University of Miami

Miami QB Williams ‘could have eaten a sandwich’ before touchdowns. O-line, offense on rise

Not sure what kind of sandwich Miami coach Manny Diaz was imagining when he told WQAM on Monday that quarterback Jarren Williams “could have eaten a sandwich before he threw the ball out there’’ on his two touchdowns at Florida State, but it no doubt would have been a tasty one.

It wasn’t only the Hurricanes’ defense that “ate,’’ as college football players like to say, in UM’s 27-10 victory Saturday in Tallahassee. It was the Miami offense that got a taste of success.

Williams threw for a career-high 313 yards on 21-of-37 passing, with perfectly thrown 39- and 56-yard touchdowns, first to Jeff Thomas in stride and later to sprinting freshman Dee Wiggins for his first collegiate score.

“Think about it,’’ Diaz said. “[We] went to Florida State and they sacked the [Syracuse] quarterback nine times the week before. And you’re still starting the line with two true freshmen, a sophomore, another sophomore. I mean you’ve got four of the five that are sophomores or freshmen. [Offensive-line coach] Butch Barry has done a really good job.

“It was important this year in rebuilding the confidence in our offensive line and making those guys believe that they can, because that was the most important first step.’’

As the Canes (5-4, 3-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) prepare for their final home game against Louisville (5-3, 3-2) at 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Williams is now 25th in the nation in passing efficiency (115 of 172 for 1,449 yards and 10 touchdowns, with three interceptions). He has completed 66.9% of his passes in his eight games, six of them starts. His timing, poise, pocket presence, and trajectory of his throws — in particular the deep balls — were at a high level Saturday.

“I just realized the team, they need me to step up,’’ Williams said after the FSU game, “so I really took that to heart. I’ve just been working hard and trying to be that guy for everybody and going out there and giving it everything I’ve got for ... everybody in this program.’’

Offensive coordinator Dan Enos, a tough man to satisfy, heaped plenty of praise this week on Williams, backup QB N’Kosi Perry, and the offensive line.

“Jarren has really improved as a quarterback over the last couple months and actually this last week we had a moment where I was showing him on film how different his lower body and footwork were — how much more improved it was,’’ Enos said. “And N’Kosi as well. Last week, we had some moments in the meeting room where I’d say, ‘All these footwork drills, all this work we’re doing every day is slowly but surely starting to become part of your DNA. You’re turning into a quarterback from your waist down and the lower body part of it. And that’s really where you can really, really make a difference in your accuracy and your timing on throws.…’

“What you’re seeing is Jarren is a guy that is now continually taking reps, getting better, getting more comfortable with the offense, getting more comfortable understanding where his eyes need to go so he can make quicker decisions.’’

Enos spoke of Williams now “anticipating’’ his passes, along with “the trajectory of the throw.’’

“I’ve talked about being a thrower or being a passer,’’ Enos continued. “Throwers just throw the ball one trajectory, one speed. Jarren in that game, he showed the ability to show the ballistics of the throws — arm angles, getting it up and down over blitzers on short throws.

“I know this is a long answer, but the other thing is he was not perfect either,’’ Enos said, smiling. “He’d miss some things. He’s a freshman and he hasn’t played in a while. Sometimes, I think he’s a little casual coming out of the huddle and not aware of the play clock. “

Enos lauded the entire line — freshman left tackle Zion Nelson, junior left guard Navaughn Donaldson, redshirt sophomore center Corey Gaynor, freshman right guard Jakai Clark, and sophomore right tackle DJ Scaife — for “outstanding protection.’’ The line, which gave up 10 sacks to Florida in the opener and is now ranked 125th of 130 teams in sacks allowed, has allowed only two sacks in each of the past two games — the previous week against the nation’s top sack-attackers of Pittsburgh.

“There has been improvement in all of them,’’ Enos said. “That’s a real credit to Butch Barry. I keep saying that, but this guy is an outstanding coach. The techniques, the fundamentals, but also the ability he has to get these guys to play hard, with toughness.

“They’ve all improved really, but I will say Zion Nelson is looking much more comfortable. I mean that’s hard, tough sledding. We went through some early, rough times. Florida, A-gap run-bys a little bit. There are growing pains as we know. What you’re seeing now is a guy that is gaining confidence and the reps are starting to add on. Again, that was an investment we made as a staff, that we’re going to invest in this guy, and we’re seeing it pay some dividends now.”

The running backs have been picking up blitzes and blocking beautifully, indicated Enos, and the receivers have improved in many ways under the tutelage of Taylor Stubblefield. Thomas had his second-best performance of the year, with four catches for 84 yards and the made-for-replay touchdown. Wiggins (four catches for 74 yards and the touchdown) ran a “tremendous route’’ on his touchdown, Enos said.

Said Wiggins, who was as joyful as any player in Saturday’s game: “Goes back to practice. Like coach taught me, don’t abandon your technique. He told me just eat up his cushion and give him a hard stick and just go get it.

“It takes time and we’ve been patient. It happened.”

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Miami Herald sports writer Susan Miller Degnan has been the Miami Hurricanes football beat writer since 2000, the season before the Canes won it all. She has won several APSE national writing awards and has covered everything from Canes baseball to the College Football Playoff to major marathons to the Olympics.