‘This is the spring football phase and we’re closing it’: Hurricanes head to DRV PNK Stadium for spring game

Third-year sophomore wide receiver Dazalin Worsham defends a fellow receiver as Offensive Coordinator Josh Gattis watches on during drills at the Greentree Practice Fields on March 11, 2022.
Third-year sophomore wide receiver Dazalin Worsham defends a fellow receiver as Offensive Coordinator Josh Gattis watches on during drills at the Greentree Practice Fields on March 11, 2022. Photo credit: Jared Lennon

Nobody will want to miss the Miami Hurricanes’ spring football game to watch how far the team has come since the arrival of coach Mario Cristobal and his new-look coaching staff.

That’s how Miami’s new offensive coordinator Josh Gattis describes it, at least.

After 5 ½ weeks of spring practices on Greentree Practice Fields, UM football will be at DRV PNK Stadium Saturday in front of a sold-out crowd, playing its first spring game under Cristobal, a former two-time national champion offensive tackle at Miami.

The 18,000-seat stadium, the home to Major League Soccer team Inter Miami CF, based in Fort Lauderdale will give Hurricanes fans their first spring game experience since 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic barricaded fans from Hard Rock Stadium last year, after college sports shut down in March 2020.

“Everybody in America will be watching. They’ll be breaking down the spring game. There’s a lot to see and we do the same thing. We’re watching every other team’s spring game and putting the information in the system,” Gattis said. “But for us, rather than sacrifice what we show, it’s about giving our kids the ability to play confident in what they do. So, at the end of the day, if we hold back or we do everything, we just want our kids to be able to go out there and execute it confidently, because that’s the biggest thing.”

Quarterbacks coach Frank Ponce and sophomore Tyler Van Dyke discuss in Miami's spring practice on Friday, March 11, 2022 on Greentree practice field.
Quarterbacks coach Frank Ponce and sophomore Tyler Van Dyke discuss in Miami's spring practice on March 11, 2022 on Greentree Practice Fields. Photo credit: Jared Lennon

Cristobal said his team will split into a format of offense versus defense, starting with a kickoff but keeping special teams involvement reduced to punt situations. The game will run two hours long, with live football and full officiating expected.

All that matters to Cristobal, however, is how Miami “gets really good at football” in the coming months.

“We always say how you do anything is how you do everything. Football’s in phases. This is the spring football phase and we’re closing it. How we close this determines how we close the offseason phase. So, this is a full-throttle approach for us,” Cristobal said. “We’re practicing for game day, from the way we treat our bodies tonight to what we put in them, to our film session to our walkthrough, to how we go to class, to what what time we get to bed. The psychological part of it, the approach to it. The bus ride over there. All that stuff, we treat it just like game day.”

Offensive Coordinator Josh Gattis defends third-year sophomore wide receiver Key’Shawn Smith during drills at the Greentree Practice Fields on March 11, 2022.
Offensive Coordinator Josh Gattis defends third-year sophomore wide receiver Key’Shawn Smith during drills at the Greentree Practice Fields on March 11, 2022. Photo credit: Jared Lennon

Now demanding the same physicality as demanded of him during the program’s championship journeys in 1989 and 1991, Cristobal has pushed a new generation of Hurricanes to reach a set of standards never experienced before.

Yet, he believes Miami still has progress to make involving its physicality and overall consistency in execution before the season opens in early September.

“Outside, we’ve got to get more consistent, have some big plays. But, we’ve got to get more physical, more durable, but more consistent because we flash big play capabilities and there is progress,” Cristobal said. “Credit to the entire team for pushing through a regimen that’s very different, certainly one we knew that we were going to have to push through and guide our guys and mentor them through.”

Once Cristobal stopped a practice last week, he hoped doing so just once would be enough to get players refocused and reenergized.

“You want it to be player-led but at the same, there’s no time to get frustrated. We’re doing something different,” Cristobal said. “I don’t judge man. I don’t judge what happened before, I could care less. I don’t ever want a player to think what was done before was wrong or different. We’re just doing things a certain way. A certain way that for an extended test of time as it relates to success…There’s going to be days where your motivation might not be there, but your discipline’s got to push you through.”

Although not much of the Hurricanes’ defense, now under the direction of former Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele, will be under full display, increasing confidence still lies in how it approaches the quarterback. Sophomore Tyler Van Dyke, redshirt freshman Jake Garcia and true freshman Jacurri Brown will not encounter any sacks, despite rehearsed schemes. Miami’s defense allowed an average of 250.6 passing yards per game last season.

“We started out this thing asking them to buy in and give relentless effort –– be physically and mentally tough and be good tacklers,” Steele said. “The next step of it was be a fundamentally sound, smart football team. They’ve come to work every day, they’ve done what we’ve asked them to do. They’re still a work in progress but that is why we have practices left. We don’t kick off tomorrow. We’re energized by where we are but we’re not satisfied with we are because we’ve got a long way to go.”

But, in the mind of Gattis and the rest of the Hurricanes’ coaches, everything that follows the game itself will determine how far the team progresses concerning the game’s mental and physical aspects before kickoff in early September.

“The progress has been really good. I think our guys are just learning the offense, learning the defense, learning our special teams systems, but also learning how to practice at the level, the consistency of how hard we practice,” Gattis said. “I think, really, the next nine weeks are going to be so important to the development of our program. What we do when no one’s watching.”

Fourth-year junior wide receiver Frank Ladson, Jr. sheds defending third-year sophomore wide receiver Xavier Restrepo during drills at the Greentree Practice Fields on March 11, 2022.
Fourth-year junior wide receiver Frank Ladson, Jr. sheds defending third-year sophomore wide receiver Xavier Restrepo during drills at the Greentree Practice Fields on March 11, 2022. Photo credit: Jared Lennon

The unofficial start of the Cristobal coaching era arrives nearly six months after his homecoming to Miami before the holiday season. Kickoff is scheduled for noon and the game will be broadcast on ACC Network.