With one University of Miami football scrimmage remaining in spring practice, the quarterback race is still going strong.
No particular signal-caller has secured the title of 2018 starter — at least not yet.
Blame an aggressive, bruising defense for that, especially those young, speedy pass-rushers in the spring game Saturday at Hard Rock Stadium.
"It's hard to say until I watch the film, but to me, I was standing back there — whoever the No. 1 quarterback tonight was, was going to have a hard time,'' UM coach Mark Richt said. "I can't sit there and downgrade Malik for a lot of things that happened, because there just wasn't an opportunity a lot of times to show what he can do.''
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Veteran starter Malik Rosier, soon to be a fifth-year senior, completed 9 of 14 passes for 105 yards and no touchdowns Saturday. He was sacked four times in the first half by the first-team defense.
Redshirt freshman N’Kosi Perry completed 11 of 26 passes for 166 yards and a 9-yard touchdown, with one interception. Perry, who at times had accuracy issues, got much stronger as the game progressed, throwing a 41-yard completion to Darrell Langham with 26 seconds left. He was sacked once.
Perry also led the team with 45 yards rushing on eight carries.
And early-enrollee freshman Jarren Williams, though going against the second-team defense, had a strong showing for the second week in a row. Williams completed 9 passes in 14 attempts for 107 yards and a 14-yard touchdown to fellow early enrollee Brian Hightower.
Williams was sacked three times.
"They have the skill set that they need to compete at this level and they just have to keep learning and knowing what to do and they’ll continue to push Malik,'' Richt said of Perry and Williams. "My guess is if either one of those guys were with the No. 1 units, they’d have a hard night too,'' he reiterated, "so we’ll have to take that into consideration when we’re grading film and things like that.”
Richt pretty much made it clear, which was obvious to the 15,875 fans at Hard Rock, that the offensive line is the unit that needs plenty of improvement. He indicated that Rosier would have been much better served with a more advanced unit. That said, the coach also lauded some fierce defensive linemen.
"It starts with the offensive line on offense,'' the coach said. "We've got to set the top five and let these guys work together all summer and all fall, and get ready for the season. You've just got to have a cohesive unit and right now we're still trying to find answers. We think we've got the right answer. It's just going to take a little time for Navaughn [Donaldson] to become the tackle that we know he can become."
Sophomore Donaldson, who played at guard all last season, has only practiced two days at right tackle. The other starting five: left tackle Tyree St. Louis, left guard Jahair Jones, center Tyler Gauthier and right guard Hayden Mahoney.
One newcomer on offense was especially impressive. The 6-3, 195-pound Hightower gave fans reason for hope with his leaping ability and finesse. He finished with four catches for 100 yards and two touchdowns, the other the 9-yarder from Perry.
“He did phenomenal,'' said receiver Lawrence Cager (two catches for 40 yards) of Hightower. "With the young guys, it is all just about the nerves. They have to stop stressing and just go play. "
The turnover chain was out in all its splendor— if even for just one appearance Saturday, as early enrollee cornerback Gilbert Frierson picked off Perry in the end zone. Frierson made the most of it, leaping onto the bench to show the fans.
Frierson also had one of nine sacks.
Sophomore defensive end Jonathan Garvin had three of those sacks, as did early enrollee Gregory Rousseau. The others were by ends Joe Jackson and Scott Patchan.
“The kid is going to be unbelievable,'' Jackson said of Rousseau. His first step off the ball, even when he’s not even trying, is explosive. The quarterback doesn’t have a lot to do with it, but the offensive line is going to have to deal with his first step off the ball. He’s coming along really well. He’s made a big impact so far.”
Offensively, freshman tailback Lorenzo Lingard had 12 yards on six carries, with redshirt freshman Robert Burns adding 14 yards on five carries. Last year's starter, Travis Homer, ran seven times for 29 yards. Homer recovered his own fumble.
The best thing about the spring game besides no injuries: There’s still another scrimmage left next Saturday on campus. But it’s closed to all except for football alumni and family.