CORAL GABLES, Fla. — Miami quarterback Stephen Morris doesn’t know much right now.
He doesn’t know what will happen to Jacory Harris, his competition for the starting job. He doesn’t know when rulings will be made about the eligibility of other teammates who are implicated in an extra-benefits scandal. He doesn’t even know if new coach Al Golden is leaning one way or another when it comes to deciding who will play.
Here’s what Morris does know: He’s beaten Maryland once. And when the Hurricanes open their season at College Park on Sept. 5, he wants a chance to do so again.
“I go out there every day and I think about it,” Morris said. “It’s just an unbelievable feeling to be in this position right now, to even have the opportunity to start for the University of Miami.”
The Week 1 mystery will be cleared up this week. Golden expects to unveil a depth chart Tuesday, and by then, it seems possible the NCAA will have announced reinstatement decisions on players declared ineligible by the university last week over dealings with convicted Ponzi scheme architect Nevin Shapiro.
“I know the decision was supposed to be made a couple weeks ago,” Morris said. “But I haven’t heard anything and I’m not worrying about anything.”
Harris insists he’s not worried, either.
“I’m not frustrated at all,” Harris said. “It’s like this: We’re competing and we’re having fun with it.”
Having Maryland as the first opponent this season brings back no shortage of pleasant memories for Morris.
He made his first collegiate start against the Terrapins last Nov. 6, throwing for 286 yards while Harris was sitting out with a concussion. With Miami down 20-18 with 3 minutes remaining, Morris put together an 82-yard game-winning drive, capped by a perfectly thrown 35-yard touchdown pass to Leonard Hankerson with 37 seconds on the clock.
The first player to congratulate Morris once he reached the sideline? Harris.
“We’re each other’s biggest fans,” Harris said. “We always want the best for one another.”
Ken Dorsey was the last Miami quarterback to lead the team to a national championship, and since he graduated, quarterback quandaries have become a rite of fall in Coral Gables. Brock Berlin or Derrick Crudup? Kyle Wright or Kirby Freeman? Harris or Robert Marve? All three of those proved more divisive than anything else, and Morris and Harris have tried to avoid falling into the same traps.
Given what’s swirling around a program rocked by Shapiro’s claims and an NCAA investigation, a quarterback mess could make things even worse. So Harris and Morris both say it’s imperative that they remain close, even while they try to beat each other out for the job.
“When it’s time to make that decision, and coach Golden makes that decision, it’s based on everything we’ve done,” offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch said. “And it’s a full assessment of everything that’s gone on and everything we’ve done in training camp, spring practices and then of course everything that’s gone on in terms of their work ethic all summer long.”
Morris appeared in six games last season, completing 82 of 153 passes for 1,240 yards, seven touchdowns and nine interceptions.
Cleaning up the turnover issue, something that has also dogged Harris throughout his career, has been an emphasis for the quarterbacks during camp. Apparently, the message is getting through: According to the school, Harris and Morris combined to throw for 547 yards, with six touchdowns and no turnovers in the team’s last scrimmage.
“To throw the ball the way we’ve been throwing it and not worry about anything else, it’s a great feeling,” Morris said.
If Harris is not eligible to play in Week 1, Morris knows that he will be the unquestioned leader of the offense. Miami is still waiting to hear if transfer Ryan Williams’ hardship waiver, which would allow him to play right away and not sit out the customary season after an athlete changes schools, is approved by the NCAA, a process completely unrelated to the investigation into extra benefits.
Morris said if his name is called, no matter the situation, he’ll be ready. And he acknowledges the competition with Harris has helped immeasurably.
“Every throw that we had counted, everything that we did mattered and every decision that we made was magnified,” Morris said. “It helped us take our game to another level. Both of us are so much better in terms of confidence level, in terms of understanding the complete offense and making sure we run every rep to the maximum ability.”
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