MIAMI GARDENS — Miami Hurricanes coach Mario Cristobal has repeatedly stressed since he was hired by his alma mater last December that this once-proud program needed to be rebuilt.
But no one, including him, expected it to be from rubble.
Certainly not nine games into his first season. But that’s the reality facing Cristobal, his players and UM fans after rival Florida State’s 45-3 trouncing of Miami at Hard Rock Stadium Saturday night that was every bit as grotesque as the final score indicated.
When Saturday’s game was mercilessly over for Miami, it marked the program’s largest margin of defeat since a 58-0 loss to Clemson in 2015. Al Golden was fired as UM coach the next day. Cristobal won’t be dismissed anytime soon after signing a 10-year, $80 million deal.
Asked postgame if Saturday’s loss was “rock bottom” for the program, Cristobal answered, “You guys [the media] speak in those terms. I don’t talk about rock bottom. I don’t talk like that. I don’t think like that. I don’t. I very well knew what we had to do here. We’ve got to go to work. That’s the bottom line. So that’s how we approach it. And that’s what we’re doing.”
Cristobal did “apologize” for the “poor performance” to Miami fans, who he said created an “electric” atmosphere at Hard Rock. The announced paid attendance was 66,200.
“Trust me, no one feels this more than I do,” Cristobal said. “I hate it for our fans. I hate it for our players. We’re in a building process. We’re laying a foundation and got to work, and it ain’t fun. And days like this are really painful. And there ain’t no excuse, there’s ain’t no sidestepping it or sugarcoating it. That’s why I came here. We’ve got to go to work and do lots of it.”
Asked about FSU’s offense opting to throw the ball late in the blowout, Cristobal responded, “I don’t care about that stuff. It’s their job to score. It’s our job to stop them. One day, we’ll switch shoes.”
For now, Cristobal must figure out how to move forward with a ‘Canes team, now 4-5, that has lost four consecutive home games for the first time since 1973 and is 2-4 at home with one game left at Hard Rock (Nov. 26 against Pittsburgh). The last time that the ‘Canes won just two home games was 1984 – Jimmy Johnson’s first season as coach.
Considering the opponent, this setback particularly stung the ‘Canes, who previously lost by 24 points against Duke and 14 against Middle Tennessee at Hard Rock.
“I don’t like to lose period, but it definitely hurts more because it’s a rivalry,” linebacker Corey Flagg Jr. said. “Being at home and playing FSU, that one hurts.”
Miami must win two of its three remaining games — the remaining slate includes consecutive road games at Georgia Tech and Clemson — to become bowl eligible, though the players asked about that said it wasn’t on their mind at this point.
“For the most part, I think everyone is extremely bought in, because everyone believes in [Cristobal] and his blueprint,” senior tight end Will Mallory said of Miami’s rebuilding effort. “It hasn’t gone the way we’ve wanted it to, but we’re building. And we’re building something special. Because the guys who truly believe in Coach Cristobal — I do — he’s going to get this thing going and he’s going to find the right guys to do it.
“The most important thing we can do is finish this season out strong … and just keep believing and trusting the process, because it is something special,” Mallory continued. “I truly and firmly believe that everything they’re building here, it’s going to happen. It just takes time.”
Here are five takeaways from Saturday’s loss to the Seminoles:
‘Canes’ offense is broken and fixing it won’t be easy.
The Hurricanes have not scored a touchdown in nearly 10 full quarters since last doing so 1:54 into the second half against Duke on Mallory’s 34-yard pass from Jake Garcia.
Their best chance to end that drought Saturday came when they had first-and-goal from FSU’s 2 in the third quarter. After a 1-yard rush by Thad Franklin Jr., quarterback Jacurri Brown lost 5 yards on run. Then on third-and-goal, a low, mistimed snap from center Jakai Clark whizzed past the unexpecting Brown, and FSU end Jared Verse recovered at the 29-yard line.
The Hurricanes finished with 188 yards of total offense, which included a 45-yard run by Jaylan Knighton in the third quarter, and they averaged 3.6 yards per play — half of FSU’s average. They failed to score on 10 possessions after Andres Borregales made a 49-yard field goal on their opening drive and turned the ball over four times (two interceptions, two fumbles).
Quarterbacks Tyler Van Dyke, Jake Garcia and Jacurri Brown combined for just 62 yards through the air, with two interceptions, on 10-for-19 passing.
“They didn’t get it going,” Cristobal said of his offense. “It looked like there was a spark in the second half. We snapped the ball early, it got away. That first drive we settled for a field goal, and then after that, Tyler got hurt. And, so, we tried to get things going with the combination of Jacurri and Jake. But that resulted in very little combination.”
Moving forward, “We’ve got to tweak stuff,” he said. “We’ve got to find a way to produce. …We’re trying to uncover every stone to try to do that, and we haven’t. It starts with the run game.”
