The Miami Hurricanes are gearing up for what was tabbed the ACC’s Coastal Division game of the season as the No. 20 Virginia Cavaliers head south for a Friday night showdown at HardRock.
On paper the game has obviously lost some luster as the Canes are 0-2 in the conference, while the Cavaliers are 2-0 and 4-1 overall; a road loss at Notre Dame the lone blemish of the season. Miami’s five-game journey, a little rockier path en route to 2-3. A season opening loss against Florida was followed up by a conference road stumble at North Carolina.
The Canes rebounded with an expected home route of Bethune-Cookman before winding up in a slug-fest with Central Michigan, only to show up lethargic and ill-prepared for last weekend’s showdown with Virginia Tech—despite a bye week—Miami in an early 28-0 hole after things quickly unraveled for quarterback Jarren Williams.
Turnover-free for four games, the redshirt freshman was responsible for three interceptions just over 11 minutes into the game. N’Kosi Perry entered late in the first quarter and wound up throwing for 422 yards and four touchdowns; Miami tying things up 35-35 in the final minutes, before the defense broke (again), the Hokies took the lead and Perry was unable to re-tie things back up, forcing overtime.
CONTROVERSY AVERTED, DUE TO (UN)TIMELY INJURY
Where it appeared momentarily that Manny Diaz might have a quarterback controversy on his hands—the first-year head coach got bailed out when it was reported that Williams’ was nursing a sore shoulder that kept him out of practice early this week, paving the way for Perry to get the nod—where Sunday’s presser gave the indication both would get reps this week, competing for the gig.
While a mid-season game of quarterback musical chairs is never optimum, the move could prove to be a blessing in disguise for this struggling Miami bunch that could ill afford more of the same.
Williams got the nod in fall camp, Diaz and offensive coordinator Dan Enos feeling that No. 15 gave Miami “the greatest upside due to his passing ability, his instincts and his determination”. All that to say, five games in it felt like Williams was still learning on the job; “instincts” not yet where they needed to be. Miami had final drive opportunities against both Florida and North Carolina, with Williams unable to close out in either—understandable in his first two starts, with a dumpster fire of an offensive line—but still, he didn’t get the job done.
Against Central Michigan, a pedestrian outing where it felt as if Enos was using Williams in more of a game manager-type role, instead of aggressively trying to get the ball in the hands of playmakers—whereas a 28-0 deficit put Miami in a position where it needed to let Perry open things up. Down four scores; it certainly limited the Hurricanes’ efforts to run the football—DeeJay Dallas with four yards on five carries, before tearing off a 62-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, which made up for 2/3 of UM’s total ground output on the afternoon. Cam Harris only got two touches for a combined 19 yards—while Perry had 47 pass attempts in just over three quarters.
Lack of balance aside, Perry’s presence resulted in big-time days for Brevin Jordan—seven receptions for 136 yards and a score—as well as Jeff Thomas; seemingly underused or buried with Williams under center. Thomas had six receptions for 124 yards and two touchdowns; finally making some moves that reminiscent of the playmaker he was for the Hurricanes from 2017 through 2018. Dee Wiggins was also a crunch-time go-to target with four receptions for 64 yards on the day, with a few clutch first down pick-ups.
With Virginia on the horizon, Miami sitting at 2-3 and Perry unexpectedly winding up in the starting role—the redshirt sophomore is getting a rare shot at a do-over and a small window that could yield huge results, should he properly take advantage of it.
PERRY GETTING RARE SECOND CHANCE AT A FIRST IMPRESSION
Perry’s history has been on display for the past year. After not overtaking senior Malik Rosier for the starting job in 2018, Perry took over for a sluggish Rosier in the first quarter against Florida International and had a solid enough outing—224 yards, three touchdowns and an interception—for Mark Richt to toss him the keys the following week against North Carolina; where little was needed in a game Miami’s defense forced six turnovers and returned three for touchdowns.
