Improvement is the name of the game for Hurricanes football, but Miami is heading in the right direction

Quarterback Tyler Van Dyke winds up for a pass against Texas A&M on Sept. 17, 2022, at Kyle Field.
Quarterback Tyler Van Dyke winds up for a pass against Texas A&M on Sept. 17, 2022, at Kyle Field. Photo credit: Bobby O'Brien - "The Battalion"

Only one minute and sixteen seconds remained. Miami fans were ready to witness a historic moment in Hurricanes’ football history.

On their own 43-yard line and trailing 17-9, third-year sophomore quarterback Tyler Van Dyke and the Miami offense were in prime position to make themselves the heroes at Kyle Field against No. 24 Texas A&M on Saturday night. But, with no timeouts left, it would not be easy. Ultimately, on fourth down, a pass to Brashard Smith was dropped, turning the ball over on downs and essentially ending the game.

“Dropped balls, penalties in the next to last drive. Not good enough. We’ve got to do a better job as a supporting cast [to help Van Dyke],” Miami head coach Mario Cristobal said postgame. “We have to get better.”

Smith’s drop was only one example of several miscues that plagued the ‘Canes on Saturday night.

Special teams had a rough outing. Multiple field goal attempts were not converted, and a punt return muffed by cornerback Tyrique Stevenson led to a Texas A&M touchdown.

The wide receiver corps, missing Xavier Restrepo to a foot injury, dropped several passes throughout.

However, to only lose by one possession through all the mistakes shows the effort and determination of this Miami football team.

“We know how to compete – or at least we show that we can compete – in a difficult environment, but competing in itself is just not enough,” Cristobal said. “You got to execute. You got to prevent shooting yourself in the foot on some things. But, we got a high-character team. Competitive character is high, and we got to get back to working together.”

Coming into the season, the Texas A&M Aggies were ranked as the sixth-best team in the nation, according to the AP poll, and have been a prominent force in the Southeastern Conference (SEC). Miami hasn’t won against an SEC opponent since 2013 when they beat the Florida Gators.

Miami’s last matchup against an SEC team was last year’s season opener against the University of Alabama. The game ended 44-13 in favor of the Tide.

SEC teams are known for their devoted fandom, and games at their home stadiums are almost always sold out. Saturday night at Kyle Field in College Station, Texas, was precisely that. Just over 100,000 Aggies fans packed the stadium, all given white towels to shake in front of the Miami players.

“They do an unbelievable job supporting the football program, and it is one of the premiere atmospheres on game day,” Cristobal said pregame.

Despite all the distractions, Miami was close to beating a premier opponent. On the same weekend about one year ago, the Hurricanes were destroyed by unranked Michigan State, 38-17, at Hard Rock Stadium. However, the strides made by the new coaching regime, as well as the continuous development of the players, are allowing the program to be competitive with college football powerhouses such as Texas A&M.

One of the most noticeable differences this season compared to past seasons has been how the Hurricanes run the ball.

Against Texas A&M, running backs Henry Parrish Jr. and Jaylan Knighton could get anywhere they wanted on the field. Parrish Jr. had 85 yards on his 16 carries, averaging 5.3 yards per carry. Knighton, who had limited playing time up to the A&M game this season due to injury, gained 79 yards on his 14 carries, averaging 5.5 yards per carry.

Another critical improvement for the Hurricanes has been their defensive line.

Against Texas A&M, the front four did an excellent job of getting into the backfield on both runs and passes. On the 52 plays that the Aggies ran, the Hurricanes were able to get into the backfield for tackles nine times, three of which were sacks. Miami defensive linemen Jahfari Harvey and Darrell Jackson Jr. both had a sack and a tackle for loss in the game.

The loss to Texas A&M certainly hurts, as every competitor wants to win every game possible. While Miami has much room to improve, Saturday’s game still showed a glimpse of the Hurricanes’ competitiveness to reach success nationally and in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The ‘Canes are moving in the right direction.