The failure to score a touchdown Saturday, coupled with the inability to reach the end zone in a 14-12 four-overtime win at Virginia on Oct. 29, is sure to increase outside pressure on first-year offensive coordinator Josh Gattis. Saturday’s game marked the first time Miami scored three or fewer points in a game since that thumping by Clemson seven years ago.
“It just comes down to execution,” Mallory said. “This offense is great. It’s not the offense. It’s not the scheme. It’s execution. We just have to do better. There’s no pointing fingers. There’s no one thing. Collectively as a group, we’ve got to do a better job.”
Van Dyke returned too soon from his shoulder injury.
Van Dyke deserves huge credit for starting against FSU after missing the previous game with an injury to his throwing shoulder suffered against Duke Oct. 22. And his return in the second quarter after leaving the field the previous drive grabbing his shoulder in pain was admirable.
But it’s clear wasn’t physically ready to play Saturday.
Van Dyke wasn’t touched on either of his last two throws, but he left the field in great pain after both incompletions. The first time came on second-and-7 from Miami’s 5-yard line. Van Dyke rolled right to elude pressure, and with no receivers open, fired the ball into the turf on a seemingly innocuous throwaway. After returning the next Miami drive, Van Dyke scrambled to his right again and this time threw across his body over the middle for Xavier Restrepo.
“He’s got a warrior mentality, so if he could go, he was going to go, whether it’s at 20 percent or 100 percent,” Restrepo said of Van Dyke, his close friend and roommate.
Cristobal said he didn’t know Cristobal’s status moving forward.
“He looked good this week in practice, and looked good to start the game,” Cristobal said. “And then it went south.”
Travis torches ‘Canes secondary
How impressive was FSU quarterback Jordan Travis on Saturday? So much so that he watched all but the first play of the fourth quarter from the sideline while backup Tate Rodemaker wrapped up the rout.
Travis threw touchdown passes on FSU’s first two drives of the night and exited after his third TD pass, an 8-yard completion to tight end Camren McDonald. The redshirt junior finished 10-for-12 for 202 yards with just one mistake — an overthrow of receiver Ontaria “Pokey” Wilson that D.J. Ivey intercepted near the goal line in the second quarter.
Wilson beat Ivey badly on the game’s opening drive and Travis launched a perfect throw deep down the middle for a 56-yard touchdown pass.
Safety Kamren Kitchens intercepted a Travis pass into the end zone on FSU’s second drive, but the pick was negated because cornerback Tyrique Stevenson was flagged for pass interference on the intended receiver. Three plays later, Travis tossed a 1-yard touchdown to a wide-open DJ Lundy. It was the linebacker’s third offensive touchdown of the season.
The ‘Canes have a quarterback quandary.
After Van Dyke exited for good, Garcia and Brown split snaps under center the ensuing drive, with Garcia throwing an interception to Greedy Vance Jr. that Vance returned 10 yards to Miami’s 7.
Garcia and Brown shared snaps the next series as well. The true freshman Brown played most of the second half.
“The young kid is a baller,” Restrepo said. “He came in, no hesitation, started moving the ball.”
Brown finished 5-for-9 for 37 yards and one interception. He also was UM’s second-leading rusher with 54 yards on 14 carries. Garcia completed one of two passes for 1 yard, with one interception, and rushed once for 13 yards.
With Van Dyke unlikely to play next Saturday against Georgia Tech, Cristobal must decide whether to start Garcia or Brown. Meanwhile, Van Dyke’s future at Miami is uncertain. He could decide to declare early for the NFL, transfer, or return to UM for another season.
Benson, FSU run over Miami, whose own attack was grounded.
Miami’s best defensive player, end Akheem Mesidor, started Saturday after leaving last week’s game at Virginia early with an injured right hamstring. Mesidor’s return didn’t help stopping the run.
Like its passing defense, Miami’s rushing defense had a night to forget as well. The ‘Canes entered Saturday’s game ranked 23rd nationally, allowing 113.5 yards per game and 3.39 yards per carry.
The Seminoles rushed for 231 yards and three touchdowns on 48 carries, with redshirt sophomore Trey Benson largely carrying the load. The Oregon transfer racked up 128 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries. By halftime, Benson already had 94 yards and two touchdowns on 11 runs.
“It was just us,” Couch said of the defense’s performance Saturday. “We killed ourselves.”
Meanwhile, Benson’s ‘Canes counterparts struggled mightily to move the ball on the ground against the Seminoles. Headed by co-defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Randy Shannon, who played linebacker at Miami (1985-88) and was UM’s head coach (2007-10), the Seminoles limited the ‘Canes’ rushing attack to 126 yards on 33 carries. A good chunk of those came on Knighton’s third-quarter burst.
Knighton finished with just 60 yards on four carries and fellow back Henry Parrish Jr. had just 14 yards on six carries.