Jarren Williams has been named starting quarterback for the Miami Hurricanes’ 2019 season opener against the Florida Gators on Saturday August 24th; primetime in Orlando—and if paying attention to the soundbites as of late, the pick isn’t as surprising as it might seem on the surface.
The redshirt-freshman beat out redshirt-sophmore N’Kosi Perry as well as fellow redshirt-sophomore Tate Martell; the former Ohio State back-up quarterback, star of the Netflix series QB1: Beyond The Lights and an even bigger sensation in the off-season’s Transfer Portal; where he quickly chose Miami back in January.
Reactions are varied—most outsiders using this opportunity to trash the brash Martell on social media, opposed to followers of ‘The U’ deep-diving into the battle itself, as well as the reasoning behind first-year head coach Manny Diaz and new offensive coordinator Dan Enos opting for Williams; the least experienced, biggest question mark of the group.
Williams spent most of 2018 nursing an oblique strain, only seeing action in one game—Savannah State—where the the-then true freshman was 1-of-3 through the air for 17 yards, with two rushes for two yards, with a score. Meanwhile, Perry started six games for Miami and saw action in 11—while Martell saw mop-up duty for the Buckeyes in six games last season.
Since Diaz’s takeover end of December and the addition of Enos—by way of Tuscaloosa, days after Alabama was rolled by Clemson in the national championship; the most-integral part of #TheNewMiami has been rebuilding a Hurricanes’ offense from the ground up—and with good reason. On five different occasions in 2018, Miami was held under 17 points. The Hurricanes averaged 358.8 yards-per-game—105th among 130 FBS programs nationally—and only 5.59 yards-per-play, which ranked 75th.
Absolutely unfathomable for a program that made its name running up the score, while earning the moniker “Quarterback U” due to so much previous success at the position.
ENOS’ PLAN REQUIRED BEST PASSER, MOST WELL-ROUNDED GUY
For all good former head coach Mark Richt did behind the scenes for the University of Miami during his three-year run—the former Florida State offensive coordinator (who coached up two Heisman winners for the Seminoles, as well as a few hopefuls during his 15 years at the helm for Georgia)—his offense at UM was downright atrocious, antiquated and ineffective; to the point where Diaz’s first move was to gut that entire side of the ball, coaching staff-wise.
With Williams officially named starter for game one, it’s worth doubling back to January and picking through Enos’ press conference and approach to how he’d rebuild Miami offensively; the ultimately key phrase, building a system around the current personnel.
“I’ve been around different teams that have had different personnel groupings that have kind of been the best for that particular team—those are going to change probably from year in and year out,” Enos shared during a radio interview on 560 WQAM when hired. An important sentiment to remember as it means this current decision was based on everything that currently makes up the squad Miami will field in 2019; offensive line woes, mostly youth at wide receivers, a lack-of-starting-experience at running back—but some depth at tight end.
Enos is primarily a student and proponent of the West Coast offense, though he’s modernized things by implementing some spread, as well as run-pass-option into his scheme. Keeping defenses off-balance is the mantra; so a system where running backs and tight ends are lined up as receiving threats for short passes to help spread out the defense, setting up the long ball—it requires a specific skills set out of a starting quarterback.
Outside of the challenge of getting the ball in the hands of players—defensive identification and knowing how to read what’s being thrown at them, while improving overall mechanics—Miami needed the right guy who checked off the most boxes going into the new season.
Knowing this to be the case over the past eight months—it forced all three hopefuls to be evaluated under a specific criteria, en route to figuring out who is best-suited to step into the most-important role on this current Hurricanes’ squad.
Weeks back Enos shared some telling tidbits on Williams, Perry and Martell. Praise for the former Buckeyes’ back-up seemed mechanics-related—the work Martell put in on his own to better his grip of the ball—while positive things were mentioned about Perry’s “slow arm” getting quicker, while taking a step forward maturity-wise by making the ACC honor roll.
All that to say, Williams seemed to get the more in-depth critique—hyped for his body fat going down and getting stronger overall. The 6-foot-2 prospect beefed up to 230 pounds during a stagnant 2018 season, but has gotten himself back into 210-pound playing shape. Enos also praised his mechanics, called Williams “a very natural passer” and stated that he was much-improved regarding previous lower-body issues—dropping back, overall balance.
Diaz has also been vocal regarding what he deems most-important when it comes to a starting quarterback; nothing higher on his list than an ability to avoid critical errors.
UNPACKING 2018’S QUARTERBACK INCOMPETENCE FOR ‘THE U’
When looking back on the 2018 season and completely unraveling after a 5-1 start—inconsistent quarterback play was the culprit in every preceding loss.
Perry’s two early interceptions at Virginia put Miami in a hole it couldn’t dig itself out of—and when yielding to Malik Rosier, No. 12 delivered one of his many late turnovers that ultimately were the difference-maker in a 16-13 road loss.
