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Canes Roll Past Wildcats in Season Opener

Canes Roll Past Wildcats in Season Opener

by Carter Toole

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – It has been 270 days since Mario Cristobal stepped to the podium at Miami’s Carol Soffer Indoor Practice Facility with a U lapel pin affixed to his jacket, introduced as the head coach at his alma mater.

There haven’t been many days since where he wasn’t wearing that U on his chest and today was no different. Except this time Cristobal was wearing the U on a sun-soaked South Florida September Saturday. On the sidelines at Hard Rock Stadium. Coaching the Miami Hurricanes.

And the laser-focused attention to effort, detail and process that Cristobal champions on a daily basis was on display as the 16th-ranked Hurricanes defeated Bethune-Cookman 70-13 before a season-opening crowd of 56,795 at Hard Rock Stadium.

“Obviously, the goal overall was to be 1-0 by 7:15 tonight and that was achieved,” Cristobal said. “Certainly, things showed up in a positive way in terms of physicality and conditioning and execution — in particular on the offensive side of the ball.

“We took control of the game early and I am really proud of the second and third team guys who went in there and executed at a high level and sustained the momentum to close out the football game. We’re 1-0 and there were some good things and some stuff to work on. We’re looking forward to getting back to work tomorrow.”

It was a performance that checked plenty of boxes for the first game of the season – nine touchdowns on 11 drives (seven different players scored); a punishing rushing game (an appropriate 305 yards); efficient passing (21 of 24); no sacks allowed; perfect on third-down conversions (7 for 7); three takeaways (including a pick six); a blocked field goal; and several long kickoff returns.

Overall, the Hurricanes racked up 582 yards on 66 plays and posted 31 first downs.

“We like to be a balanced offense and we want to score as many points as we possibly can, while having control of the game, which I think is really important,” Cristobal said. “Today was a good example of having a balanced offense and just continuing to keep our foot on the gas.”

Quarterback Tyler Van Dyke completed 13 of 16 passes for 193 yards and two touchdowns. Running backs Henry Parrish, Jr., and Thaddius Franklin, Jr., combined for 186 rushing yards and five touchdowns – three by Parrish, who became the first Hurricane with three rushing scores in a game since DeeJay Dallas in 2019. Five backs carried the ball overall and Miami averaged 7.3 yards per rush.

“The offensive line took control of the line of scrimmage and the backs ran hard,” Cristobal said. “We got downhill in the form of power and the form of counter-inside. We train these elements all day long and that was like a very nice day for us out there compared to what we’ve been practicing. I thought the line of scrimmage was handled very well by the offensive line.”

Wide receiver Xavier Restrepo hauled in five passes for a career-high 100 yards and one score, and fellow wideout Key’Shawn Smith averaged 61.3 yards on three kickoff returns.

Defensive lineman Akheem Mesidor had an impressive Miami debut with four tackles, one sack and one pass breakup. Linebacker Corey Flagg posted four tackles, including two TFLs. Gilbert Frierson, James Williams and Kamren Kinchens each intercepted a pass with Frierson returning his pick 31 yards for his first career touchdown.

Miami (1-0) is now 6-0 all-time vs. the Wildcats and 15-0 in Hard Rock Stadium openers with an average margin of victory of (38.7) points.

The Canes found themselves down 3-0 early after the Wildcats drove 63 yards on the opening drive of the game, capping it with a 29-yard field goal by Dylan Moghaddam.

But Smith provided an immediate answer, returning the ensuing kickoff 70 yards to set Miami up at the Wildcats 30. Franklin scored from four yards out to give the Hurricanes a 7-3 lead with seven minutes left in the first quarter.

On the next drive Kinchens picked off Bethune-Cookman quarterback Jalon Jones, giving Miami the ball back at its own 24. It was Kinchens’ first career interception. Van Dyke then orchestrated a 10-play scoring drive, completing all four of his passes before Parrish dove into the end zone from five yards out to push the Hurricanes’ lead to 14-3.

After a Wildcats punt, Van Dyke threw a laser to Restrepo, who raced down the right sideline for a career-long 52-yard gain. Parrish took it from there, covering 18 yards on three carries including a six-yard scoring run that gave Miami an 18-point cushion with 12:06 remaining in the first half.

Two plays later, Mesidor tipped Tyrone Franklin’s pass and Frierson picked it off, returning the theft 31 yards for his first career score. Miami had scored three touchdowns in under four minutes and the lead was 28-3.

Jones returned and led the Wildcats on their best drive of the half, finding running back Que’Shaun Byrd in the flat for a 34-yard touchdown to cap a nine-play, 75-yard drive that cut the margin to 28-10.

But the Hurricanes answered right back, set up by another strong kickoff return by Smith to the Miami 46. Van Dyke needed just five plays to get his team back in the end zone, hitting Restrepo to convert a crucial third down and then finding him wide open for a 16-yard touchdown toss. The Hurricanes had a 35-10 lead and were averaging 10 yards per play.

After the Wildcats went three-and-out, Miami again had great starting field position at its own 49. The Hurricanes needed just five plays and 1:10 to find the end zone again as Parrish scored his third touchdown from five yards out to close out a 28-point second quarter. The transfer from Ole Miss finished with 14 carries for 108 yards, averaging 7.7 yards per tote.

Smith opened the second half with what initially was ruled an 89-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. It would have been Miami’s first since a rather memorable score on Halloween night of 2015 at Duke. But on replay Smith was ruled out at the 17-yard line. The Hurricanes fumbled the quarterback-center exchange two plays later and the Wildcats took over.

Bethune-Cookman responded with a 90-yard drive but could only cash in on a field goal to cut the lead to 42-13. The Hurricanes bounced back from the turnover, marching 73 yards on seven plays. Van Dyke hit Michael Redding III across the middle on a 16-yard scoring strike, his second touchdown pass of the game and Redding’s second touchdown catch of his career.

The Wildcats mounted another long drive but again had to settle for a field goal attempt, which was blocked by defensive lineman Jacob Lichtenstein.

Jake Garcia replaced Van Dyke on the ensuing series and led the Hurricanes to their seventh offensive touchdown, completing all four of his passes for 65 yards. Franklin capped the drive with his second touchdown, a bulldozing five-yard run into the end zone to make it 56-13. He finished with 78 yards on just nine carries.

Three plays later, Williams picked off Wildcats quarterback Walter Simmons, setting up Miami at the Bethune-Cookman 23. Running back Devon Perry eventually punched it from four yards out on the first play of the fourth quarter. On Miami’s next drive running back Terrell Walden scored on a four-yard run to push the Hurricanes’ point total to 70 – the most since a 77-0 win over Savannah State in 2018.

The Hurricanes return to Hard Rock Stadium next Saturday for a noon kickoff against Southern Miss – the first meeting between the programs. The game will be televised on ACC Network.