The Miami Hurricanes finished the 2023 regular season with a final record of 7-5. Miami played its worst football in the ACC, finishing 3-5 in what most consider a down year in the conference as a whole.
At the off week (it’s not a bye in college football), I wrote a review of the first four games of the ‘Canes season. At that time The U was riding high at 4-0 after beating Miami-OH, Texas A&M, BCU and Temple. Four wins, 38+ points score in each, and Tyler Van Dyke looked back to his 2021 form.
And then all hell broke loose against a plucky Georgia Tech team that knocked off Miami on its way to a 6-6 record. Yes, the same Yellow Jackets team that lost in a blowout to Bowling Green fought Miami to the bitter end, including a Mario Cristobal coaching blunder for the ages and a Hail Haynes bomb for the game winning TD.
That’s when the wheels fell off for the Hurricanes in the 2023 season. Miami lost five of their last eight games, including another loss to UNC as Mack Brown has owned The U since arriving back in Chapel Hill, NC.
Miami closed out the season with losses to FSU, Louisville, and a win over Boston College. While the losses to Florida State and the Cardinals hurt, the BC game gave a glimmer of hope into the future of Miami football.
Over the season I’ve pointed to three areas of importance for winning football games: turnover margin, penalties (especially 15 yarders in key situations) and the kicking game. The data for Miami’s kicking game is always strong with the Borregales brothers in town as both can kick touchbacks at will, and with Lou Hedley and Dylan Joyce punting as they launch punts.
Great talent at a position can clearly overcome bad coaching, most of the time. But Andres Borregales has had some issues with missing clutch field goals, not kicking a touchback when it’s really needed, and whatever is happening with the punt return game for Miami needs immediate attention once again.
For as well as Francis Mauigoa has played at times at right tackle, he’s a penalty machine for Miami. OL Mauigoa, a five-star freshman, had a number of false starts and holding penalties called against him this season. Then there are the extremely dumb penalties like 15-yarders called against Brashard Smith and Jacolby George in pivotal situations against Louisville.
Of course, how you do one thing... Cristobal’s own game management has been a comedy of errors at times in ‘23. Most famously, the decision NOT to kneel down against GT to ice the game and cost the ‘Canes the chance at a clear win.
Week Five ‘22 vs. ‘23
At Week Five, Miami’s biggest issues in ‘23 compared to ‘22 were turnover margin and penalties. Those continued on throughout the season proving that you are who you are, the opponent just changes. Miami’s toughest opponent in the first four games of ‘23 was Texas A&M, and Jimbo Fisher has been fired over the Aggies disappointing 7-5 season.
Miami vs. the undefeated
Of course, we’ll use the SP+ metrics from Bill Connelly and other rankings in penalties, points per game and PPG allowed, and turnovers.
Now we’ll compare the Hurricanes to the four undefeated Power 5 teams left (Liberty is also 12-0 but held out of the comparison). Michigan is the top-rated team in the SP+ and for good reason- they’ve knocked off Penn State and Ohio State on their way to 12-0, and have done it with clean football.
Many people feel that Washington and FSU are overrated and that maybe be proven as such when the ‘Noles face Louisville in the ACC Championship Game and Washington has to win a rematch against Oregon in the final (for now?) Pac-12 Championship Game. The Seminoles and Huskies mutual weakness is being overly penalized.
By looking at the data, things couldn’t be further from reality for Miami compared to what the Michigan Wolverines have done on the field. Michigan is what Mario wants to be- we’ll just see what that can do vs. Georgia and potentially Oregon or Washington.
SWOT Analysis Reviewed
In the summer, I thought the Strengths of the Miami SWOT would be: Blue Chip Ratio, Tight End, and Kam Kinchens. Miami is still a very talented team but the question remains as to how well coached the ‘Canes are under Cristobal. Where the offensive line had some big games, especially in pass protection, it was at the cost of having backs and tight ends in the passing game.
Speaking of TE’s, I completely missed on that position being a Strength. Elijah Arroyo was still injured, Jaleel Skinner went unused, Riley Williams was without impact and Cam McCormick can’t catch or run. It was basically an extra lineman with McCormick and offensive lineman Matthew McCoy in games as blockers and extra blockers.
Kinchens had ups and downs. He could still create turnovers like no one else on the roster. Man, a roster has never lacked ball hawks quite like Miami’s. But, he also missed big on interception attempts, often jumping other receivers and letting his beat him deep. And he was terrible at tackling in space.
The real strengths were the offensive line, Jacolby George, and Francisco Mauigoa. The line made every back look better than they were, and gave Van Dyke and Emory Williams plenty of time to throw. George emerged as a legit P5 playmaker at WR. George averaged 15.5 yards per catch (team lead) and caught eight TD’s (team lead). Mauigoa finished the regular season with 17 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks, and two forced fumbles with one INT.
