In the third quarter of Miami's come