University of Miami head football coach Mark Richt has been playing a frustrating game of musical chairs with his quarterbacks the past handful of weeks.
Apparently, the music has stopped.
The quarterback sitting in the chair now is redshirt freshman N’Kosi Perry.
On his appearance on the ACC’s weekly teleconference, Richt announced Thursday that Perry would be the Hurricanes’ starting quarterback Saturday when UM (5-4, 2-3 ACC) travels to Atlanta, Georgia to take on Georgia Tech (5-4, 3-3) at Bobby Dodd Stadium at 7 p.m. (ESPN 2).
Richt’s decision to go to Perry should be seen as more of a move to kickstart his offense – given that it has put a paltry 39 points over the past three games – opposed to the veteran coach and University of Miami alumnus succumbing to outside pressure to swap Perry for the far-less-popular Malik Rosier.
Fans have made it abundantly clear that they’re ready to stop seeing Rosier throw passes for Canes – loudly booing the redshirt senior whenever he ran out onto the field and turning up the volume on those boos whenever he threw an incomplete pass.
It only frustrated fans more when Richt would swap Rosier for Perry during games, only to pull Perry and go back to Rosier – which disrupts the rhythm of each quarterback and the offense as a whole.
Following Miami’s first home loss to Duke in 42 years, Richt was peppered with questions about his handling of the quarterback situation, including a reporter throwing out the old football adage that says “if you have two quarterbacks, you don’t have any.”
“Maybe so. Obviously, you’d love to have one quarterback who is playing his tail off and there’s no question who the guy is,” Richt said this past Saturday.
“I can sit here and try to say who it’s going to be, but sometimes you say something now you may not want to say [until] after all the film is viewed and that kind of thing. I think it would be in our best interest if one guy steps up and balls out, plays great ball. We’re still trying to find that answer right now.”
Sticking With One
While tabbing Perry as the starter for this week’s game will make a lot of folks happy, the question remains: will Richt stick with Perry no matter what happens throughout the game or will he rotate the quarterbacks again.
With Thursday’s announcement, it is the second time that Richt has made Perry the team’s starting quarterback.
After inserting the Ocala, Florida native into the lineup during the third offensive series against Florida International University, Richt eventually named Perry the starter for the following game against North Carolina.
Perry ended up starting three games – the 47-10 win against the Tar Heels, the 28-27 comeback victory over Florida State the following week, and he started UM’s game against Virginia. The game against the Cavaliers was Perry’s first road-game start and he threw two early interceptions as the Canes fell into a 10-point hole.
That was the start of Richt’s musical chairs act with the quarterbacks. He pulled Perry in favor of Rosier during the Virginia game, saying that Rosier was more mature and that older quarterback would give the team the best chance to win.
Rosier regained the starting spot the following week against Boston College and started this past Saturday against Duke, but his maturity wasn’t worth any wins.
Sticking with what he’s said all season – that the player that he and the coaching staff feels gives the team the best chance to win will ultimately play – Richt explained his decision to go back to starting Perry.
“I think both Malik [Rosier] and N’Kosi [Perry] practice well,” Richt said. “I thought they both competed well and we’re just making a decision based on what we think gives us the best shot.”
For all that Rosier accomplished this past season, it’s been clear that he is not the answer to the Hurricanes this year. He has not been an effective quarterback in 2018 – being 77-of-144 (53.5%) for 1,007 yards with six touchdowns and five interceptions – and continues to be hampered by accuracy issues.
Aside from the season-opening loss against LSU, when Miami looked outclassed as a whole, the Hurricanes’ offense has severely sputtered in their losses.
While Richt’s play-calling has been – justifiably – called into question during this three-game skid and considering the absence of a handful of offensive playmakers (receiver Ahmmon Richards, running back Lorenzo Lingard and tight end Will Mallory) the bigger issue remained Rosier’s inability operate within the offense and make accurate throws downfield.
Unfortunately, with all of those factors considered, there’s still the question whether Perry, as the starter, will be given the opportunity to play through Saturday without the threat of being pulled if he has a poor half, quarter, or series.
“That, I can’t just sit there and say for sure,” Richt answered when asked about if he also plans to play Rosier against the Yellow Jackets.
“We’ll start out with N’Kosi and see how it goes.”
Georgia Tech Problem
It would be largely beneficial to the Hurricanes offense if Richt settled the quarterback situation, especially given the challenges that teams face when going up against Georgia Tech’s triple-option offense.
Offensive possessions are typically at a premium because of the Yellow Jackets run-heavy scheme that can bleed the clock, which may have gone into Richt’s decision to go to the more physically dynamic Perry first.
“I was watching one game – the Clemson game…I was watching Clemson’s offense vs. Georgia Tech’s defense, and the first time they saw the ball it was 7:13 left in the first quarter and it was still 0-0,” Richt said after practice this week. “[Georgia Tech] ate up seven minutes and 30 seconds, 40 seconds, whatever it was on the first drive of the game [before] Clemson finally got the ball. I didn’t count the total possessions, but at that rate, it’s going to be four or five per half.”
Miami has beaten Georgia Tech in the last two meetings with the current coaching staff. UM used two defensive touchdowns to top the Yellow Jackets 35-21 in 2016 and needed a late fourth-down catch by Darrell Langham and a 24-yard Michael Badgley field goal in the final seconds to come away with a 25-24 home win over Georgia Tech this past season.
In each of those games, the Hurricanes lost the time of possession battle – including nearly being doubled up by the Yellow Jackets in 2016.
Canes offensive coordinator/running backs coach Thomas Brown said the UM offense has to control the pace of the game.
“Normally every play matters but definitely against these guys. You have limited possessions. Against their offense and what they can do, you can probably get the ball two, three, four less drives a game,” Brown said. “Every drive matters, we have got to get points every drive. And do a good job of sustaining drives and not just trying to live off of big plays.”
Holding On To The Ball
Holding on to the ball was also a focus for sophomore running back DeeJay Dallas this week.
Dallas had a pair of uncharacteristic and costly fumbles in the second half of the game against Duke. Multiple players spoke – either right after the game or throughout this week’s practices – of support of Dallas, trying to uplift him.
Brown said Wednesday that he’s not worried about Dallas having any negative carry over.
“DeeJay is a dog. So he recovers well,” Brown said. “He is a competitive dude. He is one of our leaders, for us, and he just goes to work.”
“It was very uncharacteristic of DeeJay, because he has never fumbled – ever. Even in practice I can’t remember him fumbling. So, for him to have one fumble, let alone two fumbles is something that we got to get fixed, and he will get fixed. He is a very competitive dude and one of our better players. I have faith in him, I have a lot of trust in him a lot.”