Vice City Vice Grip – Mounting Pressure For The Miami Hurricanes

College football is a unique sport that allows those in power to remain in power, thus building their own dynasty. You could easily say that control runs in waves, as the 80s were ran by the Miami Hurricanes, the 90s by the Nebraska Cornhuskers, and of course Alabama over the last decade. At the start of this 21st century though, it wasn’t LSU, USC or Florida who were supposed to earn national bragging rights…it was supposed to be Miami yet again.

There’s no doubt that from 2000 and beyond it was shaping up to be the next Miami Hurricanes dynasty. Their 2001 roster team was arguably the best college football team ever assembled. There was little doubt that they were going to be crowned national champions heading into the season, and they did just that.

That squad had the most profound backfield in recent memory with Clinton Portis, Willis McGahee, Frank Gore and Najeh Davenport. Every starter on the defense went to the league, notably Vince Wilfork, Jonathan Vilma, D.J. Williams, and of course Sean Taylor who was a generational talent taken from us too soon. Can’t forget current and future Hall of Famers, Ed Reed and Andre Johnson.

You get the point right? They were a loaded squad that surprisingly remained mostly intact following their 12-0 National Championship run. With great experience returning, even quarterback Ken Dorsey and some of those others listed above, Miami made it back to the title game in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl. Unfortunately, Ohio State crashed the party and the Hurricanes astounding 34 game win streak over three seasons came to a close that night in Tempe.

The magnitude of that double overtime loss didn’t manifest itself right away. However, coming up on the 20th anniversary of that gut wrenching loss, the pain still remains. Each and every season filled with inefficiencies and lackluster performances since has seemingly dug the hole deeper and deeper for the program to climb back to the top.

This is why the Miami went out and opened up the checkbooks for someone who knows what it takes to be a champion in Coral Gables. Mario Cristobal, a former Hurricane himself, played for Miami from 1988-1992 and won two national titles during his time in college. His most recent tenure at Oregon as a head coach saw him lead the Ducks to a 35-13 record, and two PAC-12 Championships.

Turning his alma mater around may be a daunting task but not impossible. The issue is that there is immense pressure for Cristobal to succeed from the get-go, due to NIL allowing intriguing opportunities and many boosters and former players demanding their donations are used appropriately. By appropriately, they mean a national title contender.

Here’s how Cristobal can get the Canes back to the top.

Limit In-State Exodus

Florida is one of the three states (along with California and Texas) who can claim to be the best high school football state. As it stands currently in the 247 rankings, Florida boasts 21 of the top 100 recruits and 50 in the top 250. That means 20% of the best high school players come from Florida.

Obviously, keeping every player home is impossible, but identifying talent early and showing interest before others catch on gives the inside track in some of these recruiting battles. Also, unlike in-state rivals Florida and Florida State, none of these current high school athletes have seen Miami win a title. As it stands, Cristobal and his crew are doing a solid job in the state of Florida for the upcoming 2023 class, and a polished on-field product in the fall will only enhance their recruiting efforts.

One key piece to the Cristobal hire is all that time on the west coast at Oregon opened up some avenues. I truly believe that was the key to landing Jaden Rashada, the seventh ranked quarterback nationally. He hails from California, and sometimes all it takes is one guy from an area to pull other players with him, especially with all these 7-on-7 camps taking center stage in the offseason.

Lean On The Run Game

Very few schools have been plagued worse by poor quarterback play than the Hurricanes this century. Even though Dorsey was experienced, he was never great. As a matter of fact, no starting quarterbacks besides D’Eriq King and Jacory Harris have even completed above 63% of their passes in a season. In 2017, a 10-3 campaign which was Miami’s only realistic title hope, Malik Rosier and his abysmal 54% completion rate completely hindered the passing offense.

