Ten takeaways from UM’s spring game at Camping World Stadium in Orlando:
▪ The quarterback play was very encouraging, Tate Martell left a strong final impression and this race is still too close to call.
I asked offensive coordinator Dan Enos if he privately has a gut feeling about how this race will end.
“I’ll be honest, which is probably a new thing for a coach,” he cracked. “I thought I’ve had a gut feeling three different times already and it keeps changing because guys keep getting better. I have to give the three quarterbacks a ton of credit because all three of them have improved a lot from day one to now.
“All three of them have given me hope and the entire staff and team hope that the guy who ends up winning the job would have to have earned it because the other guys are nipping at his heels.”
And this was the best development Saturday: Martell looked the part of an elite recruit/ballyhooed transfer. Not only did Martell play well Saturday, but as Enos said, “last three to four practices have been his best ones.”
We saw the diverse skill set from Martell on Saturday. Operating more often than not from the shotgun – where he’s most comfortable – he completed 6 of 10 passes for 154 yards and two touchdowns, including an 80-yard scoring play with K.J. Osborn (the ball traveled nearly 20 yards in the air) and a terrific throw to Michael Irvin Jr in the end zone.
He also had several decent scrambles, including one for a first down on 3rd and 1 in the red zone and two others that could have been sacks otherwise. He finished with 29 yards on seven carries.
Jarren Williams and N’Kosi Perry each had no yards rushing on a combined seven carries.
Martell was the third quarterback in the game (Williams was first, Perry second) but Martell’s first possession was an impressive drive that ended in a missed 26-yard field goal by Bubba Baxa and significantly, that drive came against UM’s starting defense.
Martell has gone from being the worst of the quarterbacks the first two weeks of spring to potentially entering pre-season camp side by side with Perry for the starting job. (That’s my opinion, not one expressed by the coaches.)
Perry, statistically, had a third consecutive solid scrimmage with nine completions in 13 attempts for 145 yards and a touchdown on Saturday, though much of his good work came against backups on defense.
Will Mallory was wide open on his 39-yard reception from Perry early in the game and Jeremiah Payton was wide open on his 32-yard catch and run for a touchdown, but credit Perry for putting the ball on the money on both throws.
Perry also made a nifty throw on the run to Marshall Few. And I love how Perry stepped up in the pocket, evading a pass rusher, to make a pinpoint 16 yard throw to Irvin.
Williams’ interception, on a deep ball to K.J. Osborn, could have been thrown better, with Jimmy Murphy coming down with the pick. Williams closed 4 for 6 for 44 yards.
But overall, “I was happy to see all three quarterbacks make plays,” Manny Diaz said. “They go into summer now knowing all three guys can play.”
▪ Perry has responded well to Enos’ demanding style, which has paid dividends with most quarterbacks he’s coached.
Perry needed to grow up - on and off the field – to save his career here, and the early signs are encouraging.
“He’s making big strides,” Mallory said. “He’s had a great spring. He’s matured greatly as a player and as a young man. He’s got a crazy work ethic. He wants to be the leader. It’s a great competition between all of them.”
▪ UM’s offensive line remains something of a concern, but at least the Canes are investing in youth.
On Saturday, with the first team, we saw early enrollee Zion Nelson and largely unproven Kai-Leon Herbert at left and right tackle, respectively, sophomore D.J. Scaife and redshirt freshman Cleveland Reed at guard and Navaughn Donaldson filling in for Corey Gaynor at center.
Nelson has really come on strong, enough so that Scaife was shifted to guard Saturday.
“I got here same day Zion got here,” Enos said. “I said, ‘Who’s that?’ They said, ‘Zion, he’s a freshman.’ I’m like, ‘He’ll probably be good in a few years.’ He has excellent athletic ability, very tough. To be honest with you, the guy has put him in position to be in the first group if he continues to get better and stronger and learn.
“He’s put on a bunch of weight since I’ve got here. I can’t say enough [good things] about him. It’s asking a lot as a freshmen but he’s responded in a very good way.”
