MIAMI GARDENS — Before heading to the locker room at halftime, Mario Cristobal told radio station WQAM that the Hurricanes had played “as bad as we can play.” He may have been underselling Miami’s performance.
Up against a Middle Tennessee State squad that entered the game as 26.5-point underdogs, the Hurricanes let a bad start turn into an abysmal game. They fell behind 10-0, which became 17-3, which turned into 24-3.
Although the team briefly showed more life after the UM staff benched Tyler Van Dyke for Jake Garcia, it wasn’t enough to save the No. 25 Hurricanes from a stunning 45-31 defeat.
“Obviously, poor job by me,” Cristobal said after the game. “Poor job by the organization. Credit to Middle (Tennessee State) for doing what they did.”
The Hurricanes plummeted to 2-2 before their bye week, and they begin ACC play against North Carolina on Oct. 8.
The game started poorly for Miami and only got worse. Van Dyke threw an interception on the Hurricanes’ first offensive play of the game, but the UM defense held MTSU to a field goal. On Miami’s next offensive drive, Van Dyke had another pass intercepted. Blue Raiders defensive lineman Zaylin Wood returned that pick for a score.
The Hurricanes had a third turnover on their next drive when Jaylan Knighton fumbled, but Miami’s defense got the ball back on a Kamren Kinchens interception (his second of the season).
“Started slow, real slow,” Cristobal said. “About as bad of a first quarter as you can have.”
Miami’s defense had trouble stopping Middle Tennessee State’s Air Raid offense throughout the game. Blue Raiders quarterback Chase Cunningham tossed a 71-yard score to DJ England-Chisholm to put the Blue Raiders up 17-3 in the first quarter. On their next drive, Cunningham threw an 89-yard pass to Jaylin Lane that got MTSU to the Miami 5-yard line. The Blue Raiders scored on a quarterback keeper four plays later.
The Hurricanes’ offense continued to scuffle through the first half, but they scored on a 6-yard pass from Van Dyke to running back Henry Parrish Jr. with 1:20 left in the first half. Miami went into halftime trailing 24-10.
Van Dyke continued his stretch of rough performance after not playing up to expectations in the Hurricanes’ last two games. He went 16 of 32 for 138 yards and one touchdown before he was taken out of the game.
In the third quarter, the Miami staff put Garcia into the game to try to save the game. Down 31-10 after a 69-yard touchdown pass from Cunningham to Elijah Metcalf, the Hurricanes needed a jolt. Garcia provided one, but it was too little and too late.
With Garcia in the game, the Hurricanes moved the ball better. They scored on his first drive and reached the Blue Raiders’ 2-yard line on his next drive. But Middle Tennessee State kept Miami out of the end zone and followed the stop with a 98-yard touchdown pass from Cunningham to England-Chisholm.
But the Hurricanes still had fight in them. On the ensuing kickoff after the MTSU touchdown, Key’Shawn Smith returned a kick 91 yards for a touchdown to keep Miami within two scores.
The Miami defense could not hold off the Middle Tennessee offense, though. The Blue Raiders marched down the field and scored on a 12-play, 75-yard scoring drive to extend their lead to 45-24. Miami scored again on a short run by Thad Franklin, who finished the loss with two touchdowns, but the Hurricanes could not make up the difference.
After the game, Cristobal said he told his rejected team “the truth.”
“They coached better than us. They played better than us. They were better,” Cristobal said. “We didn’t do a good enough job. There’s no excuse. Real men look in the mirror and do something about it and don’t allow any cracks to happen from the inside. We all came here for a purpose and a reason. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
1. Tyler Van Dyke benched
Van Dyke entered the season as the clear starter, a potential first-round pick and a Heisman candidate. In the fourth game of the season, he may have lost his starting job. In the third quarter, Cristobal inserted Garcia into the game.
Van Dyke struggled in a win over Southern Miss and in a loss to Texas A&M, but Saturday’s contest started badly for the third-year sophomore and only got worse. Cristobal attributed Van Dyke’s struggles to a change in scheme under offensive coordinator Josh Gattis.
“It’s different,” Cristobal said. “Some things with it are different, obviously. Over 65 percent of his receiver production is gone, and then the injury to Xavier (Restrepo) is having us develop guys that are working hard to get better.”
Miami has a bye week next week where the coaching staff will have to make their quarterback decision going forward.
2. Garcia energizes the offense
Miami’s offense could not do anything when Van Dyke was in the game but looked better once Garcia entered the fray.
Garcia completed 10 of 19 pass attempts for 161 yards in the loss and led the Hurricanes to a touchdown on his first drive. But the Hurricanes could not keep the energy going long enough and ultimately fell short.
“I think Jake did a good job,” center Jakai Clark said. “He was very calm, collected. I think he went out there and you could see that he prepared as the starter throughout the week, and I think it showed on the field.”
3. Flat in almost every aspect
The Hurricanes didn’t play their best against Southern Miss in Week 2, but they got the win. They struggled in Week 3 against Texas A&M, and they fell on the road. The same happened against Middle Tennessee State, and it cost Miami dearly.
The defense that excelled against the Aggies gave up 45 points to the Blue Raiders. Middle Tennessee State scored on six of 14 offensive drives.
Hurricanes center Jalen Rivers said the team overlooked Middle Tennessee State, which caused them to start slowly.
“We came in, obviously, unmotivated or kind of slow, and we had to ramp things back up when we got punched in the mouth,” Rivers said. “That’s basically how it is.
“Obviously, we go into Texas A&M like, ‘Oh, we’re going to prepare for each team the same.’ But I just feel like we came into this game like ‘Oh, we’re going to win.’ And you saw, obviously, see what happened.”
4. Injuries pile up
The Hurricanes suffered a host of injuries in their loss Saturday, and it started before the game kicked off.
Punter Lou Hedley suffered a pregame strain that kept him from kicking on Saturday, Cristobal said.
Running back Jaylan Knighton suffered an ankle injury and finished the game with two carries for 1 yard. Another running back, Henry Parrish Jr., left the game with an injury in the third quarter. Cristobal said after the game that he was still being evaluated.
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Stevenson suffered a “lower extremity” injury, but Cristobal said he did not know how serious the injury is. Stevenson did not play in the second half of Saturday’s game. Additionally, cornerback Daryl Porter Jr. also left the game with a shoulder injury after making a fourth-quarter tackle, and Cristobal said he did not believe it was serious.
Offensive lineman Zion Nelson did not play Saturday so he could rest his knee, which he had surgery on before the season.
5. MTSU’s passing game beats Miami’s pass defense
The Hurricanes struggled mightily with the Blue Raiders’ passing attack.
Middle Tennessee State quarterback Chase Cunningham racked up 408 passing yards in the game. The Blue Raiders had passing touchdowns of 69, 71 and 98 yards.
Led by the passing game, Middle Tennessee outgained Miami 507-367.
“The loss is not on one person,” Kinchens said. “We could have said the offense. We could’ve said the defense. Everybody played horrible.”