It’s back to the future for University of Miami quarterback N’Kosi Perry.
But this time, the Hurricanes hope their episode ends happily.
Perry, who will start at home against No. 20 Virginia on Friday in place of injured usual starter Jarren Williams, had a forgettable experience almost a year ago when he started at UVA — a scenario similar to what Williams experienced a week ago when he threw three interceptions in the first quarter in a loss to Virginia Tech.
“I just want to get a win for the team,’’ Perry said Wednesday, moments after it was revealed he would start Friday. “We need to get that feeling back so we can get used to winning. And like you said, we got history, but I didn’t play well last year. The whole team didn’t play well. We just want to go out and show that we can compete with anybody.’’
This game is especially crucial because Miami is 2-3 overall and 0-2 in the Coastal Division of the Atlantic Coast Conference, with the Coastal-leading Cavaliers 4-1 and 2-0. A Virginia win would make it nearly impossible for the Hurricanes to dig themselves out of the Coastal hole and put themselves in contention for an ACC title.
In the Oct. 13, 2018, game, Perry threw two interceptions in his first six passes and was pulled by former coach Mark Richt in favor of demoted quarterback Malik Rosier. The Canes went on to lose 16-13 and lost the next three as well.
Does this feel for Perry like somewhat of a chance for redemption, an opportunity to make up for what happened last season?
“I feel like it is somewhat partly about me,’’ Perry, a redshirt sophomore, said. “But it’s about the team. The whole team needs to redeem ourselves for this game and for the season.’’
Williams, a redshirt freshman, has a hurt right arm/shoulder that he might have injured initially Sept. 21 against Central Michigan and likely exacerbated last Saturday in UM’s 42-35 loss to Virginia Tech.
UM’s offensive line is last in the nation in sacks allowed (25 total), which heavily contributes to Miami’s offensive woes. Williams has been pummeled (and hit a lot more) 19 of those 25 times. Perry got sacked six times last week. To make matters worse, blitz-heavy Virginia is second nationally in team sacks, averaging 4.8 a game behind Penn State’s 5.
Diaz said there will be “certain times’’ Friday that “you’ll add more guys in protection’’ of Perry, who started six games last season and completed 97 of 191 passes (50.8-percent accuracy) for 1,091 yards and 13 touchdowns, with six interceptions. Williams started the previous four games this season, completing 89 of 124 passes (71.8 percent) for 1,074 yards and seven touchdowns, with those three interceptions last week.
“There are certain times you’ve got to get the ball out quicker,’’ Diaz said Wednesday concerning the Cavaliers’ defense, which ranks seventh nationally in tackles for loss, 20th in passing yards allowed and 10th in total defense (275.4 yards allowed per game). “The key is really the speed of thought of the quarterback, and they do a really nice job of changing coverage looks at the last minute. You expect to see this...’’
The big question: Will Perry be able to handle the disguises and intricacies of the Virginia defense? He admittedly couldn’t last year.
“Last year was probably too much,’’ Miami coach Manny Diaz said, noting that Perry has a “better understanding’’ now. “I think it’s actually kind of cool that N’Kosi gets to start against Virginia because that was the game last year where it kind of went backward on him. To have a chance to come in there and lead our team at home, it’s pretty exciting.’’
Said Perry: “My preparation in my mind is a lot better than it was last year.’’
Diaz, UM’s defensive coordinator the past three seasons, indicated earlier this week that he was upset with the play of the defense and would begin taking an active role to assist current coordinator Blake Baker. From what Diaz said Monday, it seemed he would not take part in calling defensive plays during the game. But on Wednesday, when asked if he had decided to call plays Friday, Diaz said, “That’s not something that we’ll be talking about publicly.’’
The Hurricanes’ defense will have all it can handle with talented Cavalier quarterback Bryce Perkins. Perkins, 6-3 and 215 pounds, broke UVA’s single-season record for total offense with 3,603 yards in 2018. He was one of two players in the nation with 2,600-plus passing yards and 900-plus rushing yards.
“Yeah, that’s a good quarterback,’’ UM defensive tackle Nesta Silvera said. “He runs around a lot. He can make big plays at any moment, so we got a lot of respect for him.”
Added defensive end Greg Rousseau: “He’s a really awesome, great quarterback. He’s a solid dual-threat guy. And we gotta make sure — that’s why it goes back to doing the little things right — when we go in for tackling that we have everything perfect.’’
Perfection will be nearly impossible Friday for the Hurricanes. But a clean victory would be a much-welcomed way to rekindle the season.