College Station to take on the 1-1 Texas A&M Aggies. Fresh of a loss to Appalachian State, Texas A&M will look to right the ship with a big win against a Canes team that has designs on a return to greatness after 20 years of mediocrity.
And. ahead of Miami’s first big game of the year, let’s convene the SOTU crew and get their thoughts on the game. Here we go...
Question 1: Early thoughts about Miami with Mario Cristobal as Head Coach?
Cam Underwood: Impressed, but he’s doing what he said he’d do. Rebuild the culture. Restructure the program to improve the operations. Change the roster to be more physical and talented overall. And, based upon prior performances of his teams and his history as a player and coach along the OL, running the ball incessantly. The team is playing well (not perfect, but well), and recruiting is very strong. Only 8 months and 2 games into the Cristobal era, I’m pleased with the move. It’s a clear upgrade from Manny Diaz at coach, and to get that upgrade, Miami has had to upgrade the overall Athletic Department leadership as well. This is a win for me, and I’m excited to see where things go from here.
Justin Dottavio: As the head guy I think he’s done a really good job. I think he mostly says the right things, he’s stymied MOST social media horse crap from players and coaches. I’m personally not a fan of the S&C hire and think the team looks slower and less explosive. Recruiting is going really well, and the transfer portal guys aren’t issues or at least those issues aren’t public. The Cristobal offense did rear its ugly head in the first half against So. Miss. The O under Mario will be what it will be.
KappaCane: I’m happy with where we are at this juncture given what he had to start with. He brought in a great haul last recruiting cycle with no time to recruit, and has done a very good job this cycle. He’s restored order and discipline within the program, and his no nonsense approach to working will continue to rub off on the entire program. I didn’t expect a miracle out of him, and I believe he has shown a willingness to do whatever is necessary to move the program in the right direction. He has been a fantastic ambassador thus far.
Craig T. Smith: Well, the offensive line looks resoundingly better with two weeks gone, and that was one of my primary concerns with this team coming in, so yay for that. The fundamentals, penalties, and mental errors are also better than under Manny Diaz, so that’s also nice to see. However, the real test of quick, significant progress begins this Saturday night.
Jake Marcus: So far so good. Cristobal is on a mission to get things done, which has been obvious with has been obvious as he stormed through the recruiting path like a category five Hurricane. After a flat first half this past week, Cristobal proved in the Southern Mississippi game that this is a team that knows how to make second half adjustments - something that was missing under the prior regime. Cristobal’s regime also offers a more disciplined approach and the “never satisfied” attitude is refreshing. The job is not done until Cristobal can get over the hump and make a College Football Playoff, while simultaneously bringing the Canes back to the promised land.
John Michaels: Exactly what the program needed. The fact that there is a no nonsense leader who is not into fluff and catch phrases, is such a welcome sight. Miami has spent so many years living off the sweat of others, while not working as hard as the championship teams from the past. Coach Cristobal understands what it takes, and either you will be with him or on another team. 2-0 is all that matters with bigger fish to fry starting this Saturday.
Mike Schiffman: A+ off the field. Incomplete on the field. Sorry if that sounds harsh. The Bethune Cookman game meant nothing. The second half of the Southern Miss game was impressive, but that followed a more-than-lackluster first half. There’s no doubt there is a current lack of talent and quality depth on defense, receiver, and elsewhere compared to the elites. If Coach Cristobal can secure big time back-to-back recruiting classes, we’ll see how good of a coach he is when he has elite talent with serious expectations.
Rob Weaver: Everything I expected and more. Recruiting elevated, check. Ability to make adjustments and give a great half time speech, check. Better tackling and positioning out of the defense, check. My only knock is that the offense seems more conservative than under Lashlee (a nice flea flicker aside), but that could be a byproduct of the weak first two opponents. Overall I’m quite content.
Question 2: Have your expectations for this game changed after Texas A&M lost to Appalachian State last week?
Underwood: No, not at all. My expectations are relative to Miami, not relative to the opponent. Miami needs to come out and show they can be competitive, at a minimum. I think a win is maybe more possible now than I did heading into the season considering the level of talent on Texas A&M’s roster, but overall, I’m in the same place that I was. Miami needs to show and prove they can win these games before I fully believe it. But the opportunity is there for the taking. So go take it.
