9:00 PM EST, ESPN – Line: Texas A&M -6.0, Over/Under: 44.5
Ranked opponents clash in this interconference duel under the bright lights of Kyle Field, as the thirteenth-ranked Miami Hurricanes look to remain unbeaten as they travel to College Station to face the twenty-fourth-ranked Texas A&M Aggies, who desperately need to rebound after a stunning upset. In their perpetual search for someone to return the program to its glory days, Miami (2-0, 0-0 in ACC) hopes that they may have finally found their man in the form of (Head Coach) Mario Cristobal, who they managed to pry away from Oregon in the spring. Indeed, it was all about coming home for the South Florida native, who played four years for the Hurricanes, winning a pair of national titles in 1989 and 1991. Cristobal would return to the school as a graduate assistant (1998-2000) before serving another tour of duty coaching Tight Ends and the Offensive Line (2004-2006), leading to his first Head Coaching job at Florida International (27-47 in six years), in which he took them to their first bowl in school history. After three years working for Nick Saban at Alabama, the 51-year-old traveled to the Pacific Northwest, where he led Oregon to a 35-13 record and a pair of Pac-12 titles in five seasons. Though many questioned his decision to leave Eugene, there may have been nobody better suited to return the ‘Canes to their rightful place among the college football hierarchy than their former Offensive Tackle. Lauded as being a stellar recruiter and developer, Cristobal assembled quite the coaching staff during the Spring, hiring (2021 Broyles award winner) Josh Gattis as Offensive Coordinator and (longtime Defensive Coordinator) Kevin Steele on the opposite side of the football, while also adding (former Louisville and Texas Head Coach) Charlie Strong as Co-Defensive Coordinator. And if you questioned his attentions in returning the U to prominence, the first thing that he did upon arriving was getting rid of the fabled “Turnover Chain” that the team popularized over the past decade. Indeed, it’s going to be about FOOTBALL in Miami, with the swag a distant second.
Through two games thus far, the Hurricanes haven’t met much resistance, dominating the likes of Bethune-Cookman (70-13) and Southern Mississippi (30-7) by a combined SEVENTY points. The Offense has been explosive, while the Defense has been much improved, snuffing out the run while forcing three turnovers in each affair. However, the biggest storyline has been the ascension of (Sophomore Quarterback) Tyler Van Dyke, who has quickly established himself as one of the most promising players at his position. After taking over for an injured D’Eriq King, Van Dyke rallied his team back from a dreadful 2-4 start en route to winning five of their last six contests and topping 300 passing yards including 325 and 426 in upsets of Pittsburgh and North Carolina State. Furthermore, he became the first Quarterback in Miami history to pass for over 325 yards in three consecutive games since Bernie Kosar, earning ACC Rookie of the Year honors as a result. Needless to say, they’ve been waiting for a QB like this for quite some time down in Coral Gables, with Cristobal stating that he has the “best starting Quarterback in the country”. Well, it’s hard to argue with the man at this point, as Van Dyke has completed an efficient 73.3% of his passes for 454 yards on 10.1 yards per attempt with three touchdowns and an interception. This matchup with Texas A&M should prove to be quite the test for the Soph, particularly with the news that leading Receiver, Xavier Restrepo (11 REC, 172 YDS, 1 TD), is expected to miss the contest due to a lingering foot injury. Though they’re talented, this isn’t the most experienced Receiving Corps, which leads us to believe that Cristobal may lean a bit more to the ground game in this particular matchup; (Ole Miss Transfer) Henry Parrish has churned out 217 yards and four touchdowns on thirty-seven carries thus far, and given how the Aggies struggled to get off the field last weekend (much more on that shortly), this could be the key to victory for Miami. Make no mistake, this is a key early test for Cristobal in his return to the Sunshine State. If he’s going to return the U to their glory days, these are the kinds of games that his troops need to show up in; the Hurricanes are just 1-4 straight up and 2-3 against the spread against SEC opponents over the last decade. With that said, the last time they traveled to College Station, they romped all over the home side in a 41-23 rout back in 2008. They’ve also proven to be a good bet as a road underdog, covering six of seven such games since 2018.
