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Summer Scheming ‘23: Miami Hurricanes

The Miami Hurricanes are coming off of a disappointing 5-7 with all new coordinators and another transfer portal overhaul to the roster.

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Miami v Clemson Photo by Eakin Howard/Getty Images

The Miami Hurricanes enter the season unranked in every preseason poll and have only two players on the Athlon preseason All-ACC first team. The Hurricanes finished the disappointing 2022 season with a final record of 5-7. The U’s offense finished 97th in FBS in scoring and 68th in points allowed.

The Miami Hurricanes athletic department parted ways with former head coach Manny Diaz after his embarrassing loss to the Florida State Seminoles in 2021. The admin let Diaz hang on like a ‘dead man walking’ while the ink dried on Mario Cristobal’s new contract in Miami.

Mario Cristobal came to Coral Gables from the University of Oregon. Cristobal finished his four seasons in Eugene with an overall record of 35-13 (23-9 in the Pac-12). Cristobal’s Ducks finished in the top-25 twice in four years, including a high of fifth overall in 2019.

Oregon won the Pac-12 Championship Game twice under Cristobal, and the Rose Bowl once. Cristobal’s first season at Miami ended with the ‘Canes sitting at 5th in the now defunct ACC’s Coastal division.

Prior to the Ducks, Cristobal won the National Championship as an assistant at Alabama, served as the head coach at FIU, and served as both a Miami assistant and GA, and a Rutgers assistant coach. Cristobal played offensive tackle at the University of Miami from 1989 through 1992, and for the Amsterdam Admirals from 1995 through 1996.

Per Bill Connelly’s SP+, the ‘Canes are the 42nd overall team in FBS heading into the 2023 season. Miami is ranked 55th on offense and 20th on defense.

Summer Scheming SWOT Analysis

This year’s Summer Scheming will look different than in years past by featuring a SWOT Analysis on each opponent the Hurricanes will face in the 2023 season. SWOT in this iteration will stand for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Traditions* (not Threats). We’ll discuss one cool tradition from each of the football programs on the ‘23 schedule.

Strengths: Blue Chip Ratio, tight ends, Kam Kinchens

There are 16 teams in all of college football with a Blue Chip Ratio of 50% or better. The Hurricanes have the 12th most talent in all of college football at 61% BCR, per 247 Sports. That means Miami only has less talent than two teams on the entire schedule: the Texas A&M Aggies (73%) and the Clemson Tigers (72%).

The Miami Hurricanes tight ends aren’t getting preseason pub love from The Athlon, but Jaleel Skinner, Elijah Arroyo, and Riley Williams are legit prospects at the position. New OC Shannon Dawson loves tight ends and I would expect to see Skinner, Arroyo and Williams all get on the field via 12 personnel groupings (one running back, two tight ends).

Miami v Clemson Photo by Eakin Howard/Getty Images

Kamren Kinchens is the best player in orange and green heading into 2023. In ‘22, Kinchens led the Hurricanes with six interceptions, tied for 2nd in PBU’s with another half dozen of those, forced one fumble, recovered another, scored a touchdown and picked up 1.5 TFL’s.

Kinchens was a first-team All-American and is a preseason All-American and All-ACC safety heading into the upcoming campaign. Kinchens is joined in the back end by former five-star DB James Williams (tied for 2nd with six PBU’s of his own).

Weaknesses: S&C, WR, left tackle

A very heated debate on social media is about both the impact and ability of Miami’s celebrity strength coach Aaron Feld. Feld came to Coral Gables from Eugene where he served as the strength coach of the Ducks under Cristobal. In ‘22, Miami suffered through over two dozen injuries and barely put an offensive line on the field for some games.

And every position group felt the issues- quarterback (Van Dyke, Jake Garcia), running back (Henry Parrish, Don Chaney), tight end (Arroyo), wide receiver (Restrepo), offensive line (Zion Nelson, Jalen Rivers, etc.), defensive line (Taylor), linebacker (Flagg), and defensive back (Tyrique Stevenson). Hell even the punter, Lou Hedley, got injured in pre-game warm-ups.

