2023 Preseason Opponent Preview: Miami

In typical Miami fashion, there was a lot of preseason hype for the Hurricanes when new HC Mario Cristobal was hired. He assembled a staff that their fan base touted as one of the best in the country. One year, four blowouts, and a loss to Middle Tennessee State later, and Miami is already rebuilding that dream staff. They’ve made four coaching changes that included both coordinators.

One thing about Miami is they have consistently been good and doing less with more. There is statistical evidence in college football that a team must have a Blue-Chip ratio above 50% to win a national championship. Last season Miami had a Blue-Chip ratio of 55%, making them one of only 15 teams with the talent to win a national title, and they went 5-7. Obviously, a Blue-Chip ratio above 50% doesn’t guarantee a national championship or even a winning season in Miami’s case.

When Mario Cristobal left Oregon, I found it odd that their fans seemed happy about it. They said Cristobal’s offense was boring, and poor in-game decisions were being made. Could it have been fans airing out frustration over the second coach in 5 years to bounce from a program like Oregon? After all, Cristobal was 35-13 there.

However, I find some interesting points when you look deeper into that record. First, while Oregon had gone 11-14 the two seasons before Cristobal took over, they had put together an 89-18 record with four conference championships in the eight years prior, so it’s not like he walked into a rebuild. In fact, he inherited Justin Herbert at QB, who ended up being a 1st round NFL draft pick. Without Herbert at QB, Oregon went 1-5 against ranked teams under Cristobal.

He also was competing in a weak Pac-12. The conference as a whole finished with a sub-.500 record in two of the four years Cristobal was there. The ACC hasn’t done that since 1996, the B1G since 1992, and the SEC’s last sub-.500 season as a conference was in 1979. Cristobal’s record vs. Power 5 teams at Oregon was 28-13, but only 13 of those wins came against teams with a winning record. That’s not necessarily terrible, but he took over a team that had finished first or second in the Pac-12 seven out of the previous ten years before he arrived. In one of the three years that they did not finish top 2, they finished third, and another Cristobal was already at Oregon but not the head Coach. The point I’m trying to make is that he was handed the keys to a Corvette. It just had a flat tire.

Cristobal’s first head coaching job was at Florida International. Now in fairness, FIU is a hard place to win. They have only had four winning seasons in 19 years of playing football, and Cristobal produced two. However, his overall record was 27-47, which led to him being fired. Maybe FIU isn’t a fair assessment, but if we’re going to count getting handed the keys to a Corvette, we also have to count getting handed the keys to a rusted-out Ford Pinto too. To smooth things out, let’s look at the overall record when his team was the favored to win, which is 27-36-2.

So, why bring up what happened in the past when we’re talking about 2023? Well, I’m just not sold on Mario Cristobal being the second coming of Nick Saban that he was made out to be when hired at Miami, but he may prove me wrong over time.

Miami’s Blue-Chip ratio is once again above 50% in 2023. When factoring in transfers, the latest calculation I’ve seen was 53%, making them one of sixteen teams that could theoretically win a national championship again this year. Will Miami do less with more again in 2023? Or can Cristobal right the ship and guide Miami back to being relevant for the first time in 2 decades?

On offense, they bring in former Houston OC Shannon Dawson, who had two top-20 scoring offenses during his three seasons with the Cougars. However, just two years before Dawson took over, Houston had the 5th ranked scoring offense in the country but had fallen to 51st the year before his arrival. Before landing the Houston job, Dawson was the OC at Southern Miss.

Like Houston, USM had the 13th-ranked scoring offense two seasons before Dawson’s arrival, and then they slipped to 41st. During his three years at USM, Dawson’s scoring offenses finished 56th, 90th, and 81st. I’m not saying Dawson is a bad OC by any means. After all, he produced two top-20 offenses at Houston, and his QB threw for an astounding 4,074 yards and 40 touchdowns in 2022. I’m just saying that, like Cristobal, the jury is still out for me.

