For the second week in a row, Miami had a top 10 team on the ropes with a chance to take them to overtime at the end of the fourth quarter.
And for the second week in a row, the Hurricanes came up short. After losing to rival FSU last week, UM lost to Louisville 38-31 on Saturday at Hard Rock Stadium, punching their ticket to the ACC title game.
Here are 10 things we learned from Miami’s penultimate regular-season game and home finale:
Tyler Van Dyke recovers
The Hurricanes’ offensive struggles in much of ACC play lead to the quarterback. Once conference play began, Van Dyke became too prone to turnovers. He suffered a leg injury against UNC that clearly affected him, as his performances in the following games against Virginia and NC State were abysmal. That led to freshman Emory Williams taking the starting job against Florida State.
But a season-ending injury to Williams put Van Dyke back in the starting job. He rewarded that confidence with a solid performance. He completed 24 of 39 passes for 327 yards and a touchdown. The most important thing is that he did not lose the ball even once.
Pro Football Focus gave him a passing grade of 70.9, which is his highest grade since the UNC game. For the third time this season, he didn’t have a pitch designated as a “loss-worthy play” by the analytics site.
“Overall, I was seeing a lot of things a lot better today,” Van Dyke said.
Mark Fletcher Jr. has been a revelation
December 18, 2022 seems like a very important day for Miami. It’s the day Miami landed a commitment from then-American Heritage running back Mark Fletcher Jr., who chose his hometown Hurricanes over Florida after previously decommitting from Ohio State.
As more experienced running backs Henry Parrish Jr. and Ajay Allen dealt with injuries late in the season, Fletcher grew stronger. He set a career-high with 126 rushing yards on 17 carries, averaging 7.4 yards per carry. He showed off the power he generates from his 6-foot-2, 225-pound frame by taking down several Louisville defenders. He also showed speed, bursting through a hole for a 54-yard run that came within a half-yard of the end zone.
Fletcher, who scored two touchdowns in the loss, earned an offensive rating of 78.1, which is the second-highest mark of his young career.
“He’s so big, but so agile,” UM defensive lineman Branson Deen said. “You’d think I’d want to run through you. Then he makes a quick cut and you’re like, ‘Oh my God, where did he go?’ Big boy, bright future ahead. “I can’t wait to see it in the future.”
The day of Xavier Restrepo’s race
Miami veteran Xavier Restrepo has long been Van Dyke’s favorite target and helped his former roommate out of his slump.
Restrepo had a career-high 193 yards receiving and made an acrobatic leaping touchdown in the first quarter. He finished the game with an 81.5 receiving grade from Pro Football Focus.
The strong performance puts Restrepo atop UM’s receivers this season with 876 yards. He also ranks second in the ACC in receiving yards. Pro Football Focus ranks him 15th nationally among wide receivers with at least 50 targets this season.
“He’s a really smart kid, he understands windows and he understands leverage, how to use it to open them,” Van Dyke said. “No wonder he had a day.”
The Brohm brothers attack the UM defense
In one season, first-year Louisville coach Jeff Brohm turned the Cardinals into ACC title contenders. He and his brother, Louisville offensive coordinator Brian Brohm (both former Cardinals quarterbacks) have taken an offense that was 74th in points per game last year and improved it to 27th.
On Saturday, the Cardinals used play-action passes and deflections to stump the Hurricanes defense, and it worked. Louisville scored 38 points and gained 470 yards. Only North Carolina, with likely first-round quarterback Drake Maye, eclipsed those numbers against UM this season.
“They give you the same look and you get different things,” Deen said. “They had a great plan and they executed it very well.”
Devastating grief for the Hurricanes
There are several different reasons why the Hurricanes lost on Saturday. One of the most immediate reasons was a pair of unsportsmanlike conduct penalties that cost Miami dearly.
The first came after Miami failed to convert on a fourth-and-goal opportunity from the Louisville 3-yard line. Van Dyke threw to Jacolby George. The throw was high and George seemed upset at being held by the defender. He hit the defender, cornerback Quincy Riley, in the face and was penalized for 15 yards. That penalty took the Cardinals out of the shadows of their own end zone to the 18-yard line.