Dottavio: No, not really. Jimbo Fisher will use it as a reason to rally the troops. It’s still a rowdy road game at a weird kickoff time. App State pushed the Texas A&M D-Line around but those guys are already well established to that style and Miami is a year or two away from that. I’ve been thinking TAMU by 3-4 the whole time, that score sticks for now.
KappaCane: No, because the expectation should always be to win. I want to see how our team responds to adversity. We got a small taste of that last week in the first half against Southern Miss, and the adjustments made cleaned up mistakes in the 2nd half. Have we matured to a point where we play to our ability or are we still going to play down to competition? That’s what I’ll be looking for Saturday...
Smith: No, and it’s silly to me to read from some that Miami has to throttle A&M after App State beat them. App State is a good, very experienced team who should probably be ranked this week. Is A&M more talented? Yes. Should they have won? Yes. But will A&M still be every much as a challenge as they were a week ago? Absolutely, and maybe even more so, as they will be looking for blood this week. So the mindset should not have changed from last week to this week. Huge game.
Marcus: Yes, mainly just because this was previously circled on the calendar as a matchup against top five Texas A&M team. So, it is funny how things out of our control have now put this from a “must hang” to “must win” against the 20th-ranked Aggies. Miami will still be hard-pressed in the evening game at College Station at Kyle Field, one of the most notoriously challening places for opponents. Even further, Miami has not beat an SEC team since 2013. In the last three Miami contests against SEC opponents dating back to 2018, Miami has lost by a combined score of 101-50, where two of the games - LSU and Bama - were not even close.
Michaels: Not one single bit. I’ve said since the coaching staff was hired that Miami should win this game. Never once have I fallen into the Texas A&M hype, and last week just further proves what was already thought. A&M is a middle of the road SEC team, with an average QB, that was hyped because of a recruiting class and a win over Bama last season. That’s same team struggled be Colorado and lost games to Mississippi St and LSU. Hardly a juggernaut! Jimbo has averaged 3.7 losses per season without Jameis Winston. Miami has the better QB by far, which should give Miami the edge, even on the road.
Schiffman: Not really. A&M will be fired up for this game, possibly even more so since they have something to prove after a loss. That said, the atmosphere would be crazy no matter what. The Canes, especially the offense, have to withstand the early onslaught of crowd noise and a motivated, talented SEC defense. Miami hasn’t won one of these types of games in a while. They NEED this one.
Weaver: Definitely raised my expectations for our defense. If UNC can score 63 on App State, but Texas A&M could barely move the ball, that definitely ups the ante for the Canes defense. If Gattis’ crew scores into the 20’s, there’s now an expectation that should be enough to win. If the offense can score into the 30’s, we should be discussing a blow out.
Question 3: Who needs to step up for Miami to win?
Underwood: Everyone. Cristobal at the top of the organization needs to have a solid plan for the week, and the game, and make that come to life. OC Gattis needs to leave the optimist, U-7 playbook at home and dial up a diverse gameplan to attack Texas A&M. All the receivers now that Xavier Restrepo is out with a foot injury. All the defenders, particularly at LB and DB, where play has been solid but inconsistent so far this year. The kickers. The return teams. The water boys. The athletic trainers. EVERYBODY needs to step up. Now.
Dottavio: Wow. I think Cristobal, for one. The head guy can’t let the team come out flat again like vs. Southern Miss. Manage the clock, manage the depth well, make sure penalties and kicking issues (so far so good re kicking) are under control. After that it’s the leadership- Tyler Van Dyke needs a huge game. He’s the clear leader of the ‘Canes. On defense we need to see that team captain emerge. Is it Stevenson? Leonard Taylor? Who is THAT GUY?
KappaCane: I say the O-Line will need to step up because we saw the blueprint to beat A&M last week... run the ball and assert your will against them and keep their offense on the sideline. If the line can be serviceable, TVD will have the time he needs to go through his progressions and the running backs will have lanes to run through. I’m most concerned with the blitzes as Southern Miss gave us fits with the blitz last week and it appeared to rattle TVD’s timing.