I do expect Dawson’s offense will get more out of Tyler Van Dyke (66.8 PFF), who returns at QB for 2023. I asked TVD at ACC media days what he liked about the new offense, and he told me it allowed the quarterback to think less and play freely, which fits what made TVD the standout freshman he was in 2021. Van Dyke battled injury last year, but when on the field, he regressed under Josh Gattis, throwing for 1,095 fewer yards, 15 fewer touchdowns, and even getting benched a few times. If Dawson’s offense can bring out the TVD we saw in 2021, Miami has a quarterback with a lot of potential waiting to be tapped.

They lose backup QB Jake Garcia, who struggled when stepping in for TVD. The backup this season will likely be Jacurri Brown, who you may remember as the guy Jammie Robinson threw around like a rag doll on national television. Brown got some experience last year as a freshman playing most of the FSU game and starting the following two games against GT and Clemson. He completed 27 passes (60%) for 230 yards with 3 TDs and 3 INTs.

At receiver, Miami gets 5 of their top 6 targets back that combined for 1,439 yards last year. However, not one of those five receivers eclipsed the 400-yard mark. Colbie Young (63.0 PFF) was the #2 WR with 376 yards, but didn’t log a single catch their first four games, then had back-to-back 100+ yard games against VT and Duke. He then went on to finish the season with only 96 yards, including two catches for 6 yards against FSU.

Brashard Smith (68.4 PFF) was the #3 with 308 yards but did not score a receiving touchdown. He had one catch for 1 yard against FSU. Frank Ladson Jr transferred to Miami last year after three seasons at Clemson and was the #4 WR with 298 yards and 1 TD. Xavier Restrepo (74.7 PFF) was their #5 with 240 yards, but 100 yards of that total came against Bethune Cookman in game 1. Restrepo had two catches for 25 yards against FSU. And lastly, Michael Redding III put up 217 yards as a freshman and was the #6 WR.

The wildcard for Miami is Tyler Harrell, who transferred in from Alabama (formerly of Louisville). Harrell dealt with injury last season and only played 39 snaps at Bama. He had a solid year in 2021 at Louisville, putting up 525 yards on 18 catches (29.2 YPC). However, he’s only tacked on an additional 54 yards in 4 seasons. He would be their most productive receiver based on the 2021 numbers. I think it’s also worth pointing out that Harrell has a career catch rate of just 52.9%.

Just because they get back 5 of their top 6 doesn’t mean there aren’t losses they’ll have to deal with. Miami lost their top target Will Mallory (538 yards), who was a 1st team All-ACC TE. They also lose their #7 WR Key’Shawn Smith, who put up 199 yards. Miami has experience returning, but the production from those coming back wasn’t impressive. I’m sure the quarterback play had an impact, and the new offense should be more receiver friendly. However, it’s still an underwhelming position group until proven otherwise, especially without Will Mallory.

In the backfield, Miami used a combo of Henry Parrish Jr (80.6 PFF) and Jaylan Knighton, with Thaddius Franklin Jr getting a chunk of the carries as well. Parrish led with 604 yards (4.72 YPC), 4 TDs, and is back for 2023. Knighton was #2 with 421 (5.47 YPC), while Franklin was #3 with 217 (4.34 YPC), but they both hit the portal.

Miami will get Donald Chaney Jr back from injury, who was the #2 back in 2020 with 322 (4.7 YPC). However, with the injury issues, he’s only had 13 carries for 52 yards the past two seasons, and you never know what you’re going to get from any player who has missed that much time. They have another back, TreVontae Citizen, who is recovering from a torn ACL and could make it back in the rotation. Miami did add Nebraska transfer Ajay Allen who had 33 carries for 190 yards (5.8 YPC) in his lone season with the Huskers, but that average drops to 3.4 YPC against P5 teams. The Hurricanes return their lead back which gives them a bell cow to lean on, but there’s not a lot of experienced depth behind them, and two are coming off injuries.

