FEATURE COMMENTARY: Quarterback Conundrum

This is part of a special feature, “Coker, Coaches, Quarterbacks: Commentary on the future of the hurricanes,” appearing in the current issue of The Hurricane. To read the remaining 2 parts, visit the Sports section of the site.

The regular season has concluded, and a question is swirling around Miami’s football program. No, not that one. No, guess again. No.okay, just stop. It’s the quarterback controversy. Who will lead this football team next year?

Coming into this season, it appeared that Miami might once again return to its status as Quarterback U. The school which produced Jim Kelly, Bernie Kosar, Vinny Testaverde, and Ken Dorsey had its heir apparent-Kyle Wright.

Wright, the most highly-touted quarterback of his recruiting class, had a season under his belt. While he had struggled at times, the future looked bright, as the maturation process would logically take his game to the next level. Wright appeared ready to lead Miami back to greatness.

Instead, Wright’s name is used as a pejorative around Coral Gables after performances that can be described as lackluster at best. His underperformance in the fourth quarter has led some to label him as “anti-clutch,” having the unique ability to have the opportunity to lead a team back to victory and then inexplicably cough it up (see Georgia Tech 2005, Florida State 2006, Virginia Tech 2006). His proclivity for throwing interceptions on would-be game-winning drives has been his calling card.

So what is the other option? Where can the team go to solve this problem? For some, the answer could be heard emanating from the stands of the Orange Bowl homecoming night. The one-word cure-all? “Kirby! Kirby!”

Kirby Freeman has started in the last three games played by Miami, following Wright’s hand injury against Virginia Tech. Freeman always seemed to deserve his position just behind Wright in the depth chart-after all, Wright was the Gatorade National Player of the Year, Freeman was not. But with Wright’s repeated blow-ups coupled with his injury, Freeman has had the chance to not only help the team, but help himself by leaping over Wright.

What have we learned from Freeman’s performance? His play has been erratic, throwing seven interceptions in 89 attempts, three in the victory against Boston College. Compare that to Wright’s seven in 250.

However, Freeman has seemed to bring something to the table that is noticeably absent from Wright: guts. Freeman is elusive in the backfield, managing to escape would-be tacklers that would have sent Wright to the turf. As he’s played more, Freeman has been able to air it out downfield, going for the big play that has made Miami famous. He appears to have that intangible thing, that immeasurable quality that is the ability to be a true field general, a leader on and off the field.

After the tragic loss of Bryan Pata, Freeman stepped forward and voiced the thoughts of the team, taking questions from the Associated Press, and speaking like a true leader. Facing his first start at Maryland against such a tragic backdrop he performed with heart, and if not for a muffed punt, might have led a Miami comeback.

Freeman has inspired fourth-quarter hope, something not seen around these parts in years.

So what is to be done now? There are two quarterbacks with huge question marks hanging over their heads. Who should start? The answer is there is no quick answer. Patience must be the key word heading into the off-season.

Miami has a long history of great quarterbacks and great quarterback performances. We have been unbelievably spoiled, from snatching up a linebacker recruited by Penn State, only to find out he had a rocket arm (Jim Kelly) to having a starting quarterback focus on baseball and become arguably Miami’s greatest field general on the bench (Ken Dorsey).

We should demand the best from all of our players, but we can’t expect that kind of serendipity every recruiting class. I don’t think either Wright or Freeman should have judgment passed on them now. However, it is abundantly clear that when spring practice rolls around, there will be a tough competition. Kyle Wright no longer has the power of incumbency and it will make for an interesting show around Greentree come March.

Matthew Bunch may be contacted at m.bunch@umiami.edu.