Heated position battles at Greentree Practice Field are a strong part of the Miami Hurricanes’ folklore, going back four decades now. Competition has forever been fierce and those vying for a starting job have often found another gear, or manufactured a defining moment in their quest for that preseason nod. In many ways, it’s the true heartbeat of Miami Hurricanes football.
Strangely, that wasn’t the case in Coral Gables these past few months regarding the quarterback position and the quest to replace three-year starting quarterback Brad Kaaya. This completion almost felt clinical or corporate; the best man for the job who checked off the most boxes and whatnot.
Malik Rosier—a dual-threat, redshirt junior and former 3-star prospect out of Alabama—expectedly got the nod, despite media hype and fan-fueled chatter surrounding true freshman N’Kosi Perry. Had the 4-star product out of Ocala trekked south in January as an early enrollee, those four extra months of playbook-learning and college-acclimation could’ve produced a more exciting result, courtesy of a heated fall battle.
Such wasn’t the case, which had consistency and maturity edging out potential and sizzle—and based on the squad Mark Richt will field year two at ‘The U’, maybe that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Solid defense. Workhorse running back. Speedy receivers. Whoever is under center doesn’t need to wear an “S” on their chest. They simply need to do just enough and not blow it.
‘QUARTERBACK U’ STARTING TO LOOK THE PART AGAIN
There’s an old adage about a back-up quarterback being the most-popular guy on a team when an offense is struggling. That tends to hold true in this day and age regarding freshman phenoms with next-level high school reels and endless potential. Perry absolutely falls into this category—the legacy already growing before taking his first collegiate snap.
With dual-threat quarterbacks like Lamar Jackson, Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston winning three of the last four Heisman trophies—the national hunt for the next great is forever underway. Perry even synced and studied with Winston back in February—by way of a mutual friend—Tampa Bay’s former number-one pick doling out some football knowledge to the then-high schooler weeks after he’d signed with the Canes.
Any way it’s sliced or diced; a sexier narrative surrounds the Perry era, than next-in-line Rosier—who along with Evan Shirreffs, had pulled ahead of both freshman Cade Weldon and r-sophomore Jack Allison, the latter leaving the program late April and transferring to West Virginia by June.
Vincent Testaverde—son of Vinny—was nowhere in the mix, leaving the former Texas Tech transfer to part ways with the Canes earlier this week.
Perry made his way to campus late May for the Summer A session; a solid month after Rosier started putting his fingerprints all over this year’s squad—something that even surprised Richt.
“I did not expect to have a clear leader when [spring practice] was done. I think we are right about where we thought we were. And if I had to say how I peck them right now, it would be just like I got them going into this spring game. Kind of a co-No. 1 thing, and the rest of them are kind of like co-No. 3. Just fighting for that No. 3 spot, at the moment,” explained the second-year Miami coach—who shared with Rosier that upon taking over last season, never foresaw the day when No. 12 would play for him.
Richt went on to tell the Miami Herald that while Rosier stood out about the rest, it wasn’t by “an unbelievable amount” and went on to acknowledge that “it was apparent he was having the best camp. There was enough of a difference to feel comfortable that Malik is the guy.”
Shirreffs, Weldon and Perry were all advised to keep grinding—and there have been reports that Perry will have some special packages designed for certain games as the athleticism is undeniable.
Rosier has seen action in ten games over the past three seasons, with one start—guiding Miami to a miracle win at Duke in 2015 a week after then-head coach Al Golden was fired in the wake of a 58-0 home loss to Clemson.
Rosier was 20-of-29 for 272 yards with two touchdowns and an interception in a game the Canes seemingly had locked up, 24-19 before a few bunk interference calls kept drives alive—the Blue Devils going ahead, 27-24 with :06 remaining. From there, an eight-lateral ‘Miracle In Durham’ unfolded and the Larry Scott-led Hurricanes survived with Rosier in for the banged-up Kaaya.
It was a singular moment in the spotlight as the next season was all about Richt’s takeover and the quarterback guru working with Kaaya. Rosier saw action in three games during the 2016 campaign; 2-of-4 for 32 yards against the likes of Florida A&M and Appalachian State early in the year, followed by mop-up duty against Duke in the regular season finale.