Miami’s offensive line made a buzz on social media when Pro Football Focus named 3 Hurricanes to their 1st team preseason All-ACC squad. They have high expectations for this unit, which has much more to do with what’s coming than going because last year’s numbers weren’t great. Miami finished 100th in sacks allowed and had the 95th-ranked rushing offense that was held under 100 yards in 4 games.

Let’s cover the losses first. LT John Campbell Jr started all 12 games last season but transferred to Tennessee. RT DJ Scaife Jr, an ACC honorable mention in 2022, left for the NFL. Center Jakai Clark started 10 games and played in 11 but is now at SMU. They also lost Justice Oluwaseun, who started 5 games at RG.

Now to the ones coming in. As much as it pains me, I must credit Miami for landing two instant impact transfers. First up is 6-foot-4 305-pound OG Javeon Cohen (72.6 PFF), who started 25 games in 2 seasons at Alabama. According to PFF, Cohen only allowed 6 pressures and 0 sacks in 553 snaps last season at Bama.

Next is 6-foot-4 295-pound C Matt Lee (82.5 PFF), formerly of UCF. Lee is a 5th-year senior who started 35 games throughout his time in Orlando and earned 2nd-team All-AAC honors in 2022.

Miami will also get LT Zion Nelson back from injury. Nelson was selected as a preseason 1st-team All-ACC player but was OFY after one game in 2022.

They also have a pair of 5-star tackles that signed in the 2023 class. (Only 1 was an early enrollee) They are still young but could start or play if need be. Despite Miami losing three starters, they should be more talented with the new players coming in.

Cristobal has typically had a run-first offense, which makes sense as a former OL coach. That dedication to running the ball seemed to frustrate Oregon fans. They only threw the ball 46.12% of the time while Cristobal was at Oregon, and that was with Justin Herbert at QB for two years. Last season at Miami, that percentage jumped to 53.2%, which likely had to do with Miami trailing in most of their games, thus needing to throw it more. Houston threw the ball 56.7% last year, which was top 20 in passing percentages among FBS teams.

It would seem that Dawson’s air raid offense will have Miami throwing the ball more unless Cristobal forces them to run it. Miami was 60th in passing offense last year and 95th in the run. If they put TVD in a more passer-friendly offense and behind a better offensive line, they could have something to work with. While an unknown player could always emerge, the issue for Miami is they don’t appear to have any game-changers at running back or receiver to complement their strengths.

2023 Miami Football Schedule

Miami’s defense was pretty pedestrian last year, finishing middle of the pack in most categories. They were 65th in total defense (375.2 YPG), 67th in scoring defense (26.8 PPG), and 65th in success rate. Miami allowed 40+ points in 4 games, including giving up 38 offensive points to MTSU, who only topped that total one other time last season against an FCS team.

Former defensive coordinator Kevin Steele left for Alabama after 1 season with the Hurricanes. His replacement is Lance Guidry, who served as the DC for Marshall for two seasons (2021-2022) and was a former head coach at McNeese State. Last year Marshall finished top 20 in total defense, scoring defense, interceptions, sacks, and tackles for loss while facing three scoring offenses in the top 35. As much as I’d like to pick this hire apart, it may have been a good find by Miami. Of course, he’ll have to prove himself at the Power 5 level, but he had a good defense at Marshall.

On the defensive line, Miami lost 12-game starter Darrell Jackson, who is now at FSU. DT Antonio Moultrie played 159 snaps, DT Jordan Miller played 197 snaps, and DE Mitchell Agude started five games last season, but all departed from the roster. However, despite the losses, they bring back most of their other top guys.

