For the second week in a row, Miami had a top-10 team on the ropes with a chance to take them to overtime late in 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, allowing the Cardinals to punch 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 bounces back
The Hurricanes’ offense struggles in much of ACC play lead back to the quarterback. Once conference games started, Van Dyke became far too turnover-prone. He suffered a leg injury against UNC that clearly affected him, as his performances in the following games against Virginia and N.C. State were abysmal. That led to freshman Emory Williams taking the starting job against Florida State.
But a season-ending injury for Williams put Van Dyke back in the starting role. He rewarded that trust with a solid performance. He completed 24-of-39 passes for 327 yards and a touchdown. Most importantly, he did not turn the ball over once.
Pro Football Focus gave him a 70.9 passing grade, which is his best grade since the UNC game. For just the third time this season, he had no throws designated as “turnover-worthy plays” by the analytics site.
“I was just seeing a lot of things a lot better today, overall,” Van Dyke said.
Mark Fletcher Jr. has been a revelation
Dec. 18, 2022, is looking like a very important day for Miami. It’s the day Miami got a commitment from then-American Heritage running back Mark Fletcher Jr., who picked the hometown Hurricanes over Florida after previously decommitting from Ohio State.
As more experienced running backs Henry Parrish Jr. and Ajay Allen have dealt with injuries late in the season, Fletcher has come on strong. He set a career-high with 126 rushing yards on 17 carries, averaging 7.4 yards per carry. He showed the power he generates from his 6-foot-2, 225-pound frame by bulldozing several Louisville defenders. He also showed speed, bursting through a hole for a 54-yard run that came half a yard short of the end zone.
Fletcher, who scored two touchdowns in the loss, earned a 78.1 offensive grade, which is the second-best mark of his young career.
“He’s so big, but he’s so agile,” UM defensive lineman Branson Deen said. “You would think he would want to run through you. Then he makes a quick cut and you’re like, ‘Oh my God, where’d he go?’ Big kid, a bright future ahead of him. Can’t wait to see him in the future.”
Xavier Restrepo’s career day
Miami veteran Xavier Restrepo has been Van Dyke’s favorite target for a long time, and he helped his former roommate break out of his slump.
Restrepo had a career-best 193 receiving yards and made an acrobatic, leaping touchdown in the first quarter. He ended the game with an 81.5 receiving grade from Pro Football Focus.
The strong performance puts Restrepo in the lead for UM receivers this season with 876 yards. He is second in the ACC in receiving yards, as well. Pro Football Focus ranks him 15th nationally among wide receivers with at least 50 targets this season.
“He’s a really smart kid, understands windows and understands leverage, how to use it to get open,” Van Dyke said. “No surprise that he had himself a day.”
Brohm brothers give UM defense fits
In one season, first-year Louisville coach Jeff Brohm has turned the Cardinals into an ACC title contender. 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 misdirections to stump the Hurricanes defense, and it worked. Louisville scored 38 points and racked up 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 run different things out of it,” Deen said. “They had a great plan coming in and they executed really well.”
Devastating penalties on the Hurricanes
There are several different reasons why the Hurricanes lost on Saturday. One of the most immediate reasons were a pair of unsportsmanlike conduct penalties that cost Miami dearly.
The first came after Miami failed to convert on a fourth-and-goal chance from Louisville’s 3-yard line. Van Dyke threw to Jacolby George. The throw was high, and George appeared to be upset about being held by the defender. He hit the defender, cornerback Quincy Riley, in the face and was flagged for 15 yards. That penalty moved the Cardinals out of the shadow of their own end zone to the 18-yard line.
Miami got another chance after the defense forced Louisville to punt. Louisville’s D’Angelo Hutchinson pushed Miami’s Davonte Brown in punt coverage, and Smith ran over and hit Hutchinson in the face. Smith was called for unnecessary roughness, and the Hurricanes started their drive at their own 25 instead of their own 40.
Those 30 yards proved extremely costly as Miami ended up 5 yards away from tying or winning the game.
“You jump all over that. It’s crap,” coach Mario Cristobal said.
“It’s complete and utter, unacceptable immaturity from a couple guys that have played really, really well. You’ve got to use it as a teaching moment, but you’ve got to go right at them. You’ve got to go right at them hard. It’s a bunch of bullcrap. That ain’t it. We all get upset, maybe get tugged, maybe get held, a guy hits you. It don’t matter. It don’t matter. They have flags, they’re going to throw them when they need to throw them, and we can’t do that. We’re not going to revert to that. We’ve got to fix it; we’re going to fix it.”
Tight end usage
Last year, Miami’s top pass-catcher was current NFL tight end Will Mallory, who racked up 538 receiving yards and three touchdowns, showing the value of using tight ends in the passing game.
Jeff and Brian Brohm reiterated that Saturday. Their group of tight ends racked up 113 receiving yards and two touchdowns on 10 catches against Miami.
For comparison, the Hurricanes’ tight ends have a combined 12 catches for 107 yards and one score in 11 games this season.
Good and bad from Francis Mauigoa
The Hurricanes got a look at some of freshman right tackle Francis Mauigoa’s best work and some of his worst struggles in the same game.
The former five-star prospect laid out a Louisville defender, helping Smith rush 34 yards for a touchdown. The pancake block caught at least one college football pundit’s attention on social media.
However, it was far from a perfect day for the freshman. He allowed five of the line’s 12 pressures allowed, and a Louisville defender got past him for a huge sack on Van Dyke. Pro Football Focus gave Mauigoa a 29.6 pass-blocking score, which is his lowest grade since his college debut against Miami (Ohio) in Week 1.
Kinchens picked on
Another talented Hurricane, safety Kamren Kinchens, had a tough day against the Cardinals. Although he had a key interception, he also surrendered five catches on six targets for 63 yards and a touchdown.
Pro Football Focus gave Kinchens a 49.7 grade in coverage, which is the All-American’s second-lowest grade this season (it is slightly better than his grade against UNC). It’s the fourth-lowest grade of his career.
What’s left to play for
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 in some unusual circumstances.
The game is at noon on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving festivities. It will be colder than most Miami players — particularly those from Florida — are used to. Temperatures are currently projected to top out at 47 degrees in Boston.
Miami will have to stay motivated for that so they don’t suffer a road upset.
“Think you’ve just got to come in motivated and stay motivated and bring guys along with you,” Deen said. “It starts with the leaders. We have to come in and set the tone, and the guys will follow. We’ve got a pretty good nucleus of guys that follow pretty well. We’ve got a good group, a nucleus, that lead pretty good, and our leader, he ain’t going to let up off us. … We’ll be ready.”
Symbolism of Restrepo’s final catch
Despite the setbacks Miami had throughout the game, it had one last chance at the end of the fourth quarter. Van Dyke heaved a pass about 55 yards down the field, and Restrepo hauled it in after it tipped off Colbie Young and a few Cardinals defenders.
Restrepo’s catch was a near-miracle. Louisville defenders made sure it did not become a storybook ending, tackling Restrepo at the 5-yard line.
College football is a narrative-driven, momentum-based sport. Perception is everything. And the narrative of this Hurricanes team will be that they improved from last year’s dreadful 5-7 campaign, but they did not reach their full potential.
If they win the regular-season finale 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 a quarterback kneel and weeks of poor quarterback play away from being an ACC — and perhaps even a College Football Playoff — contender.
“We’re close, we’re close,” Fletcher said. “We just got to get over this hump. Very frustrating though, to know that we’re so close. It’s like our heads are at the roof and just can’t bust through. But we’re getting there.”