Ryan Williams said he prepares himself every week to be the Miami Hurricanes starting quarterback.
Next week, it might no longer be just a dress rehearsal.
Williams, who had thrown just two passes in UM’s first six games, got flung into the fire Saturday afternoon against North Carolina — and nearly rallied the Canes to victory. Now, it looks like the 6-6, 223-pound redshirt sophomore could be more than an emergency fill-in when the Hurricanes (4-3, 3-1 ACC) host 12th-ranked Florida State (5-1, 2-1 ACC) in prime time next Saturday night.
If the X-rays on the left ankle of injured starting quarterback Stephen Morris don’t look good, Williams said he will be ready to go against the Seminoles.
“It’s kind of what I always grew up watching, what I always wanted to play in,” said Williams, whose claim to fame prior to transferring to Miami from Memphis in 2011 was leading Miramar High to its first state championship and breaking Tim Tebow’s state record for touchdown passes in the title game.
The big show
“UNC was a great defense, very fast. I feel like they’re a lot like Florida State. They got a lot of South Florida kids, lot of them from Miami like we are. It’s going to be fast. It’s going to be a big show. It’s going to be a great game. If I start, I’ll be excited.”
Excited wasn’t the word Williams used to describe his feelings when he saw Morris hit the turf with eight minutes and 26 seconds remaining in Saturday’s 18-14 loss to the Tar Heels.
“I saw Stephen laying there and I didn’t know whether he was going to get up or not , so I kind of paused,” Williams said. “They told me he was down so I ran over, got my helmet and put it on. [Offensive coordinator Jedd] Fisch came over and said ‘It’s on me now.’
“I wasn’t really nervous. I knew what we needed. We needed a touchdown.”
The Hurricanes, though, couldn’t get that done on either of their final two drives with Williams at the helm.
After coming in for his first snap on 4th-and-1 at the UNC 48-yard line and handing the ball off to Mike James for a first down, Williams hit Dyron Dye for a 9-yard gain and a third-down conversion on his first pass.
But moments later, with UM facing a 4th-and-6 at the Carolina 26-yard line, Williams couldn’t connect with Phillip Dorsett.
“I tried to move a little bit in the pocket, saw Phillip with a little window,” Williams explained. “I tried to put it on his shoulder away from the defense. Their linebacker [Kevin Reddick] dove and made a great play.”
Williams got another chance, starting from his own 17 with 1:47 left to play following a Carolina punt.
But after completing six of seven attempts and hitting Rashawn Scott with a 21-yard gain down to the UNC 29-yard line, Williams took a sack and had two passes knocked down, setting the stage for a 4th-and-16 at the Carolina 35.
He finished 9 of 13 passing for 80 yards — and in the eyes of teammates provided enough to put the team in position to win the game.
“We ran three verticals,” receiver Allen Hurns said. “[Williams] could have hit any of the outside guys, but apparently the safeties got deep. So he hit [tight end] Clive [Walford] and it wasn’t enough.”
Said Williams of his final pass of the game: “I just saw Clive one-on-one. I thought that was a good matchup. I thought he was far enough to get the first down. He got 15 yards. … I thought he was deep enough.”
Miami’s offense, which was averaging 35.6 points per game through it’s first five games, has now produced 17 points in its past two games.
Trust in Williams
Tailback Duke Johnson, battling his own foot injury, said he has faith Williams can handle the reigns at quarterback if the Canes need him. Johnson said the rest of the Canes offense just needs to pick up its play.
“Coach Fisch is doing a great job of drawing up plays, picking when we’re going to take shots. We’re just doing a horrible job executing and not doing our jobs,” Johnson said.
“Stephen will bounce back. If this is a big injury, we’ll have to do more on our part as far as running the ball more and just helping Ryan out anyway we can.”
Williams, who ran UM’s offense extensively in the spring with Morris out, said he believes he has a good grasp of the playbook and there will be no limitations on the Canes offense.
“You don’t have to change anything with me,” Williams said. “I just learned so much from Stephen being here the whole time, even us talking to each other about what the defense is doing. I’m prepared.”