Mario Cristobal should give Tyler Van Dyke the nod vs. FSU on Saturday. Here’s why | Opinion

A suggestion to the University of Miami football fans who are roasting quarterback Tyler Van Dyke in the ugliest of ways on social media this week ahead of Saturday’s nationally televised road game against fourth-ranked FSU:

Scroll back six weeks on your feeds and see what you were posting in late-September, back when Van Dyke was the top-rated quarterback in the entire nation and an early Heisman Trophy candidate.

We repeat: TVD was the top-rated quarterback in the entire nation and an early Heisman Trophy candidate. Through three games he had thrown for 822 yards with eight touchdowns, one interception, and a rushing TD for a staggering QB rating of 94.0. If you recall, he passed for 375 yards and five touchdowns against then-No. 23 Texas A&M.

Then, in the fourth week of the season, he threw for 220 yards, three touchdowns with no interceptions in a 41-7 rout of Temple.

The 17th-ranked Hurricanes were 4-0 at the time and the national narrative was that Van Dyke, under newly hired offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson, was on pace to perhaps become the first UM Heisman Trophy winner since Gino Torretta in 1992.

Van Dyke was looking like he did in 2021 when he won ACC Rookie of the Year before struggling through 2022. He was ranked top 10 in the country in just about every category. Dawson’s air raid offense seemed the perfect fit for Van Dyke; and surely, many of the UM fans now trashing Van Dyke were singing his praises after that Temple game.

So, what went wrong? Why, in Van Dyke’s past two games against Virginia and N.C. State, has he thrown for zero touchdowns and been intercepted five times while averaging just 168 passing yards? Why has his quarterback rating plummeted to career-low numbers?

Are we to believe that a guy who was a Heisman Trophy candidate six weeks ago has all of a sudden forgotten how to play football? Or that Dawson, known for his high-octane offense, has all of a sudden forgotten how to coach?

No. And no.

Van Dyke admittedly had a bad game against Georgia Tech, throwing three interceptions on a day that ended with the now infamous late-play calling gaffe from the coaching staff that cost the Hurricanes the game.

The next week, Van Dyke got knocked around badly during a 41-31 loss to then-No. 12 North Carolina that bumped Miami out of the Top 25. He injured his right knee, ribs and back. Although coach Mario Cristobal hoped and indicated that Van Dyke would be ready to go by the weekend, the quarterback was seen limping on campus with his leg heavily wrapped. He sat out the Clemson game.

Freshman Emory Williams led UM to a double overtime win over the Tigers, but Van Dyke deservedly kept his starting job the following week against Virginia. You don’t bench a guy who is a team leader and was the nation’s highest rated quarterback just a month earlier.

But Van Dyke has not looked the same since the North Carolina game. He wore a brace for the Virginia game. He appears to be playing more cautiously, with less confidence, the way athletes do when they are afraid to aggravate injuries.

The barrage of nasty posts on social media, assuming Van Dyke is aware of them, is not helping the healing process. Not helping him get stronger and more confident. Every one of those posts must hurt, just as if he was being slammed to the ground by an opposing lineman. Over and over, and over again. A relentless pass rush of mean-spirited comments and memes.

Spare me the “football players should be thick-skinned” lecture. We are talking about a 22-year-old college student here. Shoulder pads, rib protectors and helmets cannot ward off the kind of hate Van Dyke is getting these days. The venomous darts thrown at professional athletes is also unwarranted, but at least those are professional athletes. This is a college kid (albeit with an NIL deal).

So, now, Cristobal is faced with an $8 million question, a question that could make or break this Hurricanes season. If Van Dyke says he is ready to play Saturday against the Seminoles, should Cristobal start him? Or should he go with the freshman Williams against an undefeated FSU team that is likely headed to the College Football Playoff?

The Seminoles average nearly 40 points per game. Do you throw a rookie quarterback into that cauldron at Doak Campbell Stadium? Or do you give the nod to the veteran Van Dyke, who has proven he can put up big numbers and win big games when he is at his best?

Williams showed against Clemson that he is reliable. He went 24 of 33 for 151 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Nothing flashy. Mainly safe passes. But he took care of the ball and got the job done.

Van Dyke has 10 interceptions in his past four games. He has not been at his best. He would love to quiet the critics. But most of all, he would love to beat FSU on the road and get Miami a signature win. He will be highly motivated.

Neither of Cristobal’s options is a sure thing. But then, nothing is in sports.

If Van Dyke and the medical staff say he is healthy and ready, I would start him. See how he does. It will be clear during the first few drives whether he resembles the player who six weeks ago was the nation’s top-rated quarterback and in the Heisman Trophy conversation. If he looks tentative from the get-go, pass the baton to Williams and let the kid show what he can do.

Tough decision, no doubt. But that’s why they pay Cristobal the big bucks.