Mario Cristobal is hoping to turn the tides in his second season as the head coach at Miami, and he’s off to an excellent start.
The Hurricanes are now 2-0 to start the 2023 campaign thanks to an impressive 48-33 win over No. 23 Texas A&M on Saturday. It was an all-around effort from Cristobal’s group as Tyler Van Dyke threw five touchdown passes and the defense forced two timely turnovers to help build the second-half lead.
And the win would have been even more emphatic if it weren’t for a pair of special teams mishaps in the first half. Texas A&M’s first touchdown of the day came off a blocked punt and then the Aggies scored again early in the second quarter after Miami muffed a punt deep in its own territory. Those mistakes allowed Texas A&M to build a 17-7 lead, but Miami would outscore the Aggies 31-9 the rest of the way en route to a measuring stick victory.
Miami was able to bounce back from the rough start and take a 21-17 lead into halftime thanks to two Van Dyke touchdown passes — a 52-yarder to Isaiah Horton and an 11-yard connection with Jacolby George with 13 seconds remaining in the half.
Texas A&M opened the second half with a field goal to cut the Miami lead to 21-20, but the Hurricanes special teams that doomed them in the first half made a huge play. Brashard Smith fielded the ensuing kickoff and returned it 98 yards for a touchdown, extending the lead back to eight, 28-20.
A&M would score later in the third to get within five points, but Miami controlled things the rest of the way thanks to an interception of A&M’s Conner Weigman by Kamren Kinchens and then a forced fumble on a huge hit by Jaden Davis. Five plays after the fumble, Van Dyke threw his fourth touchdown pass of the game, this time a 3-yard strike to George to extend the lead to 38-26.
Texas A&M would make one final push late in the fourth, and even got within eight points with 5:02 remaining. But it was too little, too late as Miami put the finishing touches on the win when Van Dyke found George behind the defense and he reeled off a 64-yard touchdown, his third of the game.
What does this mean for Miami?
Cristobal left Oregon to become the head coach at his alma mater after the 2021 season. The Hurricanes endured a miserable 5-7 record in his first season as Cristobal turned over the roster and looked to imprint his identity on the program.
In the offseason, Cristobal fired both of his coordinators, including offensive coordinator Josh Gattis, who did not seem to mesh with Van Dyke. To replace Gattis, Cristobal brought in Shannon Dawson from Houston and that decision looks like a strong one in the early going.
Even though the run game struggled on Saturday, Van Dyke looks much more comfortable in Dawson’s system. Van Dyke, the 2021 ACC Offensive Rookie of the Year, ended up throwing for 374 yards and five touchdowns in the win — the biggest of the Cristobal era thus far.
Now 2-0, Miami has a chance to get off to a really hot start before diving into ACC play. Next on the schedule are Bethune-Cookman and Temple before a bye week. From there, Miami will host Georgia Tech and then go to North Carolina.
It’s not far-fetched to envision Miami as a serious contender in the ACC race in the weeks ahead.
What does this mean for Texas A&M?
Like Cristobal, Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher is coming off a 5-7 season. Only for Fisher, it was his fifth season on the job, not his first.
To miss a bowl after starting the season ranked in the top 10 was unfathomable and was definitely not what the A&M brass envisioned for Fisher’s fifth year after he signed a fully guaranteed 10-year, $95 million contract before the 2021 season.
The Aggies were horrific on offense in 2021 and 2022, so Fisher brought in Bobby Petrino as offensive coordinator. With Weigman in his first full season as the starting QB, the Aggies definitely look like an improved unit on offense, but that doesn’t matter when the defense gets blasted for 48 points on the road.
Now 1-1, Texas A&M will regroup and return home to face UL Monroe before opening up SEC play at home versus Auburn on Sept. 23. The Aggies don’t play a true road game until Oct. 14, so they have to start accumulating wins if they want to make any noise this season.