Canes QB Morris continuing to prove himself
Stephen Morris did legendary stuff last week at Georgia Tech. The University of Miami’s junior quarterback rallied his team from a 17-point deficit, leading the Hurricanes on second-half scoring drives of 74, 82, 88 and 91 yards to tie the game, and eventually snatch a rousing, 42-36 overtime victory.
But don’t get too excited. Morris hasn’t done anything yet. We don’t know if he’s a good quarterback. He has to prove himself again Saturday when the Hurricanes (3-1, 2-0) host North Carolina State (3-1, 0-0) in a pivotal Atlantic Coast Conference game. And he has to keep proving himself if Miami is going to have a special season.
“I hate to go backwards,” Hurricanes coach Al Golden said. “We’ve got to forward now.”
Golden was talking about his youthful team as a whole, but he could have been talking about Morris, in particular.
Morris passed for a career-best 436 yards against Georgia Tech, the fifth-best total in the history of a program once dubbed “Quarterback U,” to lead an incredible and improbable comeback for the ages.
On the 91-yard drive that forced overtime, Morris was poised and composed, going 6 for 8 passing to erase the sour taste of Georgia Tech scoring 36 unanswered points. The comeback, and its significance, amazed everyone.
“My whole body was numb,” said Morris, who, along with a few other teammates catapulted himself into stands after the win, where he was embraced by Miami fans.
“I was so excited, and so happy for the program. Everything we’ve been going through for the past couple years . . . and to have a big win like that was huge.”
Anybody who saw that game probably believes the strong-armed Morris (6-foot-2, 214 pounds) is on his way. That could be true. It could also be a mirage, a tease, a lucky day.
Morris, such as quarterback Jacory Harris before him, is a likeable kid. He’s polite, well-mannered, and carries himself as a winner. But he hasn’t really won. That’s the true measure of a quarterback at The U.
That’s not to say Morris (31 for 52 passing with two touchdowns and one interception against Georgia Tech) has to single-handedly lead the Hurricanes to victory against, say, fourth-ranked Florida State next month. That’d be unfair. Florida State is far superior to Miami at almost every position, including quarterback.
Morris, however, is tasked with leading the Baby ’Canes, a team rife with freshmen and sophomores, to victory in every other ACC game on their schedule.
Let’s face it, a large part of Miami’s season, as well as its comeback from two years of scandal — by now we’re all familiar with allegations of ex-booster Nevin Shapiro wining and dining Hurricanes players in violation of NCAA rules — has to do with how well Morris plays. He has to fight hard to lead Miami.
That’s nothing new, though. It always has been a fight for Morris at Miami. For two years he had to sit behind Harris, a highly touted prospect from the legendary Miami Northwestern High School program.
When Morris finally became the favorite for the starting job, he missed spring practice while recovering from back surgery. He was transformed into a player/coach of sorts as he watched transfer quarterback Ryan Williams run the show. And Williams, a former starter at Memphis, did a good job.
All of a sudden there was a quarterback competition, just as there was in 2011 when Harris was practically gifted the job in the fall. But this year was different. Morris won the starting job in the fall, fair and square. He hasn’t stopped working hard since.
Morris doesn’t have eye-popping stats; that’s never been his thing. This season, he’s 98 for 158 (62 percent) passing for 1,069 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions.
Last season, he was 26 for 37 (70.3 percent) for 283 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions. As a freshman he was 82 for 153 (53.6 percent) for 1,240 yards, seven touchdowns and nine interceptions.
Morris’ thing is being a leader, and he leads by example. On Sunday morning, hours after the team flew back home from Atlanta, Morris was back in the film room, breaking down his performance.
This week Morris faces NC State junior cornerback David Amerson, an All-American who had an ACC-record 13 interceptions last year and is rated as one of the nation’s top defensive backs.
Morris’ leadership, more than his stats, will go a long way toward determining whether Miami wins on Saturday. And it will go a long way toward determining whether he’s good, or whether he was just lucky.