Miami Hurricanes’ Stephen Morris still intent on raising the bar

UM quarterback Stephen Morris has not let his outstanding performances the past two weeks keep him from focusing on developing more consistency

10/03/2012 12:01 AM

10/13/2013 9:33 PM

Stephen Morris had just smashed the single-game passing record at a place that used to be known as Quarterback U.

His 566 yards and five touchdowns against North Carolina State on Saturday afternoon didn’t just put his name atop the Hurricanes record book — it dwarfed anything Gino Torretta, Vinny Testaverde, Craig Erickson, Bernie Kosar, Steve Walsh and Ken Dorsey had ever done in a span of 60 minutes with a pigskin in their hands.

So what was Morris thinking about moments after he put the finishing touches on Miami’s thrilling 44-37 win over the Wolfpack with a 62-yard scoring strike to Phillip Dorsett?

All the passes he didn’t hit on — and Saturday night’s nationally televised showdown with ninth-ranked Notre Dame (4-0) at Chicago’s Soldier Field.

“I left too many things out there, left a couple touchdowns, left some yards,’’ said Morris, who in the past two weeks has completed 57 of his 101 pass attempts for 1,002 yards, seven touchdowns and two interceptions in two of the top six quarterback performances in UM history.

“As a quarterback it kind of drives me crazy. I want to be perfect. I want to do the right things all the time.’’

As good as Morris has been this season (59.9 completion percentage, 1,635 yards, nine TDs, four interceptions), it’s the inconsistent moments he has had missing open receivers — and what has developed over the past two weeks as a midgame slump — that eats at him and UM coaches.

In the first and fourth quarters of UM’s past two wins, Morris has completed 39 of 60 attempts (65 percent) for 762 yards, seven TDs and one interception. In those dreaded middle quarters, Morris’ numbers are 18 of 41 (44 percent) for 240 yards, no touchdowns and one interception.

“His completion percentage isn’t as high as I would like it. It’s at 60 percent,’’ said offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch, who said the team goal is 68 to 70 percent. “A lot of it is drops. Some of it has to do with forcing the ball. I think he could have helped himself on about three throws [Saturday against . N.C. State], and we could have helped him in about six. Suddenly you’ve got nine more completions in the game.’’

UM coach Al Golden shook his head when asked to explain why Morris has had lapses in the second and third quarters of late. Still, he and Fisch agree Morris is improving each week. Golden said Sunday he noticed a change in Morris since about the third quarter of the Georgia Tech win when Morris “just started throwing and not thinking as much and just trusting his technique.’’

Morris said Tuesday he still wants to “follow through better and keep my front knee bent more’’ on his throws.

Walsh said Morris reminds him a lot of Testaverde “with a little bit better mobility’’ and believes the Canes are in great hands heading into Saturday’s showdown with the Fighting Irish.

“Just the way the ball comes out of his hands, the pure strength of his arm reminds me a lot of Vinny,’’ said Walsh, who quarterbacked the Hurricanes in the 1988 game, two years before the regular-season series ended.

“I had to rewind that game-winning throw he made on my DVR a couple times Saturday. He just slung that thing — falling away, too. That’s real arm strength. Stephen’s got a lot of gifts.’’

Among them — his teammates say — is tremendous leadership. Left guard Jonathan Feliciano said he text messaged Morris after he found out he had set the Atlantic Coast Conference single-game passing record Saturday against the Wolfpack.

“I was like, ‘Congratulations on breaking the records.’ He’s like, ‘Thanks, man. I couldn’t have done it without your blocking,’ ’’ Feliciano said.

“That’s just the kind of guy Stephen is. We try to congratulate him, and he throws it back on us and the receivers. It’s great to have a leader like that.’’

Morris, who has been salivating at the thought of facing the Irish again since he relieved an interception-prone Jacory Harris and finished 22 of 33 for 282 yards passing with two TDs in Miami’s 33-17 loss to Notre Dame in the 2010 Sun Bowl, has maintained what has helped him the most in his development was sitting behind Harris last year.

But it’s obvious how much more proficiently the Canes’ offense is running with a strong-armed quarterback running the show.

The opponent this week, though, will be UM’s toughest thus far. Notre Dame’s defense has produced 14 sacks, eight interceptions and is giving up just nine points a game.

“We can’t be complacent with whatever the score may be,’’ Morris said. “We saw that in Georgia Tech and N.C. State. We have to continue to put points up. We have to continue to put our foot on the pedal and keep going.’’

Herald sportswriter Susan Miller Degnan contributed to this report.

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