The 2021 season certainly didn’t go as the Miami Hurricanes had imagined.
Miami finished 7-5 and before the bowl game, the Hurricanes fired head coach Manny Diaz after three seasons. The Hurricanes brought back one of their former alumni to hopefully bring the program back up to speed.
After four seasons in Oregon, Mario Cristobal left home to return to Miami, where he was a former player and former assistant coach for the Hurricanes.
Related: Miami looks to new head coach Mario Cristobal to lead the program back to national prominence
Before we look ahead, let’s take a look back at the 2021 season with some awards for this year’s Hurricanes.
Offensive MVP: Tyler Van Dyke, QB
After Van Dyke took on the starting duties when D’Eriq King lost to an end-of-season injury, Van Dyke completed 62.3 percent of his passes for 2,931 yards and 25 touchdowns against just six interceptions in 10 games.
Van Dyke revitalized the Hurricanes offensive as well as the team as a whole after losing three of their first five games. With King back at the helm, expectations of Miami’s offensive were high, but the pieces never came together and he was never able to rediscover the form that made him so successful last season.
Van Dyke took over and after some early growing pains he made progress and took control of the offensive. His confidence and excellent play rubbed off on the rest of the team and Van Dyke’s rise is one of the reasons the team’s prospects for 2022 are encouraged.
Defensive MVP: Corey Flagg Jr., LB
There haven’t been many bright spots in the Hurricanes defense this season, but Flagg has been consistent all along. He enters the bowl game with 60 tackles, seven tackles for a loss, and three sacks.
As a newcomer, Flagg has established himself as a building block for Cristobal and the new coaching staff. There’s plenty of room for improvement in defense, as Miami only enters the bowl season at number 77 nationwide in overall defense (389.6 ypg).
Best Newbie: Tyler Van Dyke, QB
This is an easy decision as Van Dyke was named the ACC Offensive Rookie and Overall Rookie of the Year. He enters the bowl game with a series of six 300 yard straight passing games with three or more touchdown passes in each competition. He was voted ACC Rookie of the Week five times during this stretch and it is not surprising that the Hurricanes went 5-1 in those games.
Best game of the season: Miami’s winning interception against Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh might have won the ACC this season, but Miami defeated the Panthers on October 30th. At 38:34 towards the end of the fourth quarter, Hurricanes Safety James Williams intercepted eventual ACC Player of the Year and Heisman Trophy finalist Kenny Pickett to secure the win.
Best performance (player): Van Dyke confirms his words against NC State
Leading the game on October 23 against then No. 18 NC State, Van Dyke said he was confident that Miami would come out with the win. He reinforced that conversation by throwing 325 yards and four touchdowns in the 31-30 win at Hard Rock Stadium. The surprise helped the Hurricanes turn their season around as they started a streak of five wins in six games to qualify for the Bowl.
Best performance (team): Duke’s road route
Miami saved its best performance for the season finale when the Hurricanes rolled past the Blue Devils 47-10 at Durham. Van Dyke threw for 381 yards and three touchdowns. Miami had already secured bowl eligibility but needed a big win over a Duke team that had problems all season and that were delivering canes.
Defining moment: win against NC State
Miami grabbed a losing streak of six games against Power 5 opponents against an NC State team that was one of the best teams in the ACC, was rated and entered this game with 5-1. Van Dyke was clear (4 TDs, 0 INTs) when he took his first place as a starter and Jaylan Knighton contributed 166 yards after the scrimmage as he led the offensive against a Wolfpack defense that was the regular season on the second Place of the conference in points allowed per game finished and third in yards.
Biggest surprise: Pittsburgh upset
Miami followed up on the big win over NC State with an even bigger win over the Panthers on the road. Pittsburgh had already established itself as one of the best teams in the ACC and went into this game 6: 1 and a convincing victory over Conference juggernaut Clemson. But the Hurricanes went on par with Kenny Pickett and the Panthers’ strong offensive, and received the critical stops needed to score a 38-34 win at Heinz Field. That would be Pitt’s only ACC loss of the season.
Biggest disappointment: loss to Florida State
Jordan Travis completed fourth and 14th passes to Andrew Perchment, and two games later he ran in from a yard with 26 seconds to go when Florida State defeated Miami on November 14th. This is likely the game that brought Diaz to a standstill as head coach. The school sacked Sporting Director Blake James days after the loss and eventually parted ways with Diaz to hire Cristobal.
Most Missed Player: Zach McCloud, LB
McCloud has been in the program for six seasons and has played 64 games. McCloud’s career was unique. He came to Miami in 2016 and started as a linebacker for three years before a 2019 defensive change made him a reserve. He played in four games as a senior and, due to a new rule that made players red shirts, he could still wear red shirts as long as they didn’t play more than four games in a season and then another year of eligibility from the campaign shortened by the pandemic 2020 won. While his role may have waned, McCloud’s leadership and experience are missing.
Player To Watch For In 2022: Tyler Van Dyke, QB
Much like King before this season, Van Dyke will likely find himself talking about the Heisman Trophy ahead of the 2022 campaign. He’s as hot as any other player in the country at this point of the season, and Miami’s late turn can largely be attributed to his rise as the offensive leader. While Cristobal’s arrival will be much of the hurricane-related attention, Van Dyke’s continued development and performance will be equally big part of the team’s success.
Offseason storyline: Mario Cristobal era
Some may have been surprised by Cristobal’s departure from Oregon. Now he will try to repeat the same success in Coral Gables. Cristobal won consecutive Pac-12 championships with the Ducks and appeared in three conference games in a row. Miami has only participated in one ACC championship game since joining the conference in 2005. Can Miami fans be patient enough for Cristobal to develop his program? Only time can tell.
– Written by Antwan Staley who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience with Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, Pro Player Insiders, and is a reporter for Sports Talk Florida. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.