Bethune-Cookman v Miami Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

But it wasn’t just the injuries, Miami got pushed around by Group of 5 teams, were burned deep by Middle Tennessee State WR’s and looked slower and less explosive than under David Feeley. It was an all around F- performance from the strength and conditioning staff.

Outside of WR Xavier Restrepo, Miami is lacking in wide receiver depth for ‘23. The rangy Colbie Young caught five TD’s last season but averaged only 11.5 yards per catch as an outside threat. Restrepo added two more scores but only 11.4 YPC. Everyone else is either a freshman or unproven in the ACC.

NC State v Miami Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

The left tackle position is one of much debate. Cristobal let John Campbell walk to Tennessee to battle for their LT job. Jalen Rivers moved from guard to LT in the spring game to fill the void left by the injured Zion Nelson. Nelson, the other first-team Athlon preseason player for Miami, is a former starter who missed the 2022 season due to injury.

Nelson went from unranked to beloved NFL mock draft steal before he injured his knee. With Tyler Van Dyke’s injured shoulder and lack of mobility, Miami sure could use a proven blind side tackle this season.

Opportunities: New OC and DC, ILB

Coach Dawson will have a new-look offensive line, but the same quarterback from a year ago. Van Dyke returns for another season of Miami football. The ‘Canes QB struggled in ‘22 under Josh Gattis. He threw for 10 TD’s with five INT’s in nine games. Why does Dawson provide opportunity?

He’s got a very Rhett Lashlee style background to him and Lashlee did really well at Miami compared to former OC’s Dan Enos and Gattis. Dawson will run Air Raid passing concepts with gap and zone run schemes, RPO’s, and screens. Dawson will have center Matt Lee (UCF) and guard Javion Cohen (Alabama) as well as Nelson, Rivers, Anez Cooper, and OT Francis Mauigoa to rely on for the O-Line.

On defense, new DC Lance Guidry comes to Miami via Tulane via Marshall. Guidry runs a 4-2-5 defense with stand-up ends and will disguise his scheme unlike Manny Diaz and Blake Baker. Unlike former DC Kevin Steele, Guidry is used to getting more out of less rather than only excelling when he has a loaded roster (Auburn). Guidry is a defensive backs coach by trade and that group struggled outside of Kinchens in ‘22.

Washington State v USC Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The inside linebacker position needed a facelift and Cristobal went out and landed Francisco Mauigoa from Washington State. Mauigoa is the brother of Miami blue chip right tackle Francis Mauigoa. Miami has tried their hand with Ryan Ragone, Corey Flagg Jr., Bradley Jennings Jr. and others that just haven’t really worked out. Mauigoa will more than likely be on the field with sophomore Wesley Bissainthe (30 tackles).

Traditions: Running through the smoke

From SOTU’s very own Mike Schiffman, “Miami Hurricanes Football Innovations That Were Ripped Off Or Stolen

After Miami started the intimidating entrance, there have been too many teams and bowls to list that have copied it. I can’t blame them; running through the smoke looks awesome. Let’s be real though, everyone knows running through the smoke is synonymous with Miami Hurricanes football.

Southern Mississippi v Miami Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images

Fixing the Miami offense: Take what’s given

I’m not going to give you another scheme breakdown on new Miami OC Shannon Dawson as I’ve done multiple already (Hiring, All-22 Review 1, All-22 Review 2, Dossier, Spring Game Review). What I want to give you is a problem we saw with the offense in 2022, and how it can be solved in 2023.

The Problem: A lack of adaptability

The Solution: Take what’s given

Over the past decade, Miami has done far too much forcing what the OC wants instead of taking what the defense gives. Mark Richt, Dan Enos, Josh Gattis and even Rhett Lashlee (at times) refused to adapt to personnel and the look from the defense.

Mark Richt, 2016-2018

From Miami’s 13-16 loss to UVA in 2018

In 2018, Miami lost in a stunning fashion to the Virginia Cavaliers. The final was 16-13 in favor of The Hoos. Richt really wanted to hit his 3-verts play all night and UVA kept their cornerbacks at 10-yards to avoid just that result.