Still, the behind-the-scenes can’t be denied—Rosier spending the past three seasons shadowing his predecessor; rooming with Kaaya on the road, hunkering down in the film room together, going over the playbook, always observing and ultimately ready to go as No. 15’s back-up.
Knowledge was absorbed through the experience and now it’s time to put it in play.
MITIGATE RISK, PLAY THE ODDS, WIN THE COASTAL
A handful of candidates for the job, no one—at this point—is a safer, low-risk / high-enough reward bet than Rosier. Perry may have the most athleticism and potential upside, but that doesn’t currently trump a 22-year old r-junior who’s put in the work, stacked on the man-weight, knows the system and earned the respect of his teammates.
Steady as she goes early-on for Miami this season; the Hurricanes’ early schedule also playing an unspoken role in Rosier getting the nod, as much as his experience—versus Perry’s lack-of.
With both could arguably beat Bethune-Cookman in their sleep next Saturday at HardRock—three of the next four games are on the road; Arkansas State (9/9), Florida State (9/16) and a rare Friday showdown at Duke (9/29), six days after hosting Toledo. From there, a very manageable conference schedule, as well as a late-season home showdown against Notre Dame—the first in South Florida since the revenge-fueled beat-down of 1989.
Regarding all things Atlantic Coast Conference-driven, the Coastal Division looks to be a two-horse race between Miami and Virginia Tech; with the Canes getting a leg up talent-wise, as well s home field advantage for the November showdown.
North Carolina is in rebuild-mode after it’s offense was decimated with departures and Georgia Tech remains one-dimensional offensively—albeit always comes to play on defense. Duke’s upperclassmen-heavy teams of the past few years are no more. Virginia is coming off a two-win season. Pittsburgh is breaking in a new quarterback, while it’s defense gave up 35+ plus points-per-game on average last season.
Translation; Miami has as good of a shot to win the division as it’s had in upwards of a decade. Knowing that, a big part of this season’s strategy is mitigating risk—and entering the season, nothing is currently riskier than an inexperienced freshman forced to learn on the job.
The Canes may lose something here or there regarding Perry’s athleticism—but the tradeoff; eliminating those types of rookie mistakes that could prove detrimental.
MUST PUT A PRICE ON EXPERIENCE
Kaaya was thrown into the fire back in 2014 and Miami paid with a 6-7 season. No, the all-around talent level wasn’t the same as what the Canes are currently sporting—and culture-wise, Richt’s squad versus what Golden fielded, are night versus day.
Still, pushing that all aside—there were freshman moments where it was Kaaya in control to make a play and the inexperience got him. Two sacks and two interceptions in the season opener at Louisville were difference-makers. Weeks later, a three-touchdown, 359-yard outing at Nebraska was also marred with two crucial picks.
Georgia Tech beat Miami with ball control—but a late second quarter interception prevented the Canes from taking a halftime lead. Kaaya had a late shot to pull UM to within four late, but another red zone pick sealed the deal—in a game where the Yellow Jackets held the ball for 40:45 and Miami was 1-of-5 on third down conversions. A common theme as the Canes were 4-of-10 against the Huskers on third down and a paltry 1-of-13 versus the Cardinals in week one.
Three years ago, Miami had no option but to go with Kaaya—as it was down to the true freshman, versus an underachieving journeyman in Jake Heaps. Such is not the case this year putting Rosier versus Perry, or even Shirreffs and Weldon as there’s an abundance of talent at the position that the Canes haven’t seen in a good while. Richt has options and with the season opener days away, he made the right one choosing “good enough” over “potentially great”—while saying all the right things to explain his decision and opening the door for change should Rosier backslide, or others step up.
Miami is a favorite to win the watered-down Coastal Division—arguably setting up a rematch with Florida State on December 2nd in Charlotte. That in itself inevitably puts less short-term pressure on September 16th in Tallahassee and more long-term focus on the seven regular season ACC games that follow.
Chris Bello has been covering University of Miami athletics since the mid-nineties. Getting his start with CanesTime, he eventually launched allCanesBlog—which led to a featured columnist stint with BleacherReport. He’s since rolled out the unfiltered, ItsAUThing.com where he’ll use his spare time to put decades of U-related knowledge to use for those who care to read. When he’s not writing about ‘The U’, Bello earns a living helping icon Bill Murray build a lifestyle apparel brand. Hit him on Twitter @ItsAUThingBLOG or @ChristianRBello.