Miami Hurricanes 2023 Preview: Year 2 of the Cristobal Era

Miami Hurricanes Cristobal Era

Miami, Florida – It is Year 2 of the Mario Cristobal era and with it comes the 2023 edition of Miami Hurricanes football previewing the latest crop of talent. A sputtering offense and mediocre defense resulted in a disappointing 5-7 finish last season. In the aftermath, Coach Cristobal commenced a staff shakeup, namely replacing both coordinators.

The offseason brought another wave of recruiting complemented with acquisitions via the transfer portal. These efforts are giving clamoring fans a degree of cautious optimism. Cristobal’s new coordinators are charged with harnessing the assembled talent and bringing out the best in them. With new personnel, the faithful might see tangible progress in the form of a winning record. So without further ado, let’s dive in to see some of the individuals tasked with giving the program a much-needed bounce back.

Defense

New management

We will begin with an area of lesser concern. The defense is filled with a lot of talent whether it’s upperclassmen, transfers, or the rookies led by defensive coordinator Lance Guidry. Hired for the job in February 2023, Guidry cultivated an elite unit at Marshall University for the past two seasons. Allowing just 16 points per game in 2022, the Thundering Herd racked up 18 interceptions, 38 sacks, and 11 fumble recoveries. Marshall’s defense ranked among the top five nationally in several categories such as pass defense, third down, rushing defense, and turnovers.

It all starts in the trenches. Veteran pass rushers Akheem Mesidor (38 tackles, team-leading 7 sacks, 1 forced fumble) and Jahfari Harvey ( 31 tackles, 5.5 sacks) are back augmented by former five-star recruit Leonard Taylor III (24 tackles, 3 sacks, 1 INT). The unit is further reinforced with disruptor Branson Deen (28 tackles, 2.5 sacks) joining highly touted Rueben Bain Jr. and Louisiana-Monroe transfer Anthony Campbell. Coming from Purdue, Deen brings the usual depth, experience, and efficiency.

Campbell has versatility having played primarily at defensive end and also defensive tackle. He accumulated 13 stops and a sack.

Nyjalik Kelly is going to factor into Miami’s elaborate equation and should be impactful.

Jared Harrison-Hunte is also back hoping to play a full season. Limited to nine games in 2022 due to injury, Harrison-Hunte notched 16 tackles and two sacks. Offering size and power, the defense, particularly the pass rush, would benefit greatly from his presence. Let’s not forget Chantz Williams and Jacob Lichtenstein who are in the rotation too.

The Secondary

Moving outward from the line, the Hurricanes have one of the best duos in the country at safety. Both Kamren Kinchens and James Williams serve as a formidable one-two punch. The former came up with six interceptions placing him among the best in the nation. Williams, a former five-star recruit by the way, recorded his own interception alongside a forced fumble. Further success is expected for the junior. The two safeties were tied for most tackles (59) on the team for 2022.

The backfield has other threats now. UCF transfer Davonte Brown brings his talents to Coral Gables after putting up 30 tackles and two picks in his final season with the Knights. Then there’s further improvement to the secondary with Jaden Davis. The former Sooner tallied 35 tackles in 2022, showing versatility and excellent tackling capabilities. Impressively accurate with his hits, the St. Thomas Aquinas alum rarely misses a tackle. Something fans cherish and expect. Additionally, ex-Cardinal K.J. Cloyd contributes size and speed, impressing the coaching staff.

Francisco Mauigoa is another new face. The linebacker from Washington State was a big presence on the field accumulating 60 tackles, 3.5 sacks, three forced fumbles, and a pick-six. Going back to the familiars, Corey Flagg Jr. returns after finishing last season with 56 tackles, the second most on the team. One guy to keep an eye on is Wesley Bissainthe. The freshman saw action throughout ‘22 nabbing 30 tackles. Without a doubt, Bissainthe is poised to break out in 2023 as his bar is raised even higher.

Offense

Going on the attack

Unsurprisingly, quarterback Tyler Van Dyke leads the offense once again. He’s guided by the new offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson who spent the last four seasons at the University of Houston. Van Dyke previously dealt with a nagging shoulder injury as the offense failed to score more than 21 points in seven contests. Now that TVD is healthy, fans should see a much better version of him especially with Dawson bringing the Air Raid. Coach Cristobal has assembled quite the O-line to protect him too. Word is if anything happens to Van Dyke, Emory Williams should get a deep look.

Zion Nelson will miss week 1, they’re saying he’s almost ready but we’ll see as the season progresses after missing nearly all of 2022. The very talented tackle is joined by two brand new five-star recruits Francis Mauigoa and Samson Okunlola laying down the foundation for the future. It gets better. The Hurricanes also flipped guard Javion Cohen from Bama and UCF’s center Matt Lee.