Former UVA head coach Bronco Mendenhall clearly thought Miami couldn’t string together a drive (he was right) and the best bet was to force them to try. Miami QB’s threw three interceptions with zero touchdown passes and kept throwing even with Travis Homer averaging 11.9 yards per carry.

Solution: Mike Leach’s “6,” the very popular “verts” plays allows the WR’s to break off their routes if the DB’s are ‘above the hard deck’ which is at 7-yards. UVA is at TEN yards and yet Miami’s WR’s ran right into their umbrella coverage.

Dan Enos, 2019

From Miami’s 28-21 OT loss to Georgia Tech

“Hey where’s Dan?” Nick Saban pondered aloud to his staff. Dan was Dan Enos, and he had gone out for a pack of smokes and never returned home to Tuscaloosa. Why many Miami fans thought that was:

1- The quality of guy you’d want as your OC, and

2- Not going to blow up in Enos’ and Manny Diaz’s faces was beyond me.

Remember, if someone cheats on their spouse with you, they’ll cheat on you in the future.

Enos left Alabama in the middle of the night like the Baltimore Colts moving vans. And he didn’t so much bolt on Miami as he bolted on common sense (like laminating his play sheet) and scoring touchdowns. His one year run in Coral Gables ended in a 14-0 shutout against Louisiana Tech in the Independence Bowl.

Why run a route that breaks that damn close to the 1st down marker on 4th down? Why not have Brevin Jordan more involved in the game plan, like, prior to overtime?

Jordan, now an NFL tight end, only caught three balls for 21-yards against a Yellow Jackets team that could not have matched up with him over the middle. Enos was a complete bust of an OC hire for Diaz in year one.

Solution: What about Hoosiers? Run Mike Harley on the lookie (slot), and Jordan on the corner. Read that corner high-low with the Fin concept.

Rhett Lashlee, 2020-2021

Rhett Lashlee was the most innovating of the last half dozen OC’s and came from an Air Raid’y background via Sonny Dykes (together at SMU) and a Wing-T and QB option background from Gus Malzahn (together at Auburn). Lashlee brought D’Eriq King over from Houston and the impact was immediate.

But even when King went down with a knee injury to end the 2020 season, Lashlee adapted his scheme to fit his new QB, Tyler Van Dyke in ‘21. It took some time adjusting but by the UNC game in ‘21, Van Dyke was off the leash and began to string together a hell of a rookie run.

From Miami’s 30-28 loss to UVA in 2021

One reasonable complaint about Lashlee was his lack of an under center QB sneak for when his team was backed up inside the -5 yard line. We’ve all seen how successful the Philadelphia Eagles have been with Jalen Hurts and the “socks” play, and I’ve ran it with perfection at the high school level, too.

And it wasn’t just giving up one safety because Miami couldn’t install a QB sneak, there were other safeties, lack of 4th and shorts and 4th and goals picked up due to this oversight from Lashlee.

Solution: It’s kind of a ‘fool me once’ situation. I ran into it in 2019 as an OC. We didn’t have our QB sneak in yet and it cost us a game (also allowing a deep TD throw with seconds left didn’t help). That became my moment where it would always be in the install on the week of the first game.

For the bang up job Lashlee did with adjusting from King to Van Dyke, and his many trick plays that were a lot of fun- not finding ‘time’ to install a QB sneak from under center really hurt the ‘Canes. ie. Miami lost to UVA in ‘21 by two points...

Josh Gattis, 2022

The really dumb Josh Gattis hire. Mario Cristobal Manny’d that OC hire up, didn’t he? Gattis really forced a square peg into a round hole but I think that was just as much what Cristobal wanted as it was what Gattis does (which apparently is NOT score points, ask Mike Locksley via the Maryland spring game).

