Hurricanes looking to play their “very best football” against Bethune-Cookman

Freshman kicker Andres Borregales kicks a field goal attempt in the final seconds of the fourth quarter of Miami’s game versus the University of Virginia at Hard Rock Stadium on Sept. 30, 2021. Borregales missed the kick, and Miami lost 28-30.
Freshman kicker Andres Borregales kicks a field goal attempt in the final seconds of the fourth quarter of Miami’s game versus the University of Virginia at Hard Rock Stadium on Sept. 30, 2021. Borregales missed the kick, and Miami lost 28-30. Photo credit: Jared Lennon

This week has been a long time coming for Hurricanes fans. Since the hiring of former Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal in December 2021, Miami has waited months for Week 1 of the college football season.

On Saturday, the Hurricanes will pit themselves against an out-of-conference foe in the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats.

“Bethune is a good football team with good coaches and all we are looking for is to play our very best football,” Cristobal said to reporters at a media availability.

The FCS school finished with a record of 2-9 in 2021. This season, the Wildcats do return some key pieces on offense, including leading rusher Que’shaun Byrd. The senior running back finished with 618 yards on 125 carries in 2021.

Defensively, the Wildcats finished 10th in the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) in points allowed last season with 399 and now face off against Miami’s 2021 Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Rookie of the Year quarterback, Tyler Van Dyke.

The signal-caller did not start last season as the first quarterback on the depth chart as Houston transfer D’Eriq King had the spot. After injuries sidelined King, Van Dyke got his first start in a Thursday night game against Virginia.

“Leadership-wise, yes, it’s different. I’m the guy now so I have to make sure those guys always stay positive and are always ready to work,” Van Dyke said when asked about being the day-one starter this year.

Despite hurling three interceptions in his second start against North Carolina, the sophomore still finished the season with a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 25-6, all while completing 62.3% of his throws and totaling 2,931 passing yards.

“His accuracy has been outstanding,” Cristobal said. “All in all just continues to grow as a great player and great quarterback.”

Van Dyke will have several weapons at his disposal, including tight end Will Mallory.

“Will is a special playmaker. You have to almost double cover him to stop him,” Van Dyke said.

In the slot position, sophomore Xavier Restrepo should be a go-to target after emerging as a serious threat last season. The Florida native had 24 receptions for 373 yards in 2021.

On the outside, San Diego native Key’Shawn Smith will look to continue his production after a big second year in which he recorded 405 receiving yards.

Defensively, the Hurricanes are heading into the year with a competitive rotation on the defensive line.

“We’re in a position right now where in the core, internal guys we’re at six or seven, and on the edge we’re at six or seven,” Miami defensive coordinator Kevin Steele said. “We’re going to need every one of them.”

Out of the returning linebackers, Corey Flagg Jr. will be a name to watch after leading the team with 60 tackles last season.

“There was a lot of missed tackles last year,” Flagg said. “You’re going to see a whole different defense this year.”

Besides him, the Canes are looking for a big year from UCLA transfer Caleb Johnson. In two seasons with the Bruins, Johnson totaled 89 tackles and 5.5 sacks.

Safety Avantae Williams may be due for a big game against Bethune, as well, after totaling 18 tackles and an interception as just a freshman in 2021.

Overall, the Hurricanes return 73% of their production from last season. This number lands them in the top 28 of 131 FBS teams but may also be a decent predictor of the leap the Hurricanes can make this season as they mostly return a team with experience and chemistry together.

Hawaii, the team last in the country in returning production at 28%, was blown out, 63-10, at home against Vanderbilt just last week.

The last time the Hurricanes faced Bethune-Cookman, they played as well as they could’ve hoped for, clobbering the Wildcats 63-0 in 2019.

“We’ve distributed well over 50,000 tickets to the game. We are really looking forward to a great crowd this coming Saturday,” Miami Athletic Director Dan Radakovich said.

Kickoff on Saturday is slated for 3:30 p.m. at Hard Rock Stadium.