Miami quarterback Malik Rosier, like the rest of the nation’s Hurricanes fans, would probably like to have forgotten his past two games.
But his aching right shoulder, the one that he conceded Thursday was “so damaged’’ after the Oct. 28 North Carolina game that he “could barely pick up the ball,’’ wouldn’t initially let him.
Then the shoulder began to slowly heal.
As the No. 10 Hurricanes (10-2) prepare for the No. 6 Wisconsin Badgers (12-1) and their nation-leading defense in the Capital One Orange Bowl, Rosier’s real-life growing pains — the pain of losing combined with a shoulder contusion far worse than most realized — have in the long run helped him to mend some deficiencies and appreciate his last opportunity of 2017.
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“You can tell that my arm is feeling better,’’ the redshirt junior said during a bowl interview at the Renaissance Hotel in Fort Lauderdale, noting his passes have “more zip’’ on them and that he has fixed his shoulder alignment and now puts more air on the ball. “You can tell that some of the throws that I might have been under-throwing, now [I’m] hitting the guys in stride.
“My shoulder got really banged up and after that it was bothering me throughout the year. Having three weeks off just to heal and rest and work with Vinny [Scavo] and the training staff has been amazing.’’
After two weak performances in losses at Pittsburgh and against top-ranked Clemson in the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship Game, Rosier badly needs to rebound in the Orange Bowl, or else that already announced open quarterback competition for next season will be that much more stressful.
Rosier comes into the Orange Bowl having started all 12 games, completing 213 of 389 passes for 2,917 yards, 25 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He has run for another 427 yards and five touchdowns, a 3.5-yards-per carry average that includes the 131 yards lost after being sacked 24 times.
Rosier had three interceptions before getting hurt at UNC late in the first quarter of the seventh game. He threw one interception that day and seven more in the next five games. His accuracy undoubtedly suffered, along with arm strength.
“They wanted to make sure I didn’t break anything or break a collarbone,’’ Rosier said of the UNC game, in which he ultimately only missed one series. He said he spent much of the rest of the season getting multiple daily treatments. Coaches told him to tough it out.
“I was going to have to suck it up and play or I was going to have to just give the job up,’’ Rosier said. “And I’m not ready to give the job up.’’
Wisconsin defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard, whose Badgers are No. 1 in total defense (253.2 yards allowed per game), third in scoring defense (13.2 points) and fourth in passing yards allowed (160.6 per game), said Thursday that he believes Rosier and the UM offense’s late-season woes were partly because “they were pretty beat up’’ and “played some pretty good defenses that made plays and created turnovers.”
Rosier, Leonhard said, “is a very dynamic, dual-threat kid. He is a little streaky at times in the passing game. There are times he looks extremely good and you see the confidence when he’s dropping back. And there are times you see him look like a young quarterback. But what he is able to do with his feet in a lot of cases negates that. He is able to make a bad play and turn it into a positive play and continue to push the ball down the field.
“I like the way he plays. He’s a talented quarterback who if we’re not on top of our game will make us pay.”
UM receiver Braxton Berrios, a senior who leads the Canes with 634 receiving yards and nine touchdowns, said Thursday that Rosier didn’t lose the ACC title game — “We lost the game.”
“And I think that’s something we’ve been trying to stress,’’ Berrios said. “He doesn’t need to carry that weight. You can have great games and good games and you’re going to have sub-par games. Obviously it’s unfortunate that those two games ended the season that way, and the wrong people had those sub-par games at the wrong time.
“But at the end of the day we’re 10-2. I don’t think anybody would have told you we’d be 10-2 with three of our stars on offense [running back Mark Walton, receiver Ahmmon Richards and tight end Christopher Herndon] missing.”
Until Thursday, Rosier had not mentioned the extent of his shoulder pain all season. He’d rather focus on the positive. “For me it’s been nice,’’ he said. “As much as it’s made about me, it’s not about me, because I can’t do it without the guys around me. It’s been just an amazing experience this year because we’ve set records and did things Miami hasn’t done in years.”