Though UM’s defense permitted nine sacks, some were against the backups.
▪ UM appears to be in decent shape at defensive tackle, even after losing Gerald Willis to the NFL.
Miami will have nine scholarship players at the position when July practices begin, with a potential top four of Pat Bethel, Jon Ford (who missed the spring game with a wrist injury), Nesta Silvera and UCLA transfer Chigozie Nnoruka.
Silvera, who came on strong the past two weeks, began the scrimmage by stopping Cam’Ron Harris for a five-yard loss.
“Jade Silvera had a really good spring; good to see him pop up in the backfield,” Diaz said.
Jordan Miller, who arrived at UM as a project last year and redshirted, appears ready to contribute; he had two sacks Saturday.
“First guy that seemed to be in the backfield a lot was Jordan Miller,” defensive coordinator Blake Baker said.
“When you add Chigozie from UCLA and the three freshmen [summer arrivals] who are all physically going to be ready to play, I think we’re in a great spot. Really pleased where we’re at at defensive tackle.”
▪ In part because of D.J. Ivey’s growth, UM believes it’s doesn’t necessarily need to add a veteran cornerback in the transfer market to start opposite Trajan Bandy.
“The last half of spring ball he’s done some really good things,” Baker said of Ivey. “Al Blades had a really good day today, very physical at the point of contact. Right now, we’re happy with what we have.”
And Christian Williams and Te’Cory Couch arrive this summer.
▪ Will Mallory is going to be a big part of this passing game.
With Brevin Jordan out with a knee injury for much of spring, Mallory seized on his opportunity, finishing the spring game with three catches for 63 yards and the touchdown.
Diaz believes he is going to thrive in Enos’ offense, which makes ample use of two tight end sets.
“The thing that stands out are the ways we have to get him the ball in space and let his athleticism really go,” Diaz said. “He has those long strides, he eats up yards, so there are simple ways to get him the ball, and he’s a guy that can run after catch. [And] he’s a big time problem in the red zone.”
▪ Cam’Ron Harris continues to build on a strong close to last season.
Though he was bottled up quickly on a couple of runs, Harris ran hard and generally effectively: 13 times for 72 yards, a 4.4 average. DeeJay Dallas was held to a 3.4 average (13 for 51).
With Lorenzo Lingard and Robert Burns out with injuries, fullback Realus George was the only other scholarship running back who got a carry (for one yard).
Lingard and Burns are expected back this summer from their knee surgeries.
▪ With Nelson, Jeremiah Payton and Jahfari Harvey, UM has three really impressive early arrivals.
Payton had three receptions for 51 yards on Saturday, while Harvey had two sacks.
“Considering he should be going to prom, he’s had an outstanding spring,” Baker said of Harvey. “He’s mature beyond his years.”
▪ Kudos to Patrick Joyner Jr. for making a big impact days after moving back from defensive end to linebacker in recent days.
Joyner, needed back at linebacker after UM lost its top three backups to injuries, had two tackles for loss and was around the ball a lot.
“Joyner was awesome; I couldn’t be more proud of him,” Baker said. “He made some plays in the backfield, especially moving there three days ago. He’s sitting there tapping my shoulder the whole game, [saying] I’m ready to go back in.”
▪ Playing this game in Orlando could pay dividends.
Diaz said he made everything as close to possible to how it will be when UM returns to this stadium to play UF on Aug. 24. They stayed in the same hotel, used the same meeting rooms, etc.
That opener will be a night game, unlike the noon kickoff Saturday, but there’s intrinsic value in UM players being acclimated to this environment before returning when stakes are much higher in four months.
“The whole 36 hours were unbelievable,” Diaz said. “We created everything as similar as possible with what it’s going to be in August. The game and the crowd exceeded my expectations but the last 36 hours has been even better than I wanted it to be.”
Attendance was announced as 9102.
I reported this morning that Mark Richt was joining ACC Network as a commentator. ESPN announced it this afternoon and Richt had this to say about his decision to retire in his first public comments since resigning on Dec. 30.