DE Akheem Mesidor (87.1 PFF) started 9 games and led the team in sacks and TFLs last year. He had 1 pressure and 1 stop in the FSU game, which was his season low when playing at least 20 snaps. Jahfari Harvey (76.2 PFF) started 9 games, played in all 12, and finished 2nd in sacks. Harvey only played 19 snaps against FSU last year, but it was by far his lowest-graded game per PFF at 49.6. He recorded 1 pressure and 0 stops. The Hurricanes have 2 other DEs that played 100+ snaps last year, Nyjalik Kelly (63.5 PFF) & Chantz Williams (66.3 PFF). They also have three 4-star edge players from the 2023 class. (None are listed as early enrollees)

On the interior, they bring back 10-game starter Leonard Taylor III (87.3 PFF). Taylor was a 5-star recruit and the #4 player nationally from the 2021 class, so he obviously has a high upside. But he also had his worst-graded game of the season against FSU. Per PFF stats, he did not record a pressure, stop or tackle against the Noles. With all the outgoing players, that only leaves Miami with one other defensive tackle who logged over 100 snaps of experience last year, and that was Jared Harrison-Hunte (67.8 PFF), who started 2 games and played in 9.

Miami went to the portal to address the depth issues, adding three transfers. Branson Deen (74.2 PFF) is a 6th-year player from Purdue that started 27 games throughout his time there. Deen is a little smaller in size for a DT at 6-foot-2, 280 pounds, but he was the Boilermakers’ highest-graded DT last season.

Thomas Gore (84.9 PFF) comes in from Georgia State as a 5th-year player that started 11 games last season. Gore has been listed as playing NT, DT, and DE for the Panthers, with all 11 starts last year being at DE. Like Deen, he was Georgia State’s highest-graded DL by a wide margin but is also smaller at 6 feet tall and weighing in at 270 pounds.

Lastly, they brought in DE Anthony Campbell (72.9 PFF) from ULM. Campbell was not a starter for the Warhawks but played in all 12 games last season. He played 22 snaps against Alabama and had a PFF grade of 28.9.

Miami’s defensive line has talent, potential and should be the strength of their defense. Mesidor, Harvey, and Taylor have proven they can produce, and the transfers give them added depth. However, they must still put it all together on the field. They were Top 20 in sacks last season but allowed 200 or more rushing yards in 4 games.

Linebacker was not Miami’s strength last season. They played nine guys in total. Five graded out below average, and no one received even an all-conference honorable mention. Corey Flagg Jr (63.2 PFF) does return after starting 10 games a year ago. Wesley Bissainthe (64.5 PFF) started the final 3 games as a freshman, and Keontra Smith (56.8 PFF) is a 5th-year senior who played 290 snaps last year, and both return. They added Washington State transfer Francisco Mauigoa (75.7 PFF), who started 11 games last year and should help give this group a needed boost. Miami also added two depth players from Duke and Louisville.

Miami finished 89th in pass efficiency defense last year and allowed the most pass plays over 50 yards in all of college football. There’s obviously room for improvement in the secondary, and they’ll need to replace some key personnel from last season. CBs DJ Ivey and Tyrique Stevenson both left for the NFL. The duo combined for 23 starts last year and were Miami’s highest-graded CBs. Through attrition and the portal, Miami lost 61.5% of their snaps at corner. They only bring back two players that recorded over 20 snaps last year, Daryl Porter Jr (64.1 PFF) and Te’Cory Couch (66.5 PFF). Couch did start 11 games last season and will be a 5th year senior this year.

Miami also went to the portal for help in the secondary, adding Davonte Brown (65.6 PFF) from UCF, who started all 13 games last year, and Jaden Davis (63.2 PFF) from OU, a 5th-year senior who started 9 games. Davis played against FSU in the bowl game, allowed 3 receptions on 4 targets for 60 yards, and graded out at 46.7 per PFF. The final addition is Jadais Richard (62.4 PFF), who started 1 game and played in 10 as a freshman at Vanderbilt.

