Welcome to college football, N’Kosi Perry.
Your introduction didn’t happen in any of three previous low- to no-pressure appearances vs. Savannah State, FIU or North Carolina, lopsided games all.
Your introduction -- your education -- started Saturday vs. the Florida State Seminoles. It came crashing in. The burden and pressure, the first career deficits, the rivalry --all of it.
Miami 28, Florida State 27.
This was young Perry’s first real test.
Oh, did he pass.
He threw four touchdown passes (with zero interceptions) to bring UM back from game-long holes. His other stats -- 13 of 32 for 204 yards -- hardly mattered. What did is that Perry mattered when the Canes needed him to.
This was the 63rd time Miami and FSU have played each other. There have been bigger games, for sure. National-championship stakes not there Saturday. But there haven’t been many Canes-Noles meetings that sent the home crowd happier into the night than this one. Miami trailed 20-7 at the half, the crowd of 65,490 muted. UM had lost six home games in a row to this bitter rival dating to 2004.
“It was a great job of everybody just sort of hanging in there, including the fans,” coach Mark Richt said afterward. “The greatest news was, no on gave in. No one gave up. Everybody fought their tails off. No one ever lost their heart. It just took a spark, and that spark turned into a flame.”
All of the gloom lifted like party balloons, N’Kosi Perry at the center of it all.
There had been that one little perfect shining early moment on Saturday. It was one play that seemed to say so much about one coach’s faith in his young quarterback, and about that player’s ability to justify the belief.
UM waved off an easy field goal try to gamble on 4th-and-2, and Mark Richt watched Perry spin a perfect touchdown strike to Lawrence Cager to tie the Florida State game 7-7.
It was the perfect coming-of-age moment for Perry in only his second career start.
But there would be more as the kid kept leading The U back.
Perry struggled missing targets much of the game and Richt admitted that changing QBs and going back to Rosier at halftime “crossed my mind.”
His sticking with Perry served him well. I may be wrong, but I do not believe UM would have won this game had the experienced veteran Rosier taken snaps. Richt was right in seeing the greater upside in Perry. The young man will take time to grow and to catch up to his potential,. yes. Saturday he fumbled twice, losing one on a sack. He was far from perfect with his accuracy. But he showed enough to continue to believe in him as the future.
It wasn’t just the four TDs.
It was that he found nothing daunting or intimidating about this stage, about trailing, big, to Miami’s biggest rival, in a game that, if lost, surely would have seen a “quarterback controversy” foisted onto Richt.
As it was some, plenty of fans were calling for Rosier to start the second half. They got quiet, fast.
“I was never getting down on myself,” Perry said. “I knew I missed a couple of open targets, but it wasn’t nothing I couldn’t come back from. We had to fight back and that’s what we did.”
Said Richt: “We could gave thrown it better and caught it better, but we threw and caught enough. The offense was finding a way.”
So was the defense.
Miami’s D was great again, considering FSU scored one TD on a 74-yard punt return and another set up by a 44-yard punt return. The defense held the Noles to 200 total yards and forced two turnovers that sparked the comeback, creating the chances that Perry took advantage of.
“Once you see the defense doing what they do, it gets everybody going,” Perry said. “It lights a fire for us.”
The 17th-ranked Canes faced tumbling hard from the Top 25 polls, but now will rise. UM watched its chances of returning to the ACC Championship Game face taking a serious hit, but restored that hope. Miami, a 14-point favorite, seemed headed to yet another home loss to FSU, which had had the Canes at the end of a leash in games played in the 3-0-5 ever since the current players were navigating first grade.
The rivalry brought several Canes legends back to town, roaming the sideline. Ed Reed, Michael Irvin, Clinton Ports, Ray Lewis and more. At halftime they were shaking their heads. By the end they were dancing like Canes fans were.
That’s because Miami turned what seemed a certain loss into an exhilarating triumph Saturday.
And N’Kosi Perry turned what might have been a quarterback question into an exclamation point.