Takeaways from Miami football’s spring game

Head coach Mario Cristobal glances at plays during Miami's Spring Game at DRV PNK Stadium on April 16, 2022.
Head coach Mario Cristobal glances at plays during Miami's Spring Game at DRV PNK Stadium on April 16, 2022. Photo credit: Jared Lennon

Saturday’s game at DRV PNK Stadium in Fort Lauderdale offered Miami fans a glimpse at a new-look football team heading into the 2022 season. With an entirely new coaching staff and a revamped roster, coach Mario Cristobal’s Hurricanes presented a new approach to the game that incorporated a much more balanced approach to both sides of the ball.

Miami’s new coaches, along with Cristobal himself, have created a newly professional and NFL-style offense for this season. Emphasizing power-running backs, heavy blocking and quick passing plays to move the ball downfield, offensive coordinator Josh Gattis’s system should pair well with Cristobal’s run-heavy schemes.

On the defensive side of the ball, former Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele has created an aggressive and more importantly, much more disciplined defense for the team. According to Steele, he plans to operate a traditional 4-3 defensive system as the new coordinator, and has stressed the need for “speed on the field, relentless effort [and] physical and mental toughness.”

Saturday’s game finished with Team Orange getting the win over Team White, powered by a completely retooled offense leading the charge. With this new preview of what Canes fans can expect to see come September, here are some key takeaways to consider after the conclusion of Miami’s 2022 spring game.

1. Tyler Van Dyke gave fans another performance to love

Third-year sophomore quarterback Tyler Van Dyke throws a pass during Miami's Spring game at DRV PNK Stadium on April 16, 2022.
Third-year sophomore quarterback Tyler Van Dyke throws a pass during Miami's Spring game at DRV PNK Stadium on April 16, 2022. Photo credit: Josh Halper

Quarterback Tyler Van Dyke, for the most part, has shown himself to be very adaptable to the new Miami system. Though he had some early limitations with missed deep shots and multiple dropped passes, Van Dyke showed that he can step up and stay the big-time player he is.

The 2021 ACC Rookie of the Year and Offensive Rookie of the Year showed out well on Saturday, completing 20-of-32 pass attempts for 172 yards, including a touchdown pass to sophomore wide receiver Jacolby George.

Van Dyke should expect to remain the starter for Miami’s quarterback room after a stellar 2021 campaign, in which he replaced former quarterback D’Eriq King, who went down with a season-ending shoulder injury. If Van Dyke’s performance carries on from 2021, he could be favored for many football honors, including a possible Heisman Trophy candidate.

2. Backup quarterback Jake Garcia didn’t appear as a backup

Redshirt freshman quarterback Jake Garcia scans downfield for an open receiver during Miami's Spring Game at DRV PNK Stadium on April 16, 2022.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Jake Garcia scans downfield for an open receiver during Miami's Spring Game at DRV PNK Stadium on April 16, 2022. Photo credit: Jared Lennon

Behind Van Dyke was sophomore Jake Garcia, who has consistently proved to be a strong backup in the current tandem with Van Dyke. But Garcia, formerly the second-ranked pocket-passing quarterback as a high school prospect, completed 14 of 24 pass attempts for 117 yards, although his second-team offense did not score on any drive.

Despite not scoring on drives with his offense, Garcia has shown before that he can be a quality starting quarterback for Miami. In his only appearance against Central Connecticut State in 2021, Garcia had a similar stat-line, completing 11 of 14 passes for 147 yards and two touchdowns.

“The quarterback room in general had a pretty good day,” Garcia said. “But this is not where we want to be yet. So we gotta keep going hard. and like coach said, close the gap.”

Garcia’s continued display of starting capability led some to believe in his potential to compete with Van Dyke for the starting job in 2022, and most definitely earn him a starting role in 2023 should Van Dyke move on to the NFL Draft. The Whittier, California, native redshirted last season after enduring a season-ending ankle injury in his lone appearance against Central Connecticut State at the end of September.

3. Ole Miss transfer running back Henry Parrish Jr. demonstrated his leadership

Third-year sophomore running back Henry Parrish, Jr. runs with the ball during Miami's Spring Game at DRV PNK Stadium on April 16, 2022.
Third-year sophomore running back Henry Parrish, Jr. runs with the ball during Miami's Spring Game at DRV PNK Stadium on April 16, 2022. Photo credit: Jared Lennon

Miami ranked 98th nationally in yards per carry (3.69) last season under former coach Manny Diaz and former offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee’s offense. For a team that struggled heavily in this department last season, it was clear on Saturday that changes were made.

Gattis’ offense has breathed new life into Miami’s run game. A much deeper running back group showed serious promise on Saturday, with Henry Parrish Jr. leading the way.

Parrish Jr. scored two of the total four touchdowns scored by Team Orange, showing both great running and receiving ability. Parrish Jr.’s 21-yard rush to the right was the longest play of the game, in addition to a 16-yard reception being the seventh-longest.