From Miami’s 2022 loss to Texas A&M

2022 was the year of the Cristo-ball and Miami fans got to see “bully ball” fail in all its glory. Let’s take you on the road, against Texas A&M, late in the 3rd quarter. Down 14 to the Aggies (who finished the season 5-7) Miami decides to really get gutsy and call inside zone against eight around the box on 3rd and goal. Whew, be still my heart, that was a risky play call!

There isn’t even an RPO tagged on it, just straight up inside zone with a QB that you know won’t pull and run and in a situation where Cristobal was clearly cool taking a field goal.

Solution: The RPO tag below from new OC Shannon Dawson.

The Solution: Shannon Dawson, 2023

New Miami OC Shannon Dawson has many examples of what to do and not to do laid out right in front of him on his XOS machine in his office. Miami has years of tape on XOS of forcing plays, not tagging read options or RPO’s, and not allowing audibles while forcing plays into bad looks.

From Dawson’s time at Houston against Tulane in 2022

I really like the RPO tag against Tulane from the Cougs OT loss to the Green Wave. If the defense wants to stack the box like this you have to have other ‘options’ (all pun intended) in the play call.

The slant is drilled in on 4th and goal to pull within an extra point of the Wave. When that safety plays the run, pull and throw the slant.

Does Dawson have some stuff that he forces in? Yes. Is Dana Holgorsen a much better mentor as a head coach when it comes to X’s and O’s than Mario Cristobal? ABSOLUTELY. Cristobal is a CEO type of head coach while Dana is a play-calling type of head coach.

The solution is to take what’s there and to stop forcing stuff that clearly won’t work before the snap of the ball. You aren’t Alabama, and even they aren’t getting away with that against LSU or Georgia.

Fixing the Miami defense: Pursue and finish

I’m not going to give you another scheme breakdown on new Miami DC Lance Guidry as I’ve done multiple already (Hiring, Spring Game Review, ‘22 to ‘23 spring comparison). What I want to give you is a problem we saw with the offense in 2022, and how it can be solved in 2023.

The Problem: Pursuit and Finish

The Solution: Modernizing pursuit and tackling drills

There’s been a limited amount of good pursuit and “finish” at Miami since guys like Jon Vilma and Sean Taylor left for the NFL. Seemingly every good DC in football has a bad day once in a while. Even Alabama head coach Nick Saban just sent his co-DC’s to rental homes in new zip codes because of the damage Tennessee gave Nicky’s defense on a national stage.

But Miami has made a special habit of allowing big games on the ground since Randy Shannon’s team got blasted by Georgia Tech for 472 yards and four touchdowns in 2008.

Al Golden’s ‘Canes let the Clemson Tigers run up 416 yards and six touchdowns in a 58-0 route that ended his run as Miami head football coach.

Manny Diaz often gave up huge games to little known QB’s like UVA’s Kurt Benkert. Benkert hit up Diaz for 384 yards and four TD’s in a losing effort.

Diaz then turned around and gave up a record setting day on the ground to UNC in 2020. The Heels ran up a tab of 554 rushing yards with six touchdowns on 10.1 yards per carry versus Blake Baker and Diaz.

Miami has even had some all-time tracking and finish boners on a national stage. The Gurvan Hall “tackle” (which Hall did more than once, see: UNC) rings a bell. Everything going on against UNC in that aforementioned game from ‘20.

The entire country is well aware that Miami couldn’t tackle during Manny Diaz’s tenure as both DC and head coach. Now as the DC at Penn State, Diaz once again gave up a school-record number of rushing yards against Michigan in ‘22. That’s three ‘rushing yards allowed’ records at three different schools (Taysom Hill says hi), bravo sir!

But it’s not like the Kevin Steele year as DC saw drastic improvements in tracking and tackling. Miami still looked lost, especially in the open field.

There’s a reason that I don’t consider the word SCHEME to be just the plays ran or defenses called. The scheme is the whole damn thing. It’s what you emphasize, it’s the personnel groupings you use, the calls themselves included, how you practice, who you recruit, and the position drills and small and large group periods that you run.

While rugby teams are probably the way to go when studying tracking and tackling, they don’t have quite as much to defend against as football (there ain’t no RPO’s in the rugby). In order to get close to perfect, coaches have to borrow from many sources to create the one ultimate source.

