The N’Kosi Perry era is here.
Whether it’s here to stay is yet to be seen.
The fans got what they wanted Saturday at Hard Rock Stadium: a dominating 31-17 University of Miami victory against FIU — and redshirt freshman quarterback Perry, who came in for the third series and staked a serious claim for the quarterback job with a dazzling performance.
Perry completed 17 of 25 passes for 224 yards and three touchdowns for the No. 21 Hurricanes (3-1), with a late third-quarter interception. He added nine rushes for 32 yards, and was sacked once.
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After replacing starter Malik Rosier with 7:35 left in the first quarter, Perry completed his first 10 passes. By halftime he was 12 of 13 for 170 yards and touchdowns to receiver Lawrence Cager and tight end Brevin Jordan.
After his 26-yard laser of a touchdown to Cager on a slant route to open the second quarter, many of the announced crowd of 59,814 began chanting, “Per-ry! Per-ry! Per-ry!’’
“Overall, he did a very good job,’’ UM coach Mark Richt said. “He went ahead and launched a ball downfield that ended up being a pick...The good news is it didn’t cost us a game and the other thing is there was some valuable experience for Kosi tonight.”
When asked if he had a decision to make on a starting quarterback by UM’s next game, a Thursday-night ESPN home matchup against North Carolina, Richt said, “Yeah, we will. We’ll figure it out. Like I’ve said in the past, whoever I think gives us the best chance of winning, that’s who’s going to play.
“Tonight we thought it was N’Kosi.’’
Only five days earlier, Richt had responded to a question on his WQAM radio show about how close his backups were to being ready to play.
“Somewhere along the line, I gotta, you know, like a bird kicks the [baby] out of the nest and makes him fly, it’s about that time,’’ Richt responded, adding that the backups, who include redshirt freshman Cade Weldon and true freshman Jarren Williams, were at the point where he couldn’t learn a lot more about them until he had gotten them more playing time.
But the bird of which he spoke, of course, was the 6-4, 195-pound Perry, who came into Saturday having played in two games, going a combined 9 of 14 for 93 yards and three touchdowns, with one interception.
One week after accounting for a career-high five touchdowns in UM’s victory at Toledo, Rosier completed two of three passes for 16 yards Saturday in the first two series. Richt told reporters after the game that his plan all along was to put Perry in to start the third series and see what transpired. He clearly liked what he saw, albeit against a severely overmatched FIU (2-2), coached by former Hurricanes coach Butch Davis.
Rosier, meanwhile, sat on the sideline with headphones, helping Perry along the way.
“It’s not like Malik has done anything wrong by any means,’’ Richt said. “He’s done a lot of great things for us....What’s happening is Cade and N’Kosi are growing up.’’
Perry said he felt comfortable throughout the game, which helped his confidence “a lot.’’
“It felt good, that’s pretty much it,’’ Perry said.
And if he should get the nod against UNC?
“I’m always ready,’’ he said.
UM’s defense, even without preseason All-American safety Jaquan Johnson (hamstring), was stifling from the start until the Canes put in their backups in the second half.
The Canes held FIU to 187 yards — 17 of them rushing and 139 of them on FIU’s two touchdown drives late in the fourth-quarter.
After one quarter, FIU had zero yards. At halftime, the Panthers had 14 yards passing and 1 yard rushing.
After three quarters, the Panthers had 48 yards, with 20 of their 37 offensive plays going for no gain, a loss of yards or an interception by safety Sheldrick Redwine in the second quarter.
FIU scored its first touchdown on a 35 yard pass from James Morgan to CJ Worton with just under seven minutes left in the game. Weldon replaced Perry after the touchdown and the Panthers scored again on a 28-yard field goal — five plays after Weldon fumbled away the snap.
Worton scored again on a 5-yard pass from Morgan after FIU recovered an onside kick to make it 17 points in the final seven minutes.
Canes defensive tackle Gerald Willis had his third game this season with at least three tackles for loss of UM’s 11 total.
Offensively, UM was led on the ground by Travis Homer, with 13 carries for 114 yards and a touchdown. Receiver Mike Harley led UM with seven catches for 76 yards.
Miami lost momentum early in the first quarter when Jeff Thomas’ dazzling 80-yard punt return for a would-be touchdown — he juked at least two Panthers midway to the end zone — was nullified by a holding call on UM freshman Nesta Silvera. The Canes took over on their own 46-yard line and were held to three-and-out.
Thomas headed to the locker room late in the first quarter with what WQAM reported was a dehydration issue, which Richt confirmed. He never returned.
The Hurricanes now have five days before they open their Atlantic Coast Conference slate against UNC.
The Tar Heels (1-2, 1-0 ACC) notched their first win this season, 38-35, on Saturday against Pittsburgh.