Smith: I would say the offensive line, but that’s a given. What Miami really needs, especially if A&M scores like I think they will, is an offensive playmaker. The Canes are gonna have to hit some big plays in the passing game, and who can generate those plays has been somewhat of a concern. I think UM’s best bet to become a true #1 receiver is Key’Shawn Smith. He flashed often last year, and had a 35-yard touchdown last weekend. Xavier Restrepo has been the most reliable target on short and intermediate throws, but the long touchdowns and deep chunk plays seem to be most likely to come through Smith, and they’ll be needed on Saturday against a good opponent in a tough environment. No better time for Miami’s true #1 receiver to emerge than then. This is Smith’s time.
Marcus: Tyler Van Dyke has not played a game close to this type of environment and scouts will be scrutinizing his every move. Miami must remain in the same ballpark as Texas A&M who features disruptive nose tackler, McKinnley Jackson, and ballhawking defensive back, Antonio Johnson. To that end, TVD looked a bit hesitant on Saturday’s game against the Eagles. If TVD comes out slow or is caught making mistakes, this could be a tougher game to keep the mental fortitude high. The Canes’ weapons also must be solid and not revert back to dropping passes. Beyond TVD, the defensive line and cornerbacks need to be effective. The defensive line of Corey Flagg, Chantz Williams, Jahfari Harvey, and Leonard Taylor did a fantastic job keeping Frank Gore Jr. in tact, but they will now face an offensive line (albeit dinged up) led by behemoths Layden Robinson and Reuben Fatheree and tailback, Devon Achane. WR, Ainias Smith, can be one of the most electric players in college football. And after a week where Miami’s secondary was picked apart by a Group of Five true freshman, Jahmile Addae and the Canes DBs cannot miss a beat.
Michaels: Josh Gattis and Kevin Steele. Mario hired a superstar coaching staff for games just like this. Gattis needs to open it up and give his best playmaker TVD the keys for success. Steele needs to find a combination to make life difficult on Haynes King or Max Johnson. The Canes need to have a decided schematic advantage.
Schiffman: The first half offense. Miami can demoralize A&M and their crowd if they get out to a nice lead before halftime. It would also take pressure off the defense, while adding significant pressure to Jimbo Fisher’s game-plan and, what some would say, outdated play-calling. If Josh Gattis is the offense whiz he is supposed to be, the first half on Saturday night should be a showcase for the hopeful future head coach. Let’s show Jimbo what a modern and effective college football offense looks like!
Weaver: Pressure is on the defense to match App State, and there’s a few underperformers from last week I want to see step up. First is Al Blades Jr. That jump ball that he just stared at should be haunting him this week in film review. Second is Malik Curtis. He’s young, but we’re thin at DB and Southern Miss picked on him early. He’ll be out there and he can’t crumble under the 12th Man. On offense, I’m hoping Will Mallory can get it going early. He had a bit of a disappointing season last year even though Brevin Jordan moved on to the NFL, and Mallory’s been a bit unremarkable to start this year. I’m hoping Gattis is saving something special for him this week and Mallory is prepared to answer the call.
Question 4: Who or what concerns you the most going into this game? (can be a Miami thing or aTm thing)
Underwood: The fact that Miami hasn’t won a major game of consequence on the road like this since 2005 at Virginia Tech. And, moreover, the fact that Miami hasn’t won a game of consequence at all since Notre Dame 2017. Yeah, that’s on Miami for not really playing in games of consequence much, but when they have, they have failed. Getting over that hurdle, leaving the failings of the past in the past and finding a way to turn the corner and win a game like this in a place like this against a team as talented as this. That’s what concerns me.
Oh. And Devin Achane. He’s stupid good and ridiculously fast. And the 9543245 5-star DL they signed last year. They’re very, very talented up front on defense.
Dottavio: TAMU’s mobile QB’s concern me. If they can convert 3rd and longs by scrambling it’ll be a long day after seeing some holes in the coverage for Miami. Steele did a good job of adjusting for the 2nd half. Miami’s lack of pass rush concerns me, too. Also the offensive line allowing sacks concerns me.