Coaches love to have players go through mindless indy drills but you don’t see real tackling periods. In the off-season you hear about 7-on-7 and the such, but you don’t hear about players working on their fit and finish.

The claim is typically things like “injury risk” but you’re more likely to be injured once camp and games start if you ignore tackling for 8 months than if you teach a proper progression, then let your players go ahead and work on it.

The phrase contact prep has gotten a lot of attention lately. I’m a huge proponent of contact prep drills being ran by the strength and conditioning staff in the off-season. Athletes are going without tackling from December through August, minus a dozen or so practices in April. That means 6-8 dormant months away from contact.

Once we’re talking true tackling, there’s diving into pool floats and there’s actual tackling work. The All Blacks have been kicking everyone’s ass at rugby for decades. They won the Rugby World Cup in 1987, 2011, and 2015. They’ve played 19 different countries in test matches, and have never lost to 12 of them.

As you can see above, they aren’t tackling a pad, they’re tackling a person with the pad absorbing some of the load to avoid overloading the body. NCAA rules without a doubt hinder some of the development of tacklers in college football, and those rules were put in place because coaches weren’t schooled or empathetic enough to not over-work their players.

Above- this is a tracking drill, not a tackling drill. I’ve never understood the chest bump thing... makes zero sense. If I want players to track near hip to near shoulder, I would want the tag off to be done with the backside hand to the far butt cheek, and the nearside hand to the far thigh.

If the most important aspect of the tackle is the re-acceleration on contact, the ball carrier isn’t giving the defender a fight enough to notice, and the drill is over before re-acceleration takes place. It’s just not being good teachers of the drill, or coaches not understanding the WHY of the drill.

Some of what you see from these drills, one to six years old, are good- but a lot of it is just bad. I like the heavy bags and fighting with them, but more as an off-season drill than something done in pads.

People move and cut, bags don’t. People re-accel, bags don’t. People fight to win the rep, bags don’t. There is no improvement on re-accel, wrapping through contact, or the OODA Loop with 90+% of the drills you’re seeing in these videos.

Solution: You saw a glimpse of contact prep above, and of some close quarters safe tackling work that looks much closer to the game. It’s okay to bring guys to the ground, I personally hate “thud” because I don’t think it serves much of a purpose.

I understand not diving at a teammates knees with your helmet first, but tackling hips and re-accelerating to bring guys to the ground is as safe as thud, when done right, and it prepares you for the game unlike thud.

Canyonero Keys to THE SEASON*

Normally the Canyonero Keys* are the focal points for how Miami can beat their opponent. This time, it’s what Miami needs to do in order to have at least an average season by our standards as fans of a once proud dynasty. Over the first 20 years of my ‘Canes fandom, Miami lost 41 games. In the 18 years since then? Miami has lost 97 games. So.... how can Cristobal and Co. pull off an average season?

1- Stay healthy. Miami won’t finish better than six and six if they suffer through two dozen or more injuries again in ‘23. 150 play camp scrimmages, #GrindSZN, etc. might have to be re-tooled. Mario “loves to grind” but what do you do as the head coach when that method isn’t working? Continue to work dumb, or work smarter?

2- Look well coached. Miami didn’t look well coached in ‘22. Penalties, turnovers, missed and blown assignments, etc. Cristobal LOVES the cliche / platitude, “how you do one thing is how you do everything.” The Hurricanes didn’t do many things right on the field last season. Miami was still poor at blocking and tackling. Look well coached, look prepared, look bought in. All that discipline talk is just that, talk, until it shows up on the field.

3- Find real stars. Look, we all like recruiting services, the big signing ‘edits’ and days, on and on. But five and four stars have come to Miami to fade away in recent years. Lorenzo Lingard? Mark Pope? Bubba Bolden? Leonard Taylor and James Williams have shown flashes, but even Chad Thomas was stagnant until his senior season. Miami needs to find real stars on the field, in games, making plays against ACC opponents.

Season Prediction: 7-5.