How the Hurricanes are treating the starting quarterback position this spring

Jake Garcia, a freshman early-enrollee,
Jake Garcia, a freshman early-enrollee, was the No. 5 pro-style quarterback in the Class of 2021. Garcia originally committed to the University of Southern California, but decided to come to Miami in December.

D’Eriq King is Miami’s starting quarterback. This is the case even with the dual-threat signal caller rehabbing a torn ACL suffered in UM’s Cheez-It Bowl at the end of 2020. King is set to be one of the nation’s best quarterbacks in 2021 off the injury and will attract eyeballs from fans and pro scouts alike.

“If you’ve got a dollar that you’re going to bet on who our starting quarterback is,” said Miami head coach Manny Diaz. “Where’s number one. The last name that rhymes with Ming.”

While King is expected to be fully recovered and ready to go when the Hurricanes open the 2021 season in Atlanta against defending national champion Alabama on Sept. 4, he’ll have an armada of passers behind him should anything unexpected occur.

Tyler Van Dyke and Jake Garcia are two quarterbacks UM went to the recruiting trenches to get on campus. For the Hurricanes, the position is just one of many keys back to prominence. It’s also been one of inconsistency and underachievement in recent years.

Both quarterbacks are seen as being on relatively level footing heading as spring camp continues. The coaching staff is giving no shortage of players lucrative first-team reps at all positions.

“This is such a unique spring…we have so much depth,” Diaz said. “We go 1s [starters] versus 1s in the spring, but we have more than 11 1s. We’ve made a big deal about not really having 1s this spring. We have a lot of guys that can go with the first team. We have some guys that are learning that go more with the second team, and some guys split with both…We’re trying to keep the competition fluid [and] keep everybody a little bit out of their comfort zone.”

Keeping it loose is another important aspect of spring football.

“Just going out there, having fun, it’s my main goal,” Van Dyke said. “I think that’s the biggest thing because if you’re not having fun, you’re timid, scared and you’re not going to do well. I feel like I need to be more of a verbal leader. I feel like I’m working on it.”

Freshman quarterback Tyler Van Dyke is taking the majority of first-team snaps in spring practice with starting quarterback D'Eriq King out with a torn ACL.
Freshman quarterback Tyler Van Dyke is taking the majority of first-team snaps in spring practice with starting quarterback D'Eriq King out with a torn ACL. Photo credit: Miami Athletics

Van Dyke came to South Florida as a 4-star prospect by 247Sports and the nation’s No. 7 pro-style passer in the 2020 high school class. The Glastonbury, Conn., product did see token action late in two blowouts while taking a redshirt last fall.

Garcia’s journey to UM was lengthy and dramatic. The 2021 class’ No. 5 pro-style quarterback originally hails from Los Angeles and was committed to Southern California. But coronavirus restrictions on high school athletics in California drove the 4-star recruit to the state of Georgia, where he completed his high school career at Grayson High School in Loganville, Ga. He decommitted from the Trojans on Dec. 3 before signing his letter of intent to play at Miami on Dec. 16. He chose the Canes over Florida State, Clemson and other programs.

He finished his high school season with a foot injury before enrolling at UM for the spring semester. He was cleared to return to full practice just a day before the Canes’ first spring scrimmage.

“Jake was not cleared for team settings until the day before that scrimmage,” Diaz said. “So that Friday we went out and practiced just in helmets. And then all of a sudden bang, here goes your first scrimmage. I think the way he handled himself—because that first scrimmage day, a lot of times can be overwhelming, you’re out there, the coach dropped, you’re just kind of out on your own, you get the real live accountability of negative plays—and I just thought Jake just looked like a guy that day that has been around a long time.”

Matocha, meanwhile, arrived in Miami in 2019 as a 3-star recruit, redshirted in 2019 and saw action late in the Hurricanes’ 2020 blowout win at Duke.

“We push each other,” Garcia said. “I feel like we know how to push each other but continue to root for each other at the same time.”

Freshmen Van Dyke and Garcia especially are seen as potential quarterbacks of the future. But while it may be temping for fans to ponder tomorrow, they can’t overlook the present.

King passed for 2,686 yards and 23 touchdowns in 2020. The transfer from Houston threw just five interceptions while completing 211 of his 329 passes; a 64 percent completion percentage. King also rushed for 538 yards on 130 attempts and ran for four touchdowns.

King also elevated Miami’s total offensive productivity in 2020. Miami had just 358.8 yards per game in 2018, good for 105th in the football bowl subdivision. That output rose to 367.4 yards per game in 2019 (98th nationally) before leaping to 440.3 yards per game in 2020, good for No. 32 in the nation offensively. The Hurricanes’ points per game yield also increased from 25.7 in 2019 to 34 in 2020.

Before King, the Canes had been in search for an identity at quarterback. Their three prior starters—Malik Rosier, N’Kosi Perry and Jarren Williams—had been pedestrian over a three-season period from 2017-19. The only consistency between the three was that a change at the starting position was always seemingly imminent or at least heavily debated among fans. The trio’s sole long-term statistical highlight was when Williams finished with a season completion percentage of 61 percent in 2019. But even he finished that season with seven interceptions and just 19 touchdown passes before transferring to University of South Florida by way of Garden City Community College. UM’s floor during the period saw Rosier deliver just six touchdowns and throw eight picks as a senior in 2018.

The Canes were forced to rediscover life without King in 2020’s finale, as the starting quarterback tore his ACL in the second quarter of the Cheez-It Bowl on Dec. 29. Perry was swiftly inserted and was productive on a pinch. He brought Miami back from 21-7 down to within two points before falling 37-34. Perry was 19-34 for 228 yards and a couple touchdown passes, but will transfer from the program after finishing his degree at UM this spring.

Miami hopes that its future quarterback resembles the present than the past. With Van Dyke, Garcia and Matocha waiting in the passer pipeline, the Canes should feel good about their long-term prospects.