Miami does bring back a talented pair of safeties. Kamren Kinchens started all 12 games last year, earned 1st-team All-ACC honors, and was the 3rd highest-graded safety in the country, according to PFF. FSU was his lowest-graded game of the season at 49.9. James Williams (73.5 PFF) started 11 games last season and also had his lowest-graded game against FSU at 41.7.

Although they bring back their two top guys, depth could be a concern. With Avantae Williams entering the portal, that only leaves 28 snaps of experience returning outside of the two starters. If one of the two top guys were to miss any time, the talent and experience level would fall off a cliff.

On special teams, punter Lou Hedley departs along with their #1 KR Key’Shawn Smith, who averaged over 30 yards per return. K Andrew Borregales is back after hitting 85% of his FGs last season.

Miami will be interesting to watch this year. They technically have the Blue-Chip ratio to compete for a national championship and are now in year two, when teams are supposed to see the most improvement. At the same time, the season they had last year with an even higher Blue-Chip ratio was the definition of doing less with more. They don’t exactly have the consistency factor heading into year 2, with both coordinators being new. And they no longer benefit from playing in the weaker Coastal division.

They start the season against Miami (OH) in a battle to see who gets to claim the title as the real Miami. If, and that’s a big if, they can get by Texas A&M at home on week 2, they should make it to 5-0. They only play two Power 5 teams in the first six weeks (GT & TAMU). However, the competition ramps up quickly, with the following 4 out of 5 games being at UNC, home vs Clemson, who is coming off of a bye week (UVA), then at NC State and FSU.

FSU plays Miami later in the season on November 11th, which could be a positive if Miami goes into late-season meltdown mode as they have in the past. (1-3 in 2022) Not to mention, FSU is 5-1 in the last six November games against the Hurricanes. However, you never know what can happen with a rivalry as intense as this one. Outside of the teams trading a few blowouts in recent years, 15 of the last 21 meetings have been decided by one score or less.

FSU took Miami to the woodshed last year, beating them by 42 points, which is slightly more than the average attendance of a Miami home game. FSU out-gained them by a tally of 454 yards to 188 and had almost double the YPP that Miami did. (7.0 vs 3.6)

Miami has to travel to Tallahassee this season for what should be Florida State’s best home game of 2022, so Doak will be rocking. However, FSU has only won 5 of the last 11 meetings in Tallahassee. Miami should be improved in year 2, but will they be? There’s an old saying you’ve probably all heard before, “The proof is in the pudding,” which means you have to judge the quality of something based on the results. Well, last year, there was a lot of pudding but not much proof, and until I see it from Miami, I’m not going to believe it. The “U” has been back every preseason for the last 20 years but failed to deliver when the lights came on.

There might also be more at stake than meets the eye this year for Miami. Cristobal signed the 8th-ranked class last year with the new coach bump that first-year coaches tend to get when selling the idea of a turnaround. However, after games get played, that new car smell starts to wear off, and after a disastrous first season, Miami currently sits at 18th.

Not to mention Miami’s “mega-booster” has also been silent recently as his company’s stock price tanked, and he’s been hit with some investigations. If Miami doesn’t gain momentum on the field and can’t compete in the NIL space any longer, things might start to sour quickly in South Florida which only helps FSU. I’m not saying they will fire Cristobal because they went all in on getting him to Miami, but it certainly won’t help his efforts to put Miami back on the map.

I bring that up because it’s tied to an important point. FSU is in a pivotal time right now. They have gained so much momentum in the past year, and with a recruiting focus that’s gotten back to building a fence around the talent-rich state of Florida, Norvell knows you have to strike when the opportunity presents itself. He knows what beating Miami by 42 did for the fan base’s morale and the two programs’ perception.

That’s why even though the game should be closer this year, as I expect Miami to be better, FSU should be better too. I don’t see Norvell calling the dogs off if it gets out of hand again. I’m not sure if it will be 45-3 again, but I don’t see it being a nail-biter like 2021. I have the Noles making it 3 in a row over the Canes.

Thanks for reading! Go Noles!

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