The quarterback competition leading up to game week against Ohio State, which Coach Al Golden promised, was cut eerily short just two days after Miami’s 32-24 loss to Maryland.
After serving a one-game suspension, Jacory Harris was named starting quarterback for the Hurricanes’ home game against the Buckeyes on Sept. 17.
The move comes less than a day after Golden said on a teleconference call that he would evaluate both quarterbacks over the weekend before naming a starter.
“We’ll take a look at it here in this off week and determine that as we see fit,” Golden said of the quarterback battle. “We’ll allow them to compete here Thursday through Saturday and figure it out.”
Stephen Morris left College Park, Md. having squandered an opportunity to put himself ahead of Harris for the starting role, if not secure it. Despite a competent completion percentage of 67.8, two late interceptions – including a pick-six in the final minutes – and zero passing touchdowns may have lost him the chance to at least compete for the starting role.
Not that Harris has been a model of consistency over his career at UM – those tribulations have been well-documented. Seemingly every spectacular pass made was followed by a groan-inducing lob to blanketed receivers in the past.
Whether those concerns were completely addressed in the offseason is unknown, but the reports of a practically even battle between Harris and Morris leave doubts as to how many of those demons have truly been exorcised. But in all likelihood, the open competition and addition of offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Jedd Fisch could have only helped Harris’ progress this summer.
Without the suspension, it is possible that Harris may have earned the job outright from the onset.
In his postgame teleconference, Golden bluntly stated that the Hurricanes “need to improve … before Ohio State,” and will “have a different team this week than last.”
Of the five players reinstated after serving their one-game suspensions, all are listed as either starting or in competition with another player for their respective roles.
Harris, linebacker Sean Spence and wide receiver Travis Benjamin all won their jobs outright. But the two defensive linemen coming back – Marcus Forston and Adewale Ojomo – will continue battling this week against senior Micanor Regis and freshman Anthony Chickillo, respectively.
The addition of Forston and Ojomo to the defensive line, even if they play as backups, will help the Hurricanes generate more pressure on the quarterback.
Maryland quarterback Danny O’Brien attempted 44 passes yet was never sacked, and only felt pressure on a handful of occasions.
Not that all fault rests on the front seven – much of O’Brien’s efficiency was due to quick screen passes that the Miami secondary failed to stop.
But the changes to the Hurricanes over the next 10 days will stretch beyond the simple addition of experienced players. Now being able to assess their team against live competition for the first time, Golden and his coaching staff have nearly two weeks to make adjustments to their strategy to fit the personnel on hand, or find the players most capable of executing their schemes.
The Buckeyes routed Akron during their first game at home, 42-0, and early on showed nothing reminiscent of last year’s team that thoroughly defeated the Canes in Columbus. Though Ohio State also missed eight players because of suspensions, only the Buckeye defense consistently performed at the level expected against lesser-tier opponents.
The “IneligiBowl,” as it has been cheekily-dubbed, will be the first time for both Miami and Ohio State to see what exactly they are capable of this season.
Without qualification, the Miami team that took the field against Maryland will be the worst iteration of the team all year, both due to player suspensions and coaching ignorance. As unknowns persist early on, look for this game to clear up many, if not most, questions that still hang around the Hurricanes.