Some of the appeal from this matchup faded due to last week's results, but Miami's trip to Texas A&M on Saturday night still ranks as one of the must-see games for college football's Week 3 slate. The Aggies are reeling after a stunning 17-14 upset loss to Appalachian State. The 'Canes hope to add to the disappointing start in College Station, while also scoring a huge victory for first-year coach Mario Cristobal. Miami is off to a 2-0 start, but Texas A&M is easily the best opponent this team has faced in 2022.
It's too early to say this game is a make-or-break matchup for Texas A&M's season, but a loss on Saturday would drop coach Jimbo Fisher's team to 1-2 before even playing a game in the SEC. The Aggies open conference play with a matchup against Arkansas next Saturday, followed by Mississippi State and Alabama. And after last week's performance, there shouldn't be a shortage of urgency for Fisher and this staff to turn things around. Defense hasn't been a problem for the Aggies through two weeks. This unit is holding opponents to just 3.74 yards a snap and has surrendered just two touchdowns through two games. However, the story is completely opposite on offense. Fisher's group has struggled mightily so far, and there are no easy fixes. The Aggies have run the fewest plays (105) in the nation and averaged just 4.9 yards per play in last week's loss to Appalachian State.
Momentum is a tricky barometer to gauge, but while one team (Texas A&M) lost some from bringing in the No. 1 recruiting class in February to now sitting at 1-1 and considered one of college football's bigger disappointments, the same can't be said on the Miami sideline. The 'Canes were a big offseason winner due to the arrival of Cristobal. The Miami native and former player may not return the program to its glory days of annual contention for national championships, but his arrival, combined with a big-time investment into the program, should equal good things to come in Coral Gables.
Miami holds a 2-1 series edge over Texas A&M. These two teams have not played since '08.
No. 13 Miami at No. 24 Texas A&M
When Miami Has the Ball
So far, so good for Miami's offense under new play-caller Josh Gattis. The Hurricanes rank second in the ACC in scoring (50 points a game), third in yards per play (7.2), and first in third-down conversion rate (65.2 percent) through two contests. Of course, the level of difficulty is set to increase massively on Saturday night. Texas A&M's defense ranked among the best in college football last season by holding teams to 15.9 points a game. Despite a new coordinator and significant turnover (just five returning starters), the Aggies haven't missed a beat. Through the first two contests, this defense has limited its first two opponents to just 3.7 yards per snap and has surrendered only two offensive touchdowns.
Miami's best chance of a win on Saturday night rides on the right arm of quarterback Tyler Van Dyke. In his last eight games, Van Dyke has completed 67.3 percent of his passes for 2,642 yards and 23 touchdowns to just four picks. However, the Aggies will test Van Dyke's ability to deliver the ball downfield. Up front, Miami needs to hold up better than it did against Southern Miss (four sacks allowed). Texas A&M may have new faces in starting roles around the line of scrimmage, but this unit doesn't lack talent and has recorded 10 tackles for a loss through two games. The 'Canes are likely to have left tackle Zion Nelson at full go after he played in just 20 snaps so far this season due to injury. But even if Van Dyke has time to throw, the battle won't end there. The Aggies have allowed only 225 yards through the air this year, with defensive back Antonio Johnson (an Athlon Sports preseason All-American) leading the way on the back end.
Miami's best shot at an upset starts with Van Dyke — provided the protection holds — delivering downfield against a defense that has yet to allow a completion of 30-plus yards. Ole Miss transfer Henry Parrish (205 yards) and Jaylan Knighton lead the way out of the backfield, but both running backs could play a key role in the passing game too. Receiver Xavier Restrepo (11 catches) has been Van Dyke's No. 1 target in 2022, but the sophomore is expected to miss this game due to injury. Assuming he's out, Michael Redding III (five), Brashard Smith (six), Frank Ladson Jr. (two), and Key'Shawn Smith (three) become the top targets at receiver. Tight ends Elijah Arroyo and Will Mallory are also expected to be more involved.
When Texas A&M Has the Ball
It's no secret Texas A&M's offense is under the spotlight on Saturday. This unit posted 497 yards in the season opener against FCS Sam Houston and struggled to get anything going (186 yards) in last week's loss to Appalachian State. The Aggies have run the fewest plays of any team in college football (105) and scored only one offensive touchdown against the Mountaineers. Making drastic changes or big-time improvement in one week is difficult, but Fisher and his staff have to find a few fixes to piece together drives more consistently against the Hurricanes. One of the fixes is a change at quarterback. Haynes King started the first two games for the Aggies, but LSU transfer Max Johnson is slated to take the first snap on Saturday.
The problems for this offense aren't limited to one area, but better play up front to generate more ground production would be a good place to start. After averaging 5.3 yards per carry last season, the Aggies are gaining just 3.98 on rushing attempts this fall. Running back Devon Achane has just 108 yards (3.9 ypc) through two contests, while quarterback Haynes King has chipped in 52. Achane is one of the fastest players in college football, but he's been unable to find much running room due to poor play in the trenches. Center Bryce Foster has yet to play due to mono but could return this week. Foster was regarded as one of the top centers in the SEC prior to the year, so his return would bolster this unit. Miami ranks second in the ACC versus the run (58.5 yards a game allowed) but has yet to face an offense with the talent at running back and in the trenches that Texas A&M will present on Saturday.
In addition to the struggles up front and a lackluster ground game, King is off to an inconsistent start. Through two games, the sophomore has completed 64.7 percent of his throws for 461 yards and three touchdowns while averaging nine yards per attempt. However, 24 of King's 33 completions have come from behind the line of scrimmage or gone for less than a first down. He's also fumbled two times in two games. Johnson started 14 games at LSU and saw limited time in the opener against Sam Houston, so experience (and talent) is not an issue. Fisher hopes a change at quarterback provides a spark to the offense, especially if Johnson can do a better job of getting the ball in space to receivers Ainias Smith, Evan Stewart, Chris Marshall, and Yulkeith Brown.
Miami's defense struggled last year (28.4 points a game allowed) and had issues with tackling and inconsistent play at linebacker. Despite Texas A&M's offensive struggles this year, this matchup should give coordinator Kevin Steele a better idea of where his defense is in its progression. The 'Canes have allowed just 20 points but are giving up 5.4 yards per play in '22. A handful of transfers have added depth and talent to this group. However, this unit is still an enigma considering last season's performance and the level of competition faced so far this fall.
Both of these teams are still hard to get a read on after two weeks. However, there should be some urgency at Texas A&M. The Aggies had aspirations of contending for a playoff spot and now face major questions before the SEC opener. How will Fisher's team respond after last Saturday’s disappointment? Will Johnson find a way to spark the offense if the line performs better and clears some rushing lanes for Achane? Miami is off to a good start under Cristobal, but Saturday night is a measuring stick to see where this program stacks up under the new staff. It's strength versus strength when Van Dyke has the ball against Texas A&M's defense. The winner of that chess match is likely to come out on top, but the Aggies also have to get more out of their offense to win. A close, low-scoring game seems likely. The guess here is Texas A&M responds with just enough offense, with home-field advantage in College Station putting it over the top.