The big question in Coral Gables all week was finally answered Saturday night.
Stephen Morris – and not Ryan Williams – started at quarterback for the Hurricanes. But it wasn’t quite the night the 6-2, 214-pound junior hoped it would be against Florida State’s highly touted defense.
Morris turned the ball over twice, overthrew receivers downfield and never got into a groove as the Canes offense struggled to put up points and move the chains for the third straight week. Morris, who at times looked gimpy on his sprained left ankle, finished 25 of 43 for 223 yards with one touchdown and an interception.
But those numbers looked a lot better at the end because of a late UM scoring drive. Morris was just 13 of 26 for 122 yards through three quarters – when the game was still in doubt.
“It looked better on Friday," UM coach Al Golden said of Morris’ ankle. “Until you see him go out there and stress it like he did today, you really don’t know how he is going to be. I don’t regret starting Stephen.’’
Instead of bringing the heat and testing Morris’ ankle — which kept him out of practice part of the week — the Seminoles pretty much sat back and covered up UM’s receivers. The game plan worked as Morris completed the bulk of his passes underneath to his running backs for limited damage.
Morris’ longest pass play of the night when the game was still in doubt was a short dump-off to tailback Mike James, who picked up 24 yards and a first down on Miami’s third-quarter scoring drive. Morris later hit receiver Davon Johnson for a 32-yard gain, but that was with the Seminoles playing prevent defense up 33-13. He then found Rashawn Scott on a 8-yard TD pass with 47 seconds left.
Since throwing for an Atlantic Coast Conference and UM-record 566 yards in a win over North Carolina State, Morris has completed 55 of his 104 attempts (52.8 percent) for 579 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions.
Saturday, the Canes got off to a quick, 10-0 lead in the game’s first eight minutes. But Morris was hardly responsible.
After the Canes’ defense forced a fumble on FSU’s first play, James kept UM’s drive alive with a stellar one-handed catch and run for a first down. On the next play, James put UM in front with a 9-yard TD run.
UM’s second scoring drive, following an FSU 17-yard punt, began at the Seminoles 34. UM eventually settled for a 19-yard field goal.
Morris made his first big mistake of the game on UM’s next possession when he was sacked and stripped of the football trying to escape pressure. FSU’s Christian Jones recovered at the UM 38 and it led to a field goal.
After the Seminoles tied it at 10 in the second quarter, Morris moved UM to the Florida State 27-yard line on the ensuing drive. But on the next play, Tyler Hunter stepped in front of a pass intended for Duke Johnson and returned the interception into UM territory.