Amazingly, many running backs in the league have come out of Miami during that span despite being nearly one dimensional on offense. I mean, the last time the talent in the receiver room was really utilized was with Harris under center nearly a decade ago. Travis Benjamin, Allen Hurns, Leonard Hankerson and even a young Phillip Dorsett were targets of Harris who all made it to the league.

While he was at Oregon, Cristobal’s teams were some of the best on the ground in the country. He was able to get the best out of his running backs CJ Verdell and Travis Dye, but more importantly he built a great offensive line. Just last year the Ducks were 13th in yards per carry and finished eighth in rushing touchdowns with 36.

He must bring that hard nosed mentality over to the Hurricanes if they want to have any chance at getting back to prominence. Even though the ACC had a down year in 2021, that road to a conference title still runs through Clemson. However, once Cristobal gets everyone on board with winning at the line of scrimmage, Miami has the athletes to take care of the rest.

Get The Swagger Back

Winning is fun and everyone knows that, and very few teams have more fun winning than the Hurricanes. Back in the 80s, Miami would destroy opponents and let them know it by taunting their way to blowouts. I’m not saying they need to go to this extreme and rub it in everyone’s faces. What I mean is they need to establish a winner’s mentality first, but then find a way to get that diamond covered turnover chain back out.

I’m sure teams in the ACC and even rivals make fun of the Canes for the chain, but once Miami starts winning games then they’ll quickly begin to hate it. If you’re being hated by everyone, thats a good thing because usually it means you’re winning.

Defense Wins Championships

One of my favorite football ideas that always rings true is that defense and run game travel. Obviously we already talked about the run game and all the great names that came through the program. The defense has seemingly always held it it’s own, even in down years.

However, this defense seems to be one of the weaker units the program has had in recent memory. The strength in the unit overall resides in the secondary, mostly at the Williams & Williams law firm at the safety position. James Williams, the former #1 overall safety in the 2021 class was fantastic as a freshman and Avantae Williams will be replacing Bubba Bolden who departed after last season. Both are in for huge seasons.

Transfer Portal Success

Few teams have been as successful as Miami at adding not just players, but starters from the transfer portal. On defense they gave real meaning to the “portal” as they beamed in not just one but two players from West Virginia. One of those talented players is Akheem Mesidor, a defensive line transfer from West Virginia. Daryl Porter is the other and is projected to be a starting cornerback on the opposite side of returning starter, Tyrique Stevenson.

On offense, they added Frank Ladson Jr. from Clemson, the seventh best wide receiver in the 2019 class. He was a victim of poor quarterback play last season but is a huge get for the Hurricanes to try and open up the downfield passing, where he excels tracking the deep ball. Another addition is running back Henry Parrish Jr. from Ole Miss. Even though he’s tabbed at starter currently, I believe him and Jaylan Knighton will basically split the carries.

Tighten Up

The most prolific group on this roster is without a doubt the tight ends. Will Mallory, who decided to come back for another season, will lead the charge as a great target for quarterback Tyler Van Dyke, and open up plenty of holes as well. Former Alabama commit and true freshman, Jaleel Skinner, is a massive steal for Cristobal and he needs to get him on the field as much as possible. Skinner needs to add some weight to his frame and once he does, it’s possible that he becomes the next Kyle Pitts with his size and ability to get open.

Final Thoughts

This is a turnaround that won’t happen overnight, although it could feasibly be ahead of schedule. A week three date with Texas A&M at Kyle Field will really gauge the program and determine the progress. If Miami can go in to College Station and pull out a win, their schedule is set up nicely for a serious shot at the ACC title.

Clemson still stands in the way and is on the schedule for November 19th. Fortunately, many experts have tabbed North Carolina State as the favorite in the conference, so all the chatter has surrounded the territory far north of the peninsula. That is allowing Miami to lurk in the shadows and not generate any outside noise.

Two tuneup games to start the season against Bethune-Cookman and Southern Miss may allow this squad to start building momentum, turning this two decade long tropical depression into a full fledged hurricane once again.

Derek Worley

Sports Analyst

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