Miami had another chance after the defense forced Louisville to punt. Louisville’s D’Angelo Hutchinson shoved Miami’s Davonte Brown in punt coverage, and Smith ran and hit Hutchinson in the face. Smith was called for unnecessary roughness and the Hurricanes began their drive at their own 25 instead of their own 40.
Those 30 yards proved extremely costly as Miami finished 5 yards away from tying or winning the game.
“You jump over it. “It sucks,” said coach Mario Cristóbal.
“It’s total and utter immaturity, unacceptable, on the part of a couple of guys who have played very, very well. You have to use it as a teaching moment, but you have to go right to them. You have to attack them hard. It’s a lot of nonsense. Thats not all. We all get upset, maybe they pull us, maybe they hold us down, a guy hits you. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. They have flags, they are going to throw them when necessary and we cannot do that. We’re not going back to that. We have to fix it; “We’re going to fix it.”
Tight end use
Last year, Miami’s top pass catcher was current NFL tight end Will Mallory, who had 538 receiving yards and three touchdowns, demonstrating the value of using tight ends in the passing game.
Jeff and Brian Brohm reiterated that Saturday. His tight end group racked up 113 receiving yards and two touchdowns on 10 receptions against Miami.
By comparison, the Hurricanes’ tight ends have a combined 12 receptions for 107 yards and a touchdown in 11 games this season.
The good and the bad of Francis Mauigoa
The Hurricanes got to see some of rookie right tackle Francis Mauigoa’s best work and some of his worst struggles in the same game.
The former five-star prospect lined up a Louisville defender, helping Smith run 34 yards for a score. The pancake block caught the attention of at least one college football expert on social media.
Call the police about Francis Mauigoa pic.twitter.com/SDvJfVWmoK
– Josh Pate (@LateKickJosh) November 18, 2023
However, it was far from a perfect day for the freshman. He allowed five of 12 pressures allowed by the line, and a Louisville defender beat him for a huge sack on Van Dyke. Pro Football Focus gave Mauigoa a pass blocking grade of 29.6, which is his lowest grade since his college debut against Miami (Ohio) in Week 1.
Kinchens messed with
Another talented Hurricane, safety Kamren Kinchens, had a tough day against the Cardinals. Although he had a key interception, he also allowed five receptions on six targets for 63 yards and a touchdown.
Pro Football Focus gave Kinchens a 49.7 coverage grade, which is the All-American’s second-lowest grade this season (it’s slightly better than his grade against UNC). It is the fourth lowest grade of his career.
What’s left to play?
Miami has one more regular season game on the schedule and it will be tougher than many originally expected. UM travels to Boston College (6-5) and will play under some unusual circumstances.
The game will be played at noon on Black Friday, the day after the Thanksgiving holiday. It will be colder than most Miami players are used to, especially those from Florida. Temperatures are currently expected to reach a high of 47 degrees in Boston.
Miami will have to stay motivated to avoid a setback on the road.
“I think you have to come in motivated and stay motivated and bring guys with you,” Deen said. “It starts with the leaders. We have to come in and set the tone, and the guys will follow us. We have a pretty good core of guys who continue to do quite well. We have a good group, a nucleus that leads quite well, and our leader is not going to leave us behind. … We will be ready”.
Symbolism of the final capture of Restrepo
Despite the setbacks Miami had throughout the game, it had one last chance at the end of the fourth quarter. Van Dyke threw a pass about 55 yards downfield, and Restrepo caught it after he tipped off Colbie Young and some Cardinals defenders.
The capture of Restrepo was almost a miracle. Louisville defenders made sure it didn’t turn into a storybook ending, taking down Restrepo at the 5-yard line.
College football is a sport driven by narrative and momentum. Perception is everything. And the narrative of this Hurricanes team will be that they improved from last year’s terrible 5-7 campaign, but fell short of their full potential.
If they win the final regular season game against Boston College and a bowl game, they will finish 8-5. That’s much better than last year. But people will remember that this team was about to take a knee and weeks of poor quarterback play to become an ACC contender, and maybe even the College Football Playoff.
“We’re close, we’re close,” Fletcher said. “We just have to get over this hurdle. It’s very frustrating knowing that we are so close. It’s like our heads are in the ceiling and they just can’t get out. But we are getting there.”