N’Kosi Perry slid away from the Virginia Cavaliers’ pass rush and bought just enough time for Jeff Thomas to get separation in the middle of the end zone. The wide receiver ran a deep post and an accurate leading throw would have given the Miami Hurricanes a touchdown lead six plays into the game. Instead, Perry threw behind Thomas and the pass was nearly intercepted.
It was the full Perry experience. Really, the entire first drive was.
Actually, maybe the entirety of Miami’s 17-9 win against No. 20 Virginia was. The quarterback was in equal measures brilliant and flawed. He stretched the field with his arm strength and, most importantly, found the end zone with his legs for a crucial fourth-quarter touchdown, but his completion percentage also hovered around 50 percent for most of the second half and he took a few too many deep shots.
He finished 16 of 27 with 182 yards and one touchdown in the win. The question now: Was it good enough to reopen the Hurricanes’ quarterback competition?
“Nothing has changed from when I sat here a week ago. I’ve always said that Jarren Williams is our guy,” coach Manny Diaz said after the win Friday. “The question we have right now when we get back is, How is Jarren? The second part of the question is what I mentioned a week ago in, How does Jarren respond to all of this? There is a locker room of guys that know that we can win with all of our quarterbacks. I think that is where we see the offense and how those guys are functioning in what Dan Enos is calling.”
For as equally matched as the two are in terms of talent and production, Perry’s and Williams’ approaches differ drastically.
Williams went four games without throwing an interception before he threw three in the first quarter last Saturday in a loss to the Virginia Tech Hokies. Perry threw one after he took over last week, then nearly threw another on his first drive Friday.
Williams is happy to check down and go through his progressions, and his greatest flaw might be his tendency to underthrow receivers on his deep shots. Perry wants to let it fly and tends to overthrow his deep shots, and his touchdown run Friday came when he abandoned his progressions after one read to scramble into the end zone.
“I saw a hole after my first read wasn’t there,” Perry said, “and I took advantage of it.”
He is, at heart, an improviser. He improvises in the pocket to avoid sacks and he improvises on Enos’ play calls, always searching for a way to make the big play.
He had to improvise a bit in August, too. Although Perry started six games in 2018, Williams beat out the redshirt sophomore for the starting job in the preseason. Perry said Wednesday he never sulked and never considered transferring, and it was evident through his interactions with Williams.
Diaz has been open this season about conversations he has had with players who might be frustrated with a lack of playing time. The coach said Perry wasn’t one of those players.
“All you had to do was watch the guy on the sideline during the first half of the season when he wasn’t playing, and watch his demeanor and temperament,” Diaz said. “He’s done nothing but continue to improve, even when he was not the starter. That’s a good thing because who could predict what happens during a football season? At quarterback, it’s obvious, but it could be another position where you have an injury and a guy fills in, and, all of a sudden, here we go.”
Diaz named Perry his starter Wednesday. Williams, who was dealing with an “upper-extremity” injury, wasn’t healthy enough to fully participate in practice in the first half of the week, so Miami went with his fully healthy backup, who threw for more than 400 yards in relief against Virginia Tech.
He picked up where he left off on the Hurricanes’ first drive Friday. On the fourth play of the game, Perry made a perfectly placed outside-shoulder throw to wide receiver K.J. Osborn on the left sideline for a 27-yard gain -- the sort of throw Williams has struggled to make all season. He fed running back DeeJay Dallas a 13-yard touchdown on a screen pass to cap the drive, then nearly hit on a deep touchdown to Mark Pope on the next drive, but the wide receiver dropped the potential score.
Three of Miami’s next four drives after the opening touchdown were three-and-outs. Perry threw for 67 yards on the first drive and went into halftime with only 61 yards.
It’s easy to pick apart any stat from Perry’s first start of the season. One undeniable set of numbers: 5-2. Perry is now 1-0 as a starter this season -- with a win against a ranked team -- after going 4-2 as a starter last year.
He has a penchant to make plays just when the Hurricanes (3-3, 1-2 Atlantic Coast) need it and he pulled himself together for the fourth quarter in Miami Gardens. The Hurricanes scored on both of their fourth-quarter drives and Perry went 6 of 8 for 101 with a rushing touchdown.
Miami’s offense has been at its best this season when making short, quick passes. On the Hurricanes’ last two drives, Perry proved he can execute this version of Miami’s offense two. Each of his final three completions came on screen passes. His playmakers got the Hurricanes into the red zone and Perry finished the job.
“We just took what the defense was giving us,” Perry said. “I feel like early in the game we were thinking about the big play instead of the little shots to set up the big plays. In the fourth quarter, it was quick passes and we won our one-on-one matchups.”