The Canes got in a 27-7 hole against Florida State the following weekend at home, but Perry overcame a slow start and helped rally the Hurricanes to a 28-27 win; throwing for 204 yards and four touchdowns. The following weekend in Charlottesville, the wheels fell off.
Much like Williams’ meltdown by way of three interceptions against Virginia Tech, Perry coughed up two even uglier, head-scratching picks on the road against Virginia last October—Richt reinserting Rosier much like Diaz and Enos quickly yielded to Perry last weekend against the Hokies—starting the downslide for Miami’s 2018 season. The other factor; Perry’s social media gaffe days later—flashing wads of cash on a on off-week road trip home to Ocala.
In the grand scheme of things, hardly egregious, but on the heels of getting benched for poor play—as well as a Miami program that recently spent time in the NCAA’s crosshairs—it was an immature and boneheaded look, for a kid that finally got the shot he’d been vying for. From that point on, it was wheels-off-mode for the Canes; Rosier starting and looking beyond average in a road loss at Boston College—Perry never getting a shot to compete.
In a home loss against Duke the following weekend, Rosier got the first three unproductive quarters, with Perry inserted early in the fourth with Miami trailing—in too little, too late fashion. Two three-and-outs followed before Perry drove Miami 59 yards, looking for a touchdown and two-point conversion for overtime—but much like the stalled comeback against Virginia Tech, Perry and the Canes’ offense couldn’t punch it in.
Perry got the start the following week, throwing for a respectable 171 yards and two touchdowns at Virginia Tech—the Hokies turning it over three times, while the Canes protected the football and got a 51-yard punt return from Thomas to close the door mid-third quarter. Against Pittsburgh the following week, Perry was 6-of-24 for 52 yards, while Travis Homer carried the load with 168-yard, one touchdown performance—a little redemption game for the Panthers spoiling the Canes’ perfect regular season in 2017.
Social media stupidity reared its ugly head again as an old video from September resurfaced; a sexually-explicit Snapchat video from Perry’s account making the rounds—losing him a chance to start the Pinstripe Bowl against Wisconsin, and while not suspended—much like the Boston College loss, Richt hung in there with Rosier before the Badgers piled-on late and rolled the Canes.
CONSISTENCY-STARVED CANES BEST SUITED FOR PERRY TO TAKE REIGNS
The point of the Perry-fueled history lesson; a reminder that No. 5 had his shot last year, after failing to win the starting job—only to piss it away—yet is now in a similar position to the one he faced last year, begging the question, will the talented-yet-erratic quarterback prove his maturity and make the most of this second chance?
Every supporter of The U better hope so—as there is no worse case scenario than an average Perry outing against the Cavaliers, putting he and Williams back in competition next week leading up to a home showdown with Georgia Tech.
Six games in after Friday night, Miami needs to lock into their guy. It was the ultimately goal during fall ball; that either Williams, Perry or transfer Tate Martell would look head-and-shoulders above the competition; winning the starting job convincingly—opposed to the manner it was won in; Williams potentially having more “upside” when named QB1. Not to mention the shit-show that last season turned into when Perry couldn’t fully supplant Rosier and No. 12 couldn’t even game-manage enough to justify his presence.
There is no better scenario for Miami—seven regular seasons remaining, starting with Virginia—that Perry finding his groove and locking down the starting job for the rest of 2019. The Hurricanes need consistency at quarterback, as well as the shot in the arm Perry’s experience can bring, in comparison to learn-on-the-job Williams. No. 15 was serviceable four games in, but wasn’t clutch—nor did he deliver the type of big plays that seem to have a way of waking Miami up, or changing the game.
The defense played that role the past two seasons; finding ways to create turnovers or to get big stops when needed—but without the leadership of guys like Jaquan Johnson, Sheldrick Redwine and Gerald Willis, that side of the ball is too green to take games over the way it used to in recent years.