Parrish Jr.’s performance in the spring game will most definitely bring competition in a much deeper RB room in 2022.

4. Sophomore wide receiver Xavier Restrepo made up for a lack of consistent receiving

Third-year sophomore wide receiver Xavier Restrepo runs after catching the ball during Miami's Spring Game at DRV PNK Stadium on April 16, 2022.
Third-year sophomore wide receiver Xavier Restrepo runs after catching the ball during Miami's Spring Game at DRV PNK Stadium on April 16, 2022. Photo credit: Jared Lennon

In a game that saw a few too many drops by Miami’s pass catchers, Xavier Restrepo stood out as the best wide receiver on the field, and capped off an already strong spring campaign.

Restrepo led all receivers in both catches and receiving yards, putting up six catches and notching 60 receiving yards in the spring game. His receptions were spread out among the first and second units on offense, getting catches from both Van Dyke and Garcia.

Although Restrepo’s catches were spread out through the game, his performance should solidify him as the primary wide receiver, at least for now.

5. Veteran cornerbacks impressed many after a drop-off season

Fifth-year senior cornerback DJ Ivey lines up across from fourth-year junior wide receiver Frank Ladson, Jr. during Miami's Spring Game at DRV PNK Stadium on April 16, 2022.
Fifth-year senior cornerback DJ Ivey lines up across from fourth-year junior wide receiver Frank Ladson, Jr. during Miami's Spring Game at DRV PNK Stadium on April 16, 2022. Photo credit: Jared Lennon

Apart from being a stellar recruiter, new defensive backs coach Jahmile Addae has evidently shown his potential to make serious improvements in Miami’s secondary, with veteran cornerbacks Te’Cory Couch and DJ Ivey’s performances at the spring game.

Couch has already shown substantial improvement from a lackluster 2021 season. Couch successfully defended each deep pass attempt downfield by both Van Dyke and Garcia, and in addition, came up with a tackle for loss against a Brashard Smith reception to round out his performance.

Ivey has also shown a great deal of improvement from his previous season as well. Multiple passes downfield were successfully locked down by Ivey much to the similarity of Couch’s performance on Saturday. Ivey also nearly came away with an interception on a deep pass downfield.

With this defensive performance, Addae as well as Steele could most definitely be looking to develop a ballhawk-style coverage for the Miami secondary. Steele recently noted how he was “pleasantly surprised” with the secondary during spring practice and should provide promising results for the upcoming season.

6. New defensive lineman Jake Lichtenstein has starting ability

USC transfer defensive lineman Jake Lichtenstein has quickly found a place in Miami’s defensive front, and can very well become a starter by the beginning of the season based on Saturday’s performance.

Lichtenstein, a South Florida native, notched a trifecta of impressive defensive plays on Saturday against Team Orange. Lichtenstein’s performance saw a sack, a fumble recovery, and a pass deflection that led to an interception by safety James Williams.

On first impression, it looks as though Lichtenstein is a perfect fit for Steele’s 4-3 scheme. His awareness and explosiveness on the defensive line are a shoo-in for Steele’s scheme emphasizing quickness on the ball.

7. True freshman defensive end Cyrus Moss met high standards

Moss recorded three sacks in his first full game as a Hurricane, including one resulting in a forced fumble. Furthermore, Moss showed plenty of his characteristic speed off the edge that made him a unique recruit in this year’s class. He displayed a strong ability to chase down quarterbacks both in the pocket and in a scramble.

Consistency with his athleticism and speed should make Moss a clear starter on the edge for Miami this year.

Despite the many promising standouts from this year’s spring game, some questions still linger that have serious implications for this new Hurricanes team going forward.

Who is the definite go-to wide receiver?

Aside from Restrepo’s performance, Miami’s wide receivers room displayed an overall dull performance with several dropped passes and inconsistency with receptions. For a group that is as deep as it is, more will need to be produced from this group in order to make up for the absence of veterans Charleston Rambo and Mike Harley, who were Van Dyke’s main targets in his first season as a starting signal caller.

Is the tackling issue finally fixed?

Sophomore safety James Williams tackles sophomore tight end Elijah Arroyo during Miami's Spring Game at DRV PNK Stadium on April 16, 2022.
Sophomore safety James Williams tackles sophomore tight end Elijah Arroyo during Miami's Spring Game at DRV PNK Stadium on April 16, 2022. Photo credit: Jared Lennon

Miami’s defensive tackling was the one issue that plagued the team in 2021. Astoundingly, the Hurricanes were dead last in tackling among all Power 5 programs, and close to last in FBS among virtually all of Diaz’s tenure as head coach.

On Saturday, the tackling issue seemed to have completely evaporated. However, Miami’s defense will need to tackle consistently this season to be convincing.

Ultimately, there is much more positive than negative about the production shown by Cristobal’s team at first glance. Multiple players, both new and current, have shown they can step up and be successful in a whole new team. Canes fans can only be hopeful and optimistic about what’s to come for a new-and-improved team with a stacked coaching staff and a fresh set of new recruits, both in this season and in the future.