Meanwhile, for the second time in as many years, Texas A&M (1-1, 0-0 in SEC) bears the burden of playoff expectations, and unfortunately for the denizens of College Station, they’ve once again experienced some early pitfalls. Two years ago, the Aggies faced a truncated, all-SEC schedule and made the most of it, finishing 9-1 and narrowly missing out on the playoff at fifth overall in the CFP Rankings. (Head Coach) Jimbo Fisher’s troops entered 2021 with plenty of hype but stumbled out of the gates with a 3-2 record marred by a young Offensive Line that was replacing four starters and the loss of their Quarterback, Haynes King, who broke his leg in the second game of the campaign. Granted, they managed to upset top-ranked Alabama in a 41-38 thriller but fell apart down the stretch with two losses in their last three outings. Coming into 2022, Fisher made plenty of noise with the no. one recruiting class in the country (drawing the ire of a certain individual in Tuscaloosa), with many calling for A&M to finally take their place as a legitimate contender for what would be their first National Championship since 1939. Of course, that’s why they moved mountains to pry Fisher away from Florida State back in 2018, inking the 56-year-old to a ten-year, $75 million contract. 118-38 (.756) in thirteen years as a Head Coach, Fisher is 35-15 (.700) in just over four years at College Station, though the highlight of his career was undoubtedly the 2013 BCS National Championship with the Seminoles. And speaking of his time in Tallahassee, he’s enjoyed a wealth of success against the Hurricanes, sporting a 7-1 ledger (4-4 against the spread) along the way. This is only the third meeting between these two schools since 1944, with their last two encounters coming in 2007 and 2008.
Needless to say, this is a pivotal point of the campaign for the Aggies for a variety of reasons, none more so than the fact that they’re coming off a shocking loss to Sun Belt resident, Appalachian State, silencing the crowd at Kyle Field in a 17-14 upset. After hanging nearly 500 total yards on Sam Houston State in the opener, the hosts were toothless last weekend, amassing a miserable 180 total yards on nine first downs, converting 2-of-8 on third down, and totaling one offensive touchdown in what was a seriously embarrassing display. However, the most telling number of the day was the time of possession for A&M, who held the football for a scant 18:17! The aforementioned King struggled mightily with just ninety-seven passing yards on 13-of-30 attempts, while mustering only seventeen yards on the ground (8 carries). The home side were careless with the football, fumbling four times and losing two of them, killing any momentum that they may have built. Fisher clearly wasn’t happy with his Quarterback, stating after the defeat that he would indeed evaluate the position, eventually leading to a change in the form of (LSU Transfer) Max Johnson. Son of former NFL Quarterback, Brad, the Sophomore is smart, tall, and has a strong arm, with a CV consisting of seventeen starts for their SEC West rivals in Baton Rouge. During his time with the Bayou Bengals, Johnson completed 59.8% of his passes for 3,884 yards on 7.4 yards per attempt with thirty-five touchdowns in comparison to just seven interceptions, earning an 8-9 record as the starter along the way. More of a pocket passer than the mobile threat that King is, expect the offense to shift to a more traditional approach. With all this talk of Quarterbacks, it’s entirely likely that Fisher will opt to keep the football on the ground in this matchup against a Miami side that has been susceptible against the run in recent years; the Hurricanes allowed 174.5 and 139.0 rushing yards per game in the last two seasons respectively. Comparatively, the Aggies have one of the deepest Backfields in the country, with (Sophomore Tailback) Devon Achane rushing for 108 yards and a pair of touchdowns on twenty-eight attempts thus far. Achane was the only Aggie to make an impact on offense last weekend, totaling sixty-six yards and a score on only ten touches, while breaking away for a 95-yard kick return for a touchdown. As we stated earlier, this affair has the potential to really swing the Aggies’ campaign for better or worse. While a win over a ranked opponent would instill momentum and confidence back into a side that many thought was national championship material, another defeat with three consecutive road games against SEC competition on deck (including a date with Alabama on October 8th) could spell disaster for Fisher & Co. Texas A&M is 14-7 as a home favorite under Fisher, and 5-1 against the spread in regular season games against non-conference opponents hailing from Power-5 conferences.