KappaCane: Our OL vs their DL. The strength of their team is on the defensive line, so I want our guys to put on their best performance Saturday. Iron sharpens Iron... this is what I’ll be keyed in on.
Smith: On offense, Miami being able to get separation at WR and hit a big play where needed is worrisome. That’s not as much of a given as last year. Defensively, the Canes’ fundamentals going out the window. Call it PTSD from the last several years, but the tackling reverting back to high school junior varsity level from 2021 still concerns me until I see a consistently-solid play. Kevin Steele, Charlie Strong and company can fix the Xs and Os, but the Jimmies and Joes have to be able to execute. Are said Jimmies and Joes capable of consistently doing that? Jury’s still out, in my mind. I will say Corey Flagg, Jr. has looked good early, and the linebackers as a whole have been better so far this year, but Bethune Cookman’s QBs made some plays, especially on the run, so Haynes King could be a handful for UM if that trend repeats itself.
Marcus: The cornerbacks needs to be top notch. Wide Receiver, Ainias Smith, is one of the most electric playmakers in college football with the ball in his hand as he is averaging over 90 yards a game through the first two matchups. True freshman wideout, Evan Stewart is inexperienced but also has track speed. The Canes allowed a true freshman to pick apart the Canes secondary last week so if there are any lapses, whether it be by way of pass interference or getting beat on the deep ball, the Aggies’ wideouts will capitalize accordingly. Tyrique Stevenson has been impressive in the open field as a physical CB thus far this season and exhibits the speed in the punt return game, but true coverage capabilities will need to be on display Saturday night. Beyond that, Daryl Porter Jr., DJ Ivey, Te’Cory Couch, and Malik Curtis need to show improvement in order to avoid breakaway plays.
Michaels: The Texas A&M speed. Achane is a legit 10.2 100 yard dash guy, and Ainais Smith can take the top off the defense at any time. The Canes have been susceptible to big plays allowed in 2 games against inferior programs. A&M will be looking for confidence, and giving up an explosive play is an easy way for the Canes to dog themselves a big hole, and let the 12th man into the game.
Schiffman: Miami’s defense. I am so much more nervous watching the Canes on defense than on offense this season. DJ Ivey is terrifying when he is one-on-one with a good receiver; he needs help. The defensive line has been okay, but A&M will be an obvious step up in competition. Leonard Taylor III and company have to generate consistent pressure Saturday night. Corey Flagg Jr. needs to keep up his outstanding play and lead Miami’s linebackers to a mistake-free game filled with solid tackling.
Weaver: That a Canes victory will be spun by the SEC-centric press into more about a Texas A&M collapse than Cristobal earning his first big victory. Miami, and frankly the entire ACC, has to earn every scintilla of respect it manages to get. FSU marched into New Orleans and took down LSU and is still unranked (and LSU and A&M look pretty comparable right now). So going into this game, I am concerned that thanks to App State this is a lose-lose scenario for Miami. Lose and, well, you lost. Win and you’re not any better than App State (although maybe that’d mean we can get Gameday to visit us for UNC or FSU).
Question 5: What would a win mean for Miami?
Underwood: That Miami is back on the radar as a top national program. Sure, there are concerns about the quality of Texas A&M after losing to Appalachian State, but going into College Station and winning a Saturday night primetime game against the Aggies would herald a return to prominence for Miami. Prominence =/= back. Prominence =/= championship. But writing Miami off as “a year away” would stop. For a time, at least.
Dottavio: It would be HUGE for Miami to beat TAMU at home. Regardless of their App loss, they’re an SEC team with a playoff caliber Blue Chip Ratio. HUGE HUGE HUGE win.
KappaCane: It would mean were 1-0 on the week and 3-0 on the season. Thats the mentality Mario is installing in the program. I’ve seen the hype around this game losing some steam with the Aggies loss last week, but the country will be watching. More importantly, recruits will be watching. This would go a long way to show them that we are working our way back to being a competitive program on a national level. It would also be a big confidence booster for the team as we prepare to begin ACC play in Week 5 and beyond.
Smith: Everything. This was one of the big ones on the schedule, App State loss be damned. It would show momentum is swelling in south Florida and would be a big selling point in recruiting for Mario. It would also show the fans (at least the rational ones) that tangible progress is happening quickly.