Cohen will aid in opening up the lanes allowing for the run game to take off. Considering the struggles at running back last season this is a definite plus. Lee, meanwhile, contributes added toughness, experience, and leadership. The center is considered the best acquisition by the Canes via the transfer portal. With a line like this coupled with Dawson’s way of running things, we might see TVD and the offense soar for 2023. Throw in Jalen Rivers and Anez Cooper and you’ll get a potent, hard-as-nails O-line.

Ground game

The running back corps underperformed in 2022 and will be looking to take a step forward for the upcoming campaign. Henry Parrish Jr. likely starts at the top of the pecking order in a running back by committee. Parrish recorded 131 carries for 617 yards and four touchdowns, however, he wasn’t always 100%. Even when Parrish was healthy, the now fourth-year junior did not meet expectations. The leading rusher was also used as a receiver tallying 120 yards and two more TDs.

Jaylan Knighton and Thaddius Franklin transferred out but that’s where Ajay Allen and Mark Fletcher come in. Allen’s freshman year was cut short due to a broken collarbone. In spite of this, his small four-game sample size grabbed The U’s attention. The former Nebraska Cornhusker rushed 33 times for 190 yards totaling a pair of scores. Let’s see how Allen does with a (hopefully) full season’s worth of action.  Fletcher experienced a highly accomplished high school career and will be looking to translate that to the next level. He ran for a grand total of 4,443 yards, crossed the centennial mark 23 times, and scored 49 touchdowns per Canes Warning. Donald Chaney Jr and Trevonte’ Citizen return with the latter being eased into full-time duties.

Airing it out

Colbie Young (32 rec, 376 yards, 5 TDs) is the WR1. With the Air Raid coming to Miami, Young is poised for a great year. Playmakers Brashard Smith (33 rec, 308 yards) and Xavier Restrepo (21 rec, 240 yards, 2 TDs)  are back giving TVD a measure of security with familiar reliables. Speaking of, Jacolby George (13 rec, 130 yards) has a chance to bury a disappointing 2022 season that included suspension with an explosive 2023. Isaiah Horton, meanwhile, continues to grow in his second year. Ray Ray Joseph could also make waves in his freshman year.

Expectantly, the Canes added more depth with speedy Alabama transfer Tyler Harrell. A bolt across the field, his time at Bama was inconsequential because of a foot injury. What garnered UM’s attention was the final year with Louisville. Harrell impressed in 2021 making 18 catches for 523 yards and 6 touchdowns. Can you imagine the synergy with Van Dyke? The highly demanded downfield connections?

Starting fresh

Moving to the tight ends, UM no longer enjoys the services of Will Mallory. They do have Jaleel Skinner, Elijah Arroyo, Jackson Carver, Cam McCormick, and Riley Williams allowing for some fun matchups for opposing defenses. Skinner has the size, hands, and speed to be Van Dyke’s top target at the position. A healthy Arroyo will challenge him for looks, however. The former four-star prospect spent most of 2022 injured.

Carver can be used to switch things up or to fill in for injuries utilizing his blocking capabilities. McCormick (10 rec, 66 yards, 3 TDs) came over from the Oregon Ducks offering hands, physicality, and blocking. Disclaimer: Health has been an issue for him. Lastly, Williams is working in a crowded field but he has the skillset, size, and frame to nab playing time. A grueling season tends to thin out the chart (hopefully not too much?) potentially offering additional opportunities. Arroyo and McCormick will factor significantly when it comes to the snap count.

Special Teams

Although the Lou Hedley era is over, the Hurricanes will rely on another Australian punter in Dylan Joyce. Andres Borregales was nearly flawless in ’22, nailing 17 of 20 field goals and all 32 PATs bringing those accurate strikes for another round. According to State of the U, Restrepo and George will have roles in the punt return. For the kick returns, they also mentioned Brashard Smith and George.

Prediction

So I laid out three outcomes. In the best-case scenario, they beat Texas A&M as part of a fast 5-0 start before losing back-to-back against North Carolina and Clemson. Despite falling to hated rival Florida State Miami finishes a very unexpected but nonetheless uplifting 9-3. The worst case scenario is losses against the Aggies, Tar Heels, Tigers, and Seminoles with a frustrating stumble versus Louisville or even Boston College culminating in a 7-5 finish. As you can see, a winning season regardless.

What I think will actually happen is a nice 4-1 start (losing to A&M) with defeats at UNC, versus Clemson and at Florida State. Aside from those, they’ll take care of business against their ACC rivals Georgia Tech, Virginia, and NC State. UM will go 3-1 in November including a victory over the Wolfpack and a very cold triumph at Boston College wrapping up 2023 8-4. A bowl game is in the cards although the drought will continue.

Keep in mind there will be growing pains, especially with two coordinators in their first year. Health will always be a factor. It’s already been reported Zion will not be ready for the opener and Citizen is slowly easing his way into the swing of things. If the attrition remains manageable the guys will have a great opportunity to make this a fun 2023 season. Otherwise, things can go downhill very quickly. Despite going in on a 8-4 finish I do have a gut feeling a stumble lurks in the schedule, particularly in November. Here’s to an exciting year.

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