At Boston College two weeks after—coming off a bye to regroup—the Canes pulled to within three at halftime, down 17-14—only to see Rosier give it away completely over the next thirty minutes. An early second half interception led to an easy Eagles’ field goal and another pick on the ensuing drive, deep in Hurricanes’ territory, led to a one-play BC touchdown—pushing the lead to 27-14, where it’d stay.
Even with late chances to rally, Rosier couldn’t convert—taking sacks, missing receivers and looking generally lost under center; scrambling instead of letting plays develop, or missing his opportunity to make something happen. On four possessions after BC’s final score, Rosier was 6-of-14 for 42 yards, sacked twice, with a fumble that UM recovered.
The rest of the season had a bit of a rinse, wash, repeat type of feel. Rosier and Perry were a combined 13-of-38 for 111 yards in an ugly home loss to Duke; Miami leading 12-7 at intermission and outscored 13-0 in the second half for a 20-12 loss.
Perry was back in the saddle at Georgia Tech a week later, but two first half fumbles—one by Perry—led to 10 points for the Yellow Jackets; nightmare turnovers and short fields surrendered when playing a triple-option team that thrives on ball control.
Miami responded with a win at Virginia Tech; made possible by a turnover-free outing from Perry, while the Hokies’ gave it away three times in a 38-14 loss—while a win against Pittsburgh came courtesy of a 168-yard performance from Travis Homer, with a score, as well as a punt return from DeeJay Dallas.
Perry was a paltry 6-of-24 for 52 yards; the Canes’ lowest passing outing since a 2007 loss to Georgia Tech—his final outing of the year, giving way to Rosier for his second off-the-field infraction of the season (questionable Snapchat posts that resurfaced).
Rosier was 5-of-12 for 46 yards and three interceptions in a 35-3 bowl loss to Wisconsin; a game that was 14-3 until the defense finally broke in the final minutes of the third quarter.
Two days later Richt retired and this offensive offense was finally put out to pasture for good.
Recapping the 2018 season isn’t the walk down memory lane UM fans prefer to take, it’s an important reminder as to both how off-base quarterback play was last year—as well as how quickly winnable games got away from the Hurricanes during a 7-5 regular season that realistically would’ve been 10-2 with at least semi-consistent play under center.
Upside; Miami would’ve won the Coastal Division for a second consecutive year and at least gotten a crack at eventual national champion Clemson; another good teeth-cutting moment for a program working towards contention again.
Downside; the heat wouldn’t have been on Richt to change the offense, meaning there wouldn’t have been the bow-out moment that led to The Diaz Era, Enos, big time Transfer Portal moves and this new optimism in regards to TNM and this new track Miami appears to be on.
Short-term losses for (hopefully) big-time, long-term gains.
WILLIAMS TALKING THE TALK; NEEDS TO WALK THE WALK
Regarding Monday morning’s announcement that Williams was the choice; Diaz stated, “We feel like Jarren has the great upside due to his passing ability, his instincts and his determination”—while others who watched all three quarterbacks in camp also shared the belief that Williams was the best all-around of the bunch.
Williams also hasn’t been short on confidence—while that determination to lead the pack never wavered after rumors of transferring surfaced during bowl practices last fall; even in the wake of Diaz bringing on Martell, or 4-star Tyler Van Dyke committing to Miami’s 2020 class.
“I feel like I’m an elite passer,” Williams shared recently. “I can make all the throws, even in tight windows. What a lot of people don’t know is that I can extend plays with my feet. I’m not a slow guy. I can tuck the ball and get 15 yards. I can make a guy miss, but I am a pass-first guy. I stand in the pocket and trust the pocket and get the ball to my receivers.”
Standing in the pocket, trusting the pocket and getting the ball to receivers. As mentioned earlier, none of the above were a strong suit of Rosier or Perry in 2018.
In defense of both, Miami’s previous offense was flawed—putting both in way too many third-and-long situations where there was no time to stand in, or trust any pocket—but even in favorable situations, both struggled last season—as did Martell in practices and scrimmages since his arrival in Coral Gables.
Arriving on Williams less than two weeks before kickoff against Florida ends the waiting game and allows the Hurricanes to go into full game-plan-mode for the Gators—as well as giving Miami’s new starting quarterback time to let his new reality settle in.
“I feel like I’m a tough guy. I have passion. I feel like I have the intangibles to really be that guy. You’ve gone one shot and when I get my shot, I’m going to be prepared for it,” Williams said. “When I get the opportunity, I am going to make sure I do what I do.”
The opportunity is here and the time is August 24th. Now it’s time to do what you do, Jarren—as the ball’s completely in your court.
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 for all things U-related @ItsAUThingBLOG.