Dallas has delivered; willing himself to some big runs early this season—but a running back can only do so much when the passing game isn’t consistent and Miami is rolling a depleted defense back on the field after yet another three-and-out. Perry needs to prove he’s the missing link on this offense.
The flip side to Perry’s eccentric play and being the opposite of a game manager; preparing for the mistakes that are due to follow. Against Virginia Tech last weekend, an end zone interception on fourth down, after Miami failed to get in on four passing plays from the four-yard line.
Even more egregious, a would-be pick-six midway through the third quarter when facing a 3rd-and 20 after the Canes just pulled to within 14 points; Perry saved by a late hit and personal foul that without would’ve pushed the Hokies lead to, 35-14—courtesy of an interception even more damaging than the early ones thrown by Williams.
Perry will be good for some thrilling connections with the likes of Jordan, Thomas and Wiggins—but any struggles to read the Cavaliers’ defense and what Bronco Mendenhall throws at him Friday night; could result in the type of outing No. 5 had at Scott Stadium a year ago.
ENOS CAN SHOW VALUE BY HELPING PERRY MATURE ON FIELD
Of course last year Miami’s quarterbacks were coached up by Jon Richt, opposed to Enos, praised for being a “quarterback whisperer” for his efforts with Tua Tagovailoa—as well as the rebirth of Jalen Hurts—with the Crimson Tide last season.
A big reason Diaz chose Enos as his offensive coordinator; half because of play calling, half due to his ability to coach-up quarterbacks. Perry didn’t have an Enos-figure last fall and it showed. Now nine months into working with the former Alabama co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, how much better can Perry be in the moment? The effects of that maturation process will be on display Friday night.
With three losses in early October, it’s must-win territory for a Miami team that for all intents and purposes, been a sloppy, undisciplined, struggling mess. The porous offensive line has given up 25 sacks over five games, while the Hurricanes have been penalized 50 times for an ungodly 453 yards; many of which have come at the most-inopportune times, ultimately changing the outcome of the ballgame.
Emotionally, it’s hard not to believe the overall vibe and output of this team would be much different had the Canes survived that opener against the Gators, opposed to making a few more mistakes than the equally-as-sloppy Florida. A road game at North Carolina might not have started out as flat, while a 4-0 squad rolling into Virginia Tech week would’ve had a different energy than a 2-2 bunch. Just as success breeds success, failure breeds failure and Miami is knee-deep in a negative loop it badly needs to break out of.
A quarterback change and a more-experienced gunslinger who can deliver the ball to playmakers; it’s not as night and day a difference as 5-0 versus 2-3—but it’s something these Hurricanes can build off of; showing up prepared for the first night home game of the season.
Virginia knocked off Pittsburgh in the opener, rallied late to beat Florida State in Tallahassee and faded down the stretch at Notre Dame—while rolling William & Mary and needing a strong second half against Old Dominion to stave off an upset. In short; the Cavaliers haven’t proven much five games in—winning the games they should’ve, while losing by double-digits in one where they were underdogs.
Both the Hurricanes and Cavaliers were picked atop the ACC Coastal Division, depending on the publication—and despite Miami failing to live up to the hype, the three-loss home team is still slightly favored going into this evening.
Based on Virginia giving Miami fits over the years in situations just like this, the Hoos are a safe pick—and a double-digit victory wouldn’t be a surprise; especially if the Hurricanes get off to yet another slow start, which has happened often in this rivalry—both home and away.
Still, Miami earned some preseason hype for a reason. No, these Hurricanes aren’t a contender in the national sense, nor are they in regards to conference, as Clemson remains head and shoulders above the rest—but there’s enough meat on the bone for The U to hang with anybody in the lesser Coastal Division; even Virginia.
Night game at HardRock, shot in the arm from Perry getting the nod, bad taste all around from last year’s season-derailing loss—as well as law of averages; Miami due to have something finally go their way—picking the Canes to eke one out here, somehow, playing a little bit better as a whole due to the mid-season shake-up—with the defense getting a boost from a turnover, or two.
.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.