University of Miami

Here’s how Miami can make life more difficult for North Carolina and its freshman QB

UM starting QB Jarren Williams explains what he learned from Florida game

University of Miami starting quarterback Jarren Williams (15) speaks to the media after morning practice at the Carol Soffer Indoor Practice Facility in Coral Gables, Florida on Wednesday, September 4, 2019.
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University of Miami starting quarterback Jarren Williams (15) speaks to the media after morning practice at the Carol Soffer Indoor Practice Facility in Coral Gables, Florida on Wednesday, September 4, 2019.

It only took one quarter for Sam Howell to provide a series of reminders as to why the Miami Hurricanes wanted him coming out of Sun Valley in Monroe, North Carolina. First, the quarterback floated a perfect fade pass to Dyami Brown, who pulled in a one-handed, 22-yard touchdown catch on the second play of the fourth quarter. Next, Howell dashed into the end zone for a two-point conversion to cut the North Carolina Tar Heels’ deficit to three points.

Finally, he tossed up another jump ball to Beau Corrales for a 17-yard, go-ahead touchdown with less than 10 minutes left to beat the rival South Carolina Gamecocks in Charlotte, North Carolina.

“We knew about him in high school, so I thought he showed great toughness and then his poise in the fourth quarter,” coach Manny Diaz said Wednesday in Coral Gables. “Just playing pitch and catch on some of those fades, as if it was just routes on air or pat and go, just not fazed by the moment of playing in a pro stadium against South Carolina, just out there just playing.”

Howell, who finished his debut 15 of 24 with 245 yards and the two touchdowns, thrived throwing deep all throughout North Carolina’s season opener Saturday. On passes traveling at least 20 yards down the field, Howell went 5 of 6 for 118 yards and both his touchdowns.

For comparison’s sake, Jarren Williams, Miami’s redshirt freshman quarterback, only even attempted one pass which traveled 20 or more yards downfield in his first start.

The easiest way to stop the deep ball is to pressure the quarterback, and the Hurricanes (0-1) have the personnel to fluster Howell on Saturday in a way South Carolina simply couldn’t. Howell was only pressured 10 times against the Gamecocks and three of the pressures — and two of the sacks — came because he held the ball too long, according to Pro Football Focus.

For comparison’s sake, Miami pressured Feleipe Franks on 40 percent of his dropbacks in the Hurricanes’ opener last month, making the Florida Gators quarterback the 11th-most consistently pressured quarterback in Power 5 Conference teams’ opening games, although the Hurricanes only actually sacked the redshirt sophomore once as they accounted for his scrambling ability.

Williams, by the way, was No. 1 on the list, pressured on 55.8 percent of dropbacks.

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“He’s definitely a young quarterback,” UM linebacker Shaquille Quarterman said of Howell. “I think he plays with a lot of passion. He’s not scared to tuck it and run. He doesn’t run away from contact, either, so when you’re dealing with a guy like that you’ve got to be weary coming out of pass coverage the first response is to scramble.”

Howell, who was the No. 3 dual-threat quarterback in the composite rankings for the Class of 2019, ran for 31 yards on seven carries, not including three sacks, and scored a two-point conversion on a speed option. He did, however, fumble twice and lose one. Just like they did against Franks, the Hurricanes will have to worry about containing a scramble after pressure.

The focus of Howell’s attention at Kenan Memorial Stadium will largely fall on the linebackers. He specifically mentioned Quarterman and fellow linebacker Michael Pinckney earlier this week when he was asked what stands out most about Miami’s defense.

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Although neither was among the Pro Football Focus rankings of the Hurricanes’ top 10 players in the opener, Quarterman and Pinckney will have a chance to bounce back against a mostly untested starter.

“Shaq Quarterman and Pinckney, they’re really good players,” Howell told reporters Wednesday in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. “They fly around the field. They’re effective in the pass rush and coverage, in the run game, so we’ve got to be prepared for it.”

If Miami’s defense plays like it did throughout 2018, Howell will have to face a challenge unlike what he saw last weekend in North Carolina.

In 2018, the Gamecocks ranked 57th in the nation in yards allowed per play. The Hurricanes ranked No. 2 and finished the year with one of the top 20 scoring defenses in the country.

“They do what they do well, the same thing they did last year,” Quarterman said. “They want to run the ball. They really like their backs, so they’re going to do everything they can to keep the ball in their playmakers’ hands. It always starts with the run. If they can open up the run, then they can open up a lot of things. That’s college football.”

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