The Miami Hurricanes, at least for one game, are making a quarterback change.
N’Kosi Perry will be the starting quarterback Friday when Miami hosts the No. 20 Virginia Cavaliers at Hard Rock Stadium, Manny Diaz said after practice Wednesday in Coral Gables. The coach told his team about the decision immediately following practice, then opened his session with reporters inside the Carol Soffer Indoor Practice Facility by announcing Perry as the starter before he even fielded a question.
“I just want to take all the suspense out of it. We’re going to start N’Kosi Perry at quarterback on Friday night,” the first-year coach said. “Jarren Williams is dealing with an upper-extremity issue that leaves him less than 100 percent. We think N’Kosi gives us a chance to win. I think we all saw last Saturday the improvement in his game. And we’re excited to get behind him, ride behind him and find a way to beat a very well coached and tough-minded Virginia football team.”
Williams started the first five games of the season for the Hurricanes (2-3, 0-2 Atlantic Coast) before Miami lifted him from the game in the first quarter of a 42-35 loss to the Virginia Tech Hokies on Saturday. Williams told ESPN before the game he was dealing with some shoulder soreness and he went to the locker room after being pulled from the loss. Diaz said Williams was “limited” in practice for the second straight day Wednesday and his status remains “day-to-day.” He also did not rule out Williams being available as a backup Friday.
Diaz didn’t delve into specifics about Williams’ injury — the Hurricanes have simply referred to it as an “upper-extremity” injury all week — but the quarterback didn’t throw passes Tuesday during a portion of practice open to reporters. With Williams’ status uncertain, Diaz opted to have Miami prepare with a quarterback the Hurricanes knew would be available this weekend.
“I’d rather not get into the details of that just from a player confidentiality standpoint,” Diaz said. “Jarren threw last week, was cleared to play, threw some on Sunday, but, again, quarterback — it’s like wide receiver’s got to run with his legs and you’ve got to have your upper body to throw the football. To me, we expect him — like I said, he’s day-to-day — but I just felt from our preparation, we had to go with N’Kosi.”
Diaz also said Williams remains the quarterback atop Miami’s depth chart.
“We’ve said all along that Jarren’s our guy,” Diaz said, “and now N’Kosi’s our starter.”
Williams had been a bright spot in a rocky start to the 2019 season for the Hurricanes because of his accuracy and ball security. It all unraveled in the first quarter against Virginia Tech in Miami Gardens. The redshirt freshman completed 4 of 7 passes with 47 yards and three interceptions before heading to the bench with the Hurricanes trailing 14-0.
Perry took over immediately after the third turnover and nearly led a miraculous comeback. Miami fell behind 28-0 in the second quarter before Perry rallied the Hurricanes to tie the game at 35-35 with a little more than three minutes remaining. The quarterback went 28 of 47 for 422 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. Perry’s 400-yard game was Miami’s first since former quarterback Brad Kaaya threw for 405 in a loss to the Florida State Seminoles in 2015 and the most since former quarterback Stephen Morris threw for 566 in a win against the North Carolina State Wolfpack in 2012. Perry’s total was tied for the 10th most in a single game in Hurricanes history.
“What I have seen that I can for sure talk about is his development as a quarterback,” Diaz said. “His understanding how to read coverages, how to be able to throw the ball to all sides of the field, and just some of the things that when the picture has changed from a year ago. Now he’s able to keep his eyes not on the rush, keep his eyes down the field, and go through his progression and find the open guy. There were some outstanding examples of that this past Saturday.”
Perry started six games for the Hurricanes as a redshirt freshman in 2018, splitting time with former quarterback Malik Rosier in a rocky 2018 season. He was one of three quarterbacks vying for the starting job in the preseason, but Williams ultimately beat out him and fellow quarterback Tate Martell, and started the first five games of the year.
Perry was the more productive passer in 2018, going 97 of 191 with 1,091 yards, 13 touchdowns and six interceptions. He also ran 61 times for 169 yards and one touchdown, and caught one passes for negative-15 yards. His season, however was mired by a number of off-field controversies, including a suspension for the season opener against the LSU Tigers and the circulation around campus of a sexually explicit video featuring Perry ahead of the Pinstripe Bowl. Although Miami never formally announced a suspension for the quarterback, Perry was caught on video saying he was suspended and he didn’t play in the first half of a blowout loss to the Wisconsin Badgers.
A year later, Perry looked better Saturday than he did at any point in 2018.
“[Offensive coordinator Dan] Enos played a big part of that, just to understand the defensive coverages and it’s not really difficult,” Perry said. “It’s just that scheme, that’s what they try to do: throw a lot at you, but Coach Enos and coach Jesse Stone have helped me a lot with understanding defense a lot more, so my preparation in my mind is a lot better than it was last year.”
Although Perry said he isn’t viewing Friday as an opportunity to seize the full-time starting job away from Williams, a moment like this is why he opted to stay at Miami rather than seek a transfer when Williams was named the starter in August.
Now the redshirt sophomore will get his chance to guide the Hurricanes to their biggest win of the season. On Saturday, he led Miami’s best offensive performance of the year, but the Cavaliers will present a different sort of challenge for the former starter relegated to backup duty.
“I just tried to keep my composure as much as I could and show the team I’m gonna be here for them regardless whether I’m number the one guy or number five guy. I’m going to support the University of Miami that’s my overall goal,” Perry said. “I’m proud I didn’t quit, but I know I wasn’t gonna quit. I’m not a quitter. Never been and I never will be.”