There is, indeed, a three-man quarterback race at the University of Miami.
As spring came to a close Saturday on a gorgeous, 73-degree afternoon at Camping World Stadium, the Miami Hurricanes quarterback scenario proved more hopeful and inclusive than it had all previous 14 practice sessions.
And that it happened at the site of the Cane’s 2019 season opener against the Florida Gators made the spring game — weekend, really — that much more enjoyable for coach Manny Diaz and his Hurricanes.
“The whole 36 hours were unbelievable,’’ Diaz said of the weekend that UM treated as a dress rehearsal for its Aug. 24 opener.
Unlike last week at a scrimmage at Traz Powell Stadium in Miami, the Orlando finale in front of 9,102 enthusiastic fans included a promising performance by redshirt sophomore transfer Tate Martell (6 of 10 for 154 yards and two touchdowns), who struggled mightily last week but played almost exclusively out of the shotgun on Saturday.
N’Kosi Perry (9 of 13 for 145 yards and a touchdown) had his second strong day, and Jarren Williams (4 of 6 for 44 yards and a touchdown), who excelled last week, came back with a dazzling, made-for-replay touchdown to talented sophomore tight end Will Mallory after a poor start.
“I’ll be honest, which is probably a new thing for a coach,’’ said offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Dan Enos, the man who helped Alabama reach the national championship last season with his tutelage of quarterbacks Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts. “I thought that I had a gut feeling like three different times already, and it keeps changing because guys keep getting better.
“It’s a process. That’s why you don’t get caught up in your emotions of one day or one practice. I have to give the three quarterbacks a ton of credit because I think all three of them have improved — a lot — from Day One till now. We had a very poor practice on Thursday, not just the quarterbacks but really a lot of the guys on offense. We had a heart-to-heart meeting Friday about the expectations, the standard we’re trying to set.
“We’re far from perfect...but we played with a lot of effort today and the quarterbacks did a really good job of managing the game and managing their situations. They were put in some tough situations and for the most part they handled themselves very well. All three of them have given me hope...’’
Graduate transfer K.J. Osborn, who came to UM this semester after amassing 53 catches for 892 yards and seven touchdowns at Buffalo, continues to show he’s ready to make a major contribution to a Hurricanes receiving corps that underwhelmed last season. On Saturday, Osborn caught three passes for 105 yards, including a 15-yard post-pattern grab from Martell that he turned into an 80-yard touchdown sprint down the left side of the field.
“It’s going to be really difficult,’’ Osborn said when asked how difficult it might be for Enos and Diaz to pick a quarterback considering they’ve all had their moments. “All three guys are very talented. They’re all smart. They’re all progressing... With a great Coach like Coach Enos, they’re all getting better. I know whoever it is going to be they’re going to be in a good situation.”
The 6-5, 230-pound Mallory, with his long, graceful gait and soft hands, once again showed that he will be a headache for defenses, especially when partner in tight-end crime Brevin Jordan returns from his sprained knee next season. Mallory had three catches for 63 yards and the 15-yard touchdown pass from Jarren Williams deep in the center of the end zone.
“He’s got those long strides,’’ Diaz said. “He’s a guy that can run after catch. We make a big deal about taking efficient plays and turning them into explosive plays and Will is a guy who can do that.’’
Said Mallory: “Brevin had a great season last year and then unfortunately he got hurt this spring, so it was time for me to step up into the role. It was really big for me because it just gave me more experience so next year when we come back for the season me and him will both have had a lot of reps and it will be that much better for us.”
Mallory said Williams provided “a great throw’’ to “set me up for a perfect touchdown.’’
But Williams had his struggles as well. In his opening drive, which began the spring game, running back Cam’Ron Harris (13 carries for 57 yards) lost 5 yards on a tackle by Nesta Silvera. Then, Williams, who wasn’t helped by insufficient O-line blocking, had to run after an errant snap by center Tommy Kennedy. On third down, Williams was sacked in the end zone by Jon Garvin and Scott Patchan for a safety.
Williams also underthrew a pass intended for Osborn that was picked off by Jimmy Murphy. He was skipped once in the QB rotation after the interception, but came back in the third quarter with a 16-yarder to Osborn followed by the touchdown.
Martell’s touchdown after his long one to Osborn was a 17-yard fade in the end zone to Michael Irvin II.
Perry had another fine day, despite much of his success coming against backups that at times were wide open. His 32-yard touchdown was to freshman Jeremiah Payton, who had another good day with three catches for 51 yards.
While the offense technically won the scrimmage with a 35-32 score based on a concept that gave the offense points for touchdowns and field goals and the defense points for various plays such as sacks and safeties and turnovers, the defense — especially the starters — proved smothering at times. The D, dressed in orange jerseys to the O’s white, tallied nine sacks, 16 tackles for loss, five pass breakups, forced fumble and fumble recovery and an interception.
Freshman defensive end Jahfari Harvey, sophomore end Greg Rousseau and redshirt freshman tackle Jordan Miller each had two sacks. New backup linebacker Patrick Joyner, a redshirt freshman who also plays on the defensive line, led all players with four tackles.
Among the most heartening takeaways from the spring game was that the weekend’s experience will give some semblance of a comfort level to the Canes when they prepare for their opener.
“The hotel we stayed in, the meeting rooms, the ballrooms,’’ Diaz said. “We created everything as similar as possible to what it’s going to be in August. The game and the crowd exceeded my expectations, but the last 36 hours has been even better than I wanted it to be.”