The Miami Hurricanes traveled up to Pittsburgh last month with their season on the brink of collapse and a quarterback controversy looming over Manny Diaz’s threatening-to-unravel first season.
The Pittsburgh Panthers were minutes away dealing Miami, already sub-.500, a crushing blow when Diaz made another quarterback change. He went with Jarren Williams, who began the season as the starter, but missed a practice leading into the game and got benched in favor of N’Kosi Perry. With 58 seconds, Williams linked up with K.J. Osborn for the game-winning touchdown.
“It’s very easy to look back,” Diaz said, “and say that series turned around our season.”
The come-from-behind win kicked off a three-game winning streak for the Hurricanes, which continued Saturday with a 52-27 rout of the Louisville Cardinals in Miami Gardens.
Williams, in particular, has looked like a different player since he entered in relief of Perry against the Panthers. On the game-winning drive at Heinz Field, Williams went 3 of 6 for 46 yards and a touchdown, and followed it up by going 21 of 37 for 313 yards and two touchdowns against the Florida State Seminoles last Saturday in Tallahassee. On Saturday, Williams had the best game of his career, going 15 of 22 for 253 yards and a Hurricanes record six touchdown passes.
Since game-winning drive in Pennsylvania began, Williams is 39 of 65 for 612 yards, nine touchdowns and no interceptions. He’s now 130 of 194 with 1,702 yards, 16 touchdowns and three interceptions this season, and all three interceptions came in one disastrous quarter against the Virginia Tech Hokies.
“I’d probably say maturity and he’s just taken that leader role, and his confidence is sky high,” wide receiver Mike Harley said when asked what he has seen change with Williams since the win against Pittsburgh. “I feel like at the Pitt game, he came in and did what he had to do. And the Florida State game, he carried us and made the explosive plays. I just feel like he’s top of his game right now.”
The confidence has manifested in two major areas.
The first is the most easily noticeable: Williams is taking more deep shots and hitting on them more often.
Before Miami’s trip to Doak Campbell Stadium last weekend, Williams had been just 1 of 10 for 38 yards on passes traveling 20 yards or more. Against Florida State, he connected on one deep ball for a touchdown to wide receiver Dee Wiggins. On Saturday, he hit another 67-yard touchdown pass to Wiggins and threw a 28-yard touchdown to Harley in the back of the end zone.
“A lot of people doubted him saying his deep ball is his weakness, but he just came out and proved everyone wrong,” Harley said. “We take shots in practice and you see it works in the game, so everything we do on the field at Greentree just translates to the game.”
The second area is in the mythical speed of the game.
Throughout his first stint as the Hurricanes’ starter this year, Williams blended occasional moments of perfect poise with the inevitable panic which comes with being a freshman starting quarterback behind a freshman left tackle. Instead of having faith he could stand in the pocket and take a shot down the field, he went to his checkdowns quickly or was slightly off with his timing.
“You can tell the first couple weeks: a little sack right there, he’s looking at the line — stuff like that,” Harley said, “but it’s confidence and trust. He’s gained a lot of trust.”
His six touchdown passes Saturday came via all sorts of throws. The first to Wiggins and the second to Harley were both deep shots, but the others he threw to each of those to were on the run-pass option, slant throws he has thrived on all year. His other two were a screen pass to running back DeeJay Dallas and and rollout to tight end Will Mallory for a 10-yard touchdown.
Offensive coordinator Dan Enos wants to run a pro-style offense capable of scoring in all manner of ways. On Saturday at Hard Rock Stadium, the full package was on display.
“I feel like the game — going into this week — really is just kind of starting to slow down for me, whereas when I was first out there, everything’s moving fast, but that just comes with watching film and really getting experience, too,” Williams said. “I feel like — not just for me, but the whole offense — the game is just starting to kind of slow down and we’ve got a good grasp of the offense. We’ve got a good understanding and that chemistry is really starting to come together. We’ve got to just keep it going now.”