Miami quarterback N’Kosi Perry, back for an encore Saturday against Georgia Tech after a successful 2019 debut start last week, can wing the ball with the best of them.
But the passes of this flame-throwing redshirt sophomore don’t always land where intended when launched.
On Saturday, in the noon finale of a season-long, five-game homestand at Hard Rock Stadium, Perry intends to add finesse to the fire.
“Yeah, I definitely work on my touch throws because like you said, I always had a cannon and throw pretty hard,’’ Perry said to a reporter this week. “But I feel like [offensive coordinator] Dan Enos helped me out a whole lot working on my trajectory throws.’’
Perry, who started six games last season in an up-and-down campaign for the Hurricanes, finished 2018 completing 97 of 191 passes for a pedestrian 50.8 percent. He threw for 1,091 yards and 13 touchdowns, with six interceptions.
He took over for starter Jarren Williams after the redshirt freshman Williams, now recovering from an injured right arm/shoulder, threw three interceptions in the first quarter of UM’s Oct. 5 loss to Virginia Tech. In that game Perry set career marks in completions (28), attempts (47) and passing yards (422 compared to his previous high of 224). He also threw his longest completion of 51 yards and tied a career mark with four touchdowns, with one interception.
After last week’s start against Virginia, Williams is now 51 of 84 (60.7 percent) for 683 yards and six touchdowns, with one interception. He has been sacked nine times behind a deficient offensive line (last in the country in sacks allowed), but has an uncanny ability to feel the rush coming and escape at the last instant.
“I feel like that’s just instincts,’’ he said. “God-given ability.’’
Has he noticed any difference in his ability to pick up blitzes?
“That comes from practice,’’ Perry said, “and watching film with the coaches and listening to the tips they give us.. And once you get home, take it in your own hands to continue to watch it and prepare.’’
Perry said he has been working on going through his progressions as much as he can, “because the old me,’’ he noted, “used to get real jittery in the pocket and try to leave early. But you just gotta trust the protection. And Coach Enos makes sure we don’t watch the rush.”
Hurricanes coach Manny Diaz on Wednesday announced Perry as the UM (3-3, 1-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) starter for fellow league Coastal Division member Georgia Tech (1-5, 0-3), reiterating that Williams, who won the job in fall camp, is still ‘our guy.’
“Jarren is our starting quarterback,’’ Diaz said, when asked what he meant by ‘our guy.’ “We’ve never wavered from that... Jarren is going to prepare like he’s going to play on Saturday, and there could be a role he plays. But until we really get Jarren feeling like he’s 100 percent, N’Kosi is the answer.’’
Diaz said that both quarterbacks are not “finished products.’’
“All the guys have strengths and all the guys have different things they could like to improve on,’’ the coach said. “And those things have continued to improve... There’s a reason we picked Jarren and that reason still exists. However, we want them all to continue to develop.
“And don’t we have a good thing? Remember, like in January, when we didn’t think we had a quarterback that could win for us? That goes back to the job Dan Enos has done. Our locker room feel very confident that, ‘Hey, Oh my gosh. We put another guy in there and we don’t miss a beat.’’
Diaz said the “coolest thing’’ about Perry’s “story’’ is “he’s a guy that continues to work, continues to get better, when the odds said, ‘Oh gosh, I’m not going to get in.’ And bang, off of a sudden, here it goes. To me, that a credit to how N’Kosi has grown as an individual.’’
As for those touch throws, Perry hopes to demonstrate them against a Yellow Jackets’ passing defense ranked 22nd nationally (183.2-yards allowed a game). Georgia Tech is 127th in rushing defense, however, which means that the Jackets might see a lot of DeeJay Dallas on Saturday.
“They’re going to take away a lot of the easy access throws and really try to challenge you to old the ball and push it down the field,’’ Diaz said, “which then allows their rush to have a say in it. It’s easy to look at their record and say whatever. Not in this league, man. We know how the ACC Coastal is, and know how our team is.
“There are no easy wins.’’
For Perry, it will become easier if his deep-ball accuracy improves. “If we would have hit some of those deep balls,’’ he said of the 17-9 win over Virginia, “the game would have been out of reach a lot earlier. I don’t think it was nerves. It’s just a few opportunities [missed]. You gotta take advantage of every opportunity you get.’’
Georgia Tech no longer runs their famous triple-option offense. Now, under new coach Geoff Collins, the Yellow Jackets have transitioned to a spread attack. Though they rank 121st in total offense (309.5 yards a game), they have increased their season-high for offense the past four games.
This will be Miami’s next-to-last home game, as UM travels to Pittsburgh next weekend and four of the next five games are away from Hard Rock.
“We love the fans,’’ Perry said. “As a team, they bring energy to us. It’s always good to get a win at home.”