Lost in Stephen Morris’ four-interception night two weeks ago at North Carolina was the fact that he leaped four spots to become Miami’s fourth most prolific career passer.
Down went Vinny Testaverde, Craig Erickson, Ryan Clement and Bernie Kosar.
Up soared Morris, a senior who is 1,362 yards from rising ahead of No. 3 UM career-passer Gino Torretta with at least six games left — including the biggest in his career against third-ranked Florida State (7-0, 5-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) at 8 p.m. Saturday in Tallahassee.
Torretta was asked this week: Did you realize Morris could pass you?
“I’m not really sure,” said the 1992 Heisman Trophy winner, laughing. “But I know I don’t have any eligibility left to increase my yardage.”
Be assured that all Morris cares about now is the enormous challenge he will face against the nation’s No. 4 scoring defense (13 points per game allowed) and top secondary in passing yards allowed (153.7 per game).
The No. 7 Hurricanes (7-0, 3-0) haven’t beaten FSU since Jacory Harris threw for 368 yards and two touchdowns (with two interceptions) at Doak Campbell Stadium to start the 2009 season with a 38-34 victory. Morris was a senior at Miami Monsignor Pace that year.
“All the seniors know how important this game is,” said Morris, who was 25 of 43 for 223 yards and a touchdown (one interception) last season in UM’s 33-20 home loss to FSU. “You expect to win, but you also understand you’re playing another great team.”
Morris, who has 6,329 career yards (Ken Dorsey is No. 1 with 9,565), has struggled since sustaining a right-ankle injury Sept. 21 against Savannah State.
He exacerbated it in subsequent weeks, causing him to miss practice time and change his mechanics to compensate for being unable to put pressure on the ankle.
“Your body is going to respond to every injury a little different,” Morris said last Saturday. “It took me a while to get used to my ankle. It’s getting stronger.”
Coach Al Golden said Tuesday that Morris was “markedly better” and returning to his old cheerful self. By Wednesday afternoon, Golden said Morris “looks great. I think he’ll be able to close this chapter, go out, have fun, play the game he wants to play.”
Morris’ shorter and intermediate passes have been noticeably rising over his targets and landing deep, while some of his deeper passes — such as his 35-yard touchdown pass to Herb Waters last weekend — appear crisp and more accurate.
“When you’re throwing, it’s all about balance,” offensive coordinator James Coley said. “And when you have a bad wheel, sometimes you don’t have balance. So you rely on either one leg more or you rely on catching your balance when you’re leaning back. That’s when balls sail on you. When you complicate things with the pass rush, now you’re throwing multiples in there.
“He’s so talented with his hands that he has the ability to flick it. When you’re throwing intermediate or shorter passes you’re driving it,” and “you need to transition your weight.”
Torretta and former UM quarterback Steve Walsh both know Morris and text him from time to time.
“When you have a foot injury it affects everything,” said Walsh, the coach at Cardinal Newman High in West Palm Beach. “Though Stephen has a heck of an arm, ultimately your accuracy comes from your legs. Hopefully, it will be less of a factor this week.”
Walsh beat FSU as a starter in 1987 and ’88 — his 26-25 victory during the ’87 title year and his ’88 win a 31-0 blowout.
Torretta, who led UM to the national title in 1991 (the last time these teams met as unbeatens this late in the season), started against FSU three times, winning at Doak Campbell in ’91 and at the Orange Bowl in ’92. But he lost in his third start ever as a redshirt freshman in 1989, Miami’s only loss in that national title year.
“I threw four picks in the first half,” said Torretta, who started in Tallahassee because Craig Erickson had broken his hand. “It was very loud and I remember by the end of the third quarter the student section was chanting my name. But it was great. They always are.”
Above Morris on the all-time list is Dorsey; Jacory Harris, with 8,826; and Torretta, a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, with 7,690.