Marcus: Obviously this game would have slightly more meaning if the Canes were playing an undefeated, top ten, SEC team, but you can only control your own schedule and matchups. A win would be big and the first marquee matchup of the season would be out of the way. Miami has not beat an SEC team since 2013 and they have not won on the road against an SEC opponent since 2002(!) when they beat Tennessee. Among other things, Miami has few checklist items to cross off that they have not been able to do consistently over the past decade: 1) win marquee games (i.e. Texas A&M and Clemson); 2) prove they stand near the top of the ACC; and 3) win a solid Bowl game. This would be a huge steppingstone in the right direction for the program.
Michaels: Respect, sort of. Has A&M been unbeaten, the national media would’ve been gushing over a Miami win. Regardless, a win will show class of 23 recruits that the Canes can go on the road and beat an SEC team. The Canes are 3-7 vs SEC teams in their last 10 games, with most of them being lopsided defeats. We have all been on a wait and see about who the 2022 Canes really are, and Saturday goes a long way.
Schiffman: A buttload of confidence. A&M may be down, but they have a stacked young roster that had real expectations going into this season. Coach Cristobal could use this victory to motivate and get the absolute best out of this roster this season. This would be a fired up Canes team looking to their ACC schedule after the game vs Middle Tennessee State.
Weaver: A likely undefeated nonconference slate for the first time since the 2017 season (COVID shortened 2020 season aside), which was highlighted by the Canes’ destruction of Notre Dame at the Rock. Winning your big non-conference games means something. More immediately, 5 star WR prospect Hykeem Williams will be at the game and may be deciding between Texas A&M and Miami (though some feel he’s trending to FSU). He’s set a pledge announcement date for September 23rd. Impressing him could result in a game changing addition to next year’s class.
Question 6: What’s your prediction for Miami at Texas A&M? Include a score
Underwood: Respect all opponents, but fear none. I know Texas A&M is looking to bounce back after an embarrassing, College GameDay-losing loss to Appalachian State last week. But Miami is looking to take a big step forward as a program, show that Cristobal has the ability to get Miami back to the top of the CFB world, and this will be the game that accomplishes that. Miami 27 Texas A&M 20.
Dottavio: Texas A&M 20 - Miami 17. Obviously I hope I’m wrong but I could see this fate. I like that Parrish runs hard but I’m not sure if he’s fast enough to break a big play. You win football games on explosive plays (hint hint). Where are those explosives in the passing game coming from? Can’t rely only on trick plays.
KappaCane: Miami 23, Texas A&M 17. I think the defenses will come to play, and there will be some opportunities for both teams in the passing game, but Miami will advance late and hold them off with the run game.
Smith: Miami 31, Texas A&M 30. This seems like a clear spot for a bounce back win for A&M, and they will come out and punch Miami in the mouth early, but UM’s physicality on both sides of the line will stop the bleeding, as Miami claws its way back and steals one late with some 4th quarter Tyler Van Dyke heroics.
Marcus: Miami 38 Texas A&M 34. There will be some serious scoring in this matchup as the Aggies are coming out of a tough loss to unranked Appalachian State. TVD keeps his composure and maintains the lead into the late stages of the game and it’s sealed by a Canes’ interception.
Michaels; Miami 27 Texas A&M 24. Andy Borregales hits a game winner in the final minute for the road upset. I expect A&M to sellout to stop the run which will allow TVD to have his 1st 300 yard game of 2022 in a Canes win.
Schiffman: Miami 30 Texas A&M 27. I want Miami to win. I think Miami should win. I think Miami will win. TVD is the difference in this game for me. I like having the significantly better QB on the team I’m rooting for. He and the skill guys make enough plays to hold off A&M in the end.
Weaver: Miami 23, Texas A&M 17. Miami moves the ball well but has trouble finishing in the red zone. A well timed bomb from Van Dyke, a pick 6 by the defense, and 3 FGs from Borregales gets the job done.
And there you have it. Those are our thoughts heading into tomorrow’s game against Texas A&M. What are your thoughts? Share them in the comments and let’s get this thing going!
One day away, kids!
See you then.