Before the season I saw the Weaknesses as strength and conditioning, wide receiver, and left tackle. I am not sold on the ‘Canes strength and conditioning program. Dr. Bryann Mann decided to pack up and leave Coral Gables, Eric Renaghan is a really intelligent sport scientist but I question how often he’s listened to by Cristobal. In the end, Mario wants a Scott Cochran 2.0 in Aaron Feld.
Miami has an OL filled with future NFL Draft picks but can’t pick up a 4th and 1. On the flip side, ‘Canes DL and LB are ran over on run downs by opponents. Injuries weren’t quite as bad (also, no rumors of multiple 150 play scrimmages). Then it’s game speed, can you imagine any Miami defensive back even attempting to hang with Marvin Harrison Jr.? Miami lacks breakaway backs, and even with George making plays- 15.5 ypc isn’t that great in college football.
Wide Receiver, however, wasn’t as much of a weakness as it was an opportunity all season long. Who is going to show up this week? George, Xavier Restrepo (five TD’s)? Colbie Young (five TD’s)? And without TE’s or RB’s in the passing game some WR had to get it done every week in some new way.
I completely missed on left tackle and owe Jalen Rivers an apology. Rivers was a guy that at guard I had high NFL hopes for, but his tackle performance in the spring game left a lot to be desired. Rivers really stepped up and is going to be a huge miss if he decides to leave early for the 2024 NFL Draft.
This summer I put LB Mauigoa as an opportunity and boy did he turn into one. He was weak in pass coverage but he was strong in playing the run, dissecting plays, getting the front six lined up, and even at rushing the passer. He’s a thumper that probably doesn’t have a high ceiling in the NFL, but his floor is high enough to make a roster.
Having a new OC and DC were opportunities before the season. Shannon Dawson had his ups and downs as did Lance Guidry. All in all, you have to be happy that Miami improved from 113th in PPG and 68th in PPG Allowed to 39th in PPG and 42nd in PPGA.
Can we as fans expect more? Hell yeah. Dawson going through horrible slumps of scoring and Guidry having a clueless pass defense for a safeties coach left a lot to be desired. It would absolutely benefit Miami to keep both coordinators for another season to build any continuity in terminology and philosophy, as well as coaching style and recruiting style.
The Canyonero Keys to THE SEASON
The Canyonero keys to Miami having a successful season (they didn’t) were:
1- Stay healthy.
Tyler Van Dyke, Emory Williams, Henry Parrish Jr., Don Chaney Jr., Ajay Allen, Elijah Arroyo, Akheem Mesidor, Branson Deen, Leonard Taylor III, Darryl Porter Jr., Kamren Kinchens, Samson Okunlola, Tre Citizen, Nyjalik Kelly, the list goes on. Miami wasn’t quite as injured in ‘23 as in 2022, but how many major players have been out again this season? Too many.
Nothing is real but the money and the miles- the way you train and practice will put miles on your body over the course of a season and career. Do you believe in rest and recovery, or #GrindSZN? Do you emphasize diet, nutrition, sleep, massage, and physical therapy or more-more-more?
2- Look well coached.
Jim Collins famously created this Venn Diagram on the Hedgehog Concept in his book Good to Great. If I was to analyze Mario Cristobal’s coaching style, and assume what he’s deeply passionate about it’s playing physical, disciplined football. Cristobal would believe he can be the best in the world at recruiting talent that plays physically, and believe his economic engine is driven by controlling the clock and wearing teams down physically.
There were times where we saw Miami as a physically dominant team, but the discipline aspect just isn’t there on the field. Even the coaches were undisciplined- the kneel down, Guidry’s penalty for yelling at the refs, 12 men on the field penalties, wasted timeouts, not taking a timeout before the GT Hail Mary...
Too many dumb penalties all the way into costing the team the 11th game of the season, and too many bad coaching decisions into game 11 as well. As we’ve proven all season long, time of possession is NOT a predictor of offensive or scoreboard success. For Mario to execute his vision, he himself needs to grow as a coach.
3- Find real stars.
George might just be a real star in the making along with Mark Fletcher and Rueben Bain Jr. That’s three guys Miami can really build around, along with OL Mauigoa. But what Miami needs right now more than anything is a true game managing quarterback, and Mario Cristobal has struggled to find a good QB since Justin Herbert left Eugene.
The question you have to ask yourself is with how pedestrian Cristobal made Herbert look, and the mess behind center after Herbert left, do big time QB’s want to play for Miami- or for Tennessee, Washington, Oregon, Texas, FSU, UGA, Alabama, Ohio State... the list goes on. There are much better offensive head coaches to play for than caveman ball.
Before the season I went with a 7-5 prediction. I shouldn’t have switched to 8-4 midseason knowing this staff but I did. And of course, they finished 7-5.
Grade: C. The Hurricanes deserve a C grade on finishing exactly how we expected but sadly not better than someone that many on here call a pessimist predicted. They’re bad, but not the worst! A solid 2.0 grade point average for the ‘Canes and Cristobal.