Hurricanes fans wondering what’s wrong with quarterback Stephen Morris might have concerns that go beyond his injured left ankle and right hip.
Morris, a junior playing his first full season as a starter, showed his skills earlier this season, especially in a comeback win over North Carolina State on Sept. 29 when he set Atlantic Coast Conference and school records with 566 passing yards.
But since that performance, Morris has completed just 52.4 percent of his passes with one touchdown and three interceptions in the past three games, all losses. He is averaging just 193 passing yards in those three games.
Coach Al Golden said Morris will be “sore for the next 48 to 72 hours,” but the quarterback has the luxury of time since the Canes (4-4, 3-2) don’t play again until a Nov. 1 home game against ACC rival Virginia Tech (4-4, 2-2).
“It took a lot of guts [to play with those injuries],” Golden said of Morris. “I appreciate the effort, the leadership and the courage he showed. He wasn’t at 100 percent, but he will bounce back.”
Medically, that might be so. When — or if — Morris will increase his productivity is open to question.
Golden said there are multiple issues that have affected Morris’ performance, including the players around him and the other teams he has played against.
Two of the defenses that Miami has faced in the past three weeks — Notre Dame and Florida State — were ranked in the top 10 nationally.
The other team Miami faced during this skid was North Carolina, which was ultra wary of the Canes’ deep speed.
“We played three very different defenses,” Golden said. “We got two or three deep balls against Notre Dame, and we dropped them. North Carolina kept everything in front of them. And Florida State played man-to-man, trusting that their rush will get there.”
Golden said that even if teams utilize two deep safeties, the Canes can still get “explosive plays” if they hit seam routes and receivers make defenders miss.
Morris certainly needs more playmakers to emerge. Freshman receiver Malcolm Lewis’ season-ending injury earlier this season took one such player away. And freshman running back Duke Johnson has been slowed by injuries lately.
There was no update on the injury Johnson sustained Saturday night against FSU, although Golden said it was not the turf-toe ailment that had bothered Johnson earlier in the season.
Either way, though, Golden said Morris’ teammates need to provide more help, whether it’s the receivers catching passes or the linemen holding blocks.
“Stephen was hit too many times [against FSU] to have a good completion percentage,” Golden said of Morris, who completed 25 of 43 passes for 223 yards against FSU with one touchdown and one interception.
“He didn’t practice all week because of his injury. And then, as the game went on and we got behind by two [scores], he started to take more hits and more pressure.”
Golden acknowledged that the running game needs to be more productive. Against FSU, Johnson was held to 27 yards on nine carries, and Mike James had 25 yards on seven rushes.
“A lot of the runs we tried left us in second-and-long [situations],” Golden said. “Then we got behind, and it became very difficult to stay with the run game. The [run-pass ratio] got skewed late in the game, and Florida State is a tough team to get balance with.”