No. 25 Miami offense seeking improvement against MTSU

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Tyler Van Dyke was frustrated after Miami’s loss to Texas A&M last weekend, understandably so after the Hurricanes managed just three field goals.

“It starts with me,” Van Dyke said.

Thing is, Miami coach Mario Cristobal doesn’t entirely agree with his quarterback. Cristobal’s primary task since taking over at his alma mater has been to instill a culture and team dynamic where everyone shares the credit when things go right and everyone shares the blame when things go wrong.

So, when No. 25 Miami (2-1) closes its nonconference slate by hosting Middle Tennessee State (2-1) on Saturday, Cristobal wants everyone on the Hurricanes’ sideline making the commitment to improve and do more, not just his quarterback.

“I don’t think you point a finger at anybody,” Cristobal said. “That’s not our program. It’s not what we do. You own it completely as an organization. And so, collectively, we have to come up with a better way to score points.”

Miami hasn’t scored a touchdown in its last 14 offensive possessions, going back to the Week 2 win over Southern Miss. The Hurricanes’ defense has more than done its job — giving up four touchdowns on 35 drives so far this season, one of those against Texas A&M coming on a short field following a muffed punt return.

It’s the offense that hasn’t looked crisp and keeps taking injury hits; wide receiver Xavier Restrepo will miss his second consecutive game with an injury, and wide receiver Jacolby George could miss several weeks with an injury that he suffered last week.

“They’re very talented, obviously, on both sides of the ball,” MTSU coach Rick Stockstill said. “They’re extremely athletic, extremely fast, they’ve got great size, they can run at every position.”

Stockstill knows plenty about Miami. He played quarterback in college at Florida State back in the early days of Bobby Bowden’s tenure and appeared twice in games against Miami, when Howard Schnellenberger was building the Hurricanes toward what became the school’s first national title in 1983.

Stockstill also has faced Cristobal six times; Stockstill and MTSU went 4-2 against FIU when Cristobal coached there. There’s more familiarity as well, given that Stockstill’s daughter worked at Alabama when Cristobal was there coaching under Tide coach Nick Saban.

“I have great respect and admiration for him,” Stockstill said of Cristobal. “He’s done a phenomenal job.”

Miami last week had 392 yards of offense, 27 first downs and zero touchdowns. That’s almost statistically impossible. Since Sept. 1, 2017, of the last 4,358 instances of an FBS team gaining at least 392 yards in a game, only three had failed to score a touchdown. That means it has happened 0.00069% of the time in that span.

MTSU is 0-20 since moving to the FBS level against teams that are ranked in the AP poll, the most recent of those losses coming last season against Virginia Tech. All but one of the 20 losses have been by double digits. The only exception was in 2003, a 41-40 overtime loss to then-No. 23 Missouri.

The Hurricanes are 23-1 in their last 24 nonconference games against unranked opponents. The loss was last year to then-unranked Michigan State, which wound up climbing as high as No. 5 in the AP Top 25 later in the season.

MTSU QB Chase Cunningham is in his sixth year of college, all with the Blue Raiders. He redshirted as a true freshman in 2017, played in four games in 2018, five games in 2019, three games in 2020 — getting that year of eligibility back, as did all college players, through the NCAA’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic — and eight games last season. He’s one of 15 fifth- and sixth-year players on the MTSU roster.

Middle Tennessee State is 2-0 against Miami, with the last meeting between the schools in 1932. Things were a bit different then. Miami’s 1931 loss came at the end of a three-game, eight-day road trip for the Hurricanes, who visited Western Kentucky and Murray State as well during that swing and went 0-3.

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