Canes Set to Face Rutgers in Pinstripe Bowl

Canes Set to Face Rutgers in Pinstripe Bowl

by Christy Cabrera Chirinos

NEW YORK – For the better part of the last week, they’ve enjoyed a truly unique experience.

In between practices, the Hurricanes have had the chance to explore New York City, taking in the holiday lights and sights all around Manhattan ahead of their Thursday matchup with Rutgers in the Bad Boy Mowers Pinstripe Bowl.

They’ve wandered through Times Square. Enjoyed a New York Rangers game. Visited Radio City Music Hall and taken in the somber history at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum.

The Hurricanes also got some work in at the home of the four-time Super Bowl champion New York Giants, and some had the chance to help ring the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange, while others visited with pediatric patients at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer City.

It’s been a whirlwind of activity that the Hurricanes hope ends with another memorable New York moment: a win over the Scarlet Knights at Yankee Stadium, site of Thursday’s game.

“We haven’t won a bowl game in a minute. I don’t know when that was, but it’s been a minute. It’s important to just change that trajectory of us not winning bowl games,” said Hurricanes fourth-year redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Jalen Rivers. “This will be an important step in the right direction and it’s a step in the right direction leading into next year as well, so we can showcase what we have and what we put on film right now so we can have a better opportunity, a better confidence going into next year.”

Added linebacker Francisco Mauigoa, “Every game is important. This bowl game is just as important as any game in the season. We want to go out with a bang. That’s the plan. That’s the goal. … We’re always motivated and reaching for a W. We have no other option but to win. That’s how we are attacking this bowl game.”

Miami ended the regular season on a positive note, snapping a three-game losing streak with a convincing 45-20 win over Boston College in November that put the Hurricanes two games above .500 heading into the postseason.

But the team that takes the field at Yankee Stadium on Thursday will look different than the one that beat Boston College, with several of Miami’s veteran playmakers including safeties Kam Kinchens and James Williams and offensive linemen Javion Cohen and Matt Lee announcing their intentions to bypass the bowl game to start preparing for the NFL Draft.

Roster departures like those mean Thursday’s game will be an opportunity for some of Miami’s younger players to step up and compete, including quarterback Jacurri Brown, who will make his season debut under center.

Brown has served as one of the Hurricanes’ reserve quarterbacks behind former Miami signal caller Tyler Van Dyke, who left the program after the end of the regular season and Emory Williams, who was lost for the year after getting hurt against Florida State.

But the sophomore quarterback is no newcomer to college football.

Last season, Brown appeared in eight games and made two starts. In his first start, he led the Hurricanes to a 35-14 win over Georgia Tech, completing 14-of-19 passes and throwing for 136 yards and three touchdowns.

He finished the year throwing for 230 yards on 27-for-45 passing attempts with three touchdowns and three interceptions. He also rushed for 223 yards, which was third among all players and now, with his first start of the season looming, teammates and coaches say they’re confident Brown can give Miami’s offense a boost against the Scarlet Knights (6-6).

“He’s been great. His presence out there, sense of urgency. He is excited to play, and you can see [it],” said offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson. “His body language is great [through] however many practices we’ve had. … He is excited and ready to go.”

Said Rivers of Brown, “He’s doing good. … We’re building that trust with him. He’s building that trust with us and getting better each day.”

While the Pinstripe Bowl will be an opportunity for Brown and the rest of the Hurricanes to start setting the tone for next year, it will also be an opportunity for two former colleagues to reconnect.

Miami head coach Mario Cristobal and Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano have a decades-long relationship that began when Schiano joined the Miami coaching staff in 1999 while Cristobal was a graduate assistant for the Hurricanes.

The two worked together in Coral Gables and later at Rutgers, where Cristobal coached offensive lineman and tight ends as a part of Schiano’s first three staffs between 2001-2003.

Ahead of Thursday’s matchup in New York, both coaches talked about their mutual respect for one another and what it meant to have the opportunity to compete against each other at this level.

“I actually had the honor of picking him up at the airport when he was interviewing to be a defensive coordinator at Miami. Instantly he was the hardest worker in the building,” Cristobal said of Schiano. “[He’s] someone I patterned my habits after, someone that was a rising star in the profession. When he got this opportunity at Rutgers, he afforded me the opportunity, which was a tremendous blessing and honor. … [He] always found a way to teach. When you’re a head coach, you’re really, really busy. You sometimes forget one of your major obligations is to develop the people under you. He always just found a way to push and challenge me, to help me develop. Never held back. I appreciated that. … Certainly, someone who I’ll forever be indebted to for just about everything, career-wise and beyond.”

Said Schiano, “In life … you can probably count on one hand people that you truly trust, truly admire. Mario Cristobal is one of those guys. Truth be told, he laid a huge part of this foundation. You look back at what he did in the three years he was here, my goodness, he was relentless. He was my partner. He was a guy that, again, I trusted with anything. Now, to be going against him. … I was so proud when he became a head coach. Went to Oregon, did a great job. Then to go back to the University of Miami, which I know he loves, right? That’s who he is. The city of Miami, where he grew up, where his family is. To be back there, for him, it’s very similar for me to be back in New Jersey where my family is, an area that I love. … I’m so happy for him. It’s going to be in that time when we compete on the field, special. Two great competitors, two great programs. I just can’t wait.”

The competition between two longtime friends is just one of the numerous storylines that will play out Thursday afternoon.

After a memorable week in New York, the Hurricanes will look to start building toward the 2024 season and secure their first bowl win since 2016. And a few new faces are expected to get significant playing time and make a difference.

All of that, Cristobal said, are things the Hurricanes should embrace as they close out the year.

“All focus is on this opportunity and everything that comes with it,” Cristobal said. “You rarely have time with your players when there aren’t a ton of academic obligations. As they wrap their final exams now, similar to the end of the summer, you have their attention. You’re starting to see guys get opportunities they didn’t have throughout the course of the year. Guys go to the NFL, guys opt not to play, guys in the [transfer] portal. You start to realize these are guys that they might have been or seem like they were waiting their turn. They’re good football players. Now, they’re going to get a chance to play and go out there and perform at a high level.

“You want to make sure they get every ounce of what you have as a coach. It’s also a great time for the team to spend time around each other, to understand that they’ve been playing football since they were knee-high, and that football is supposed to be fun. This is supposed to be a grind. It’s supposed to be fun, an opportunity to recognize and always looking for progress. We just want to keep getting better and just keep the focus on us, just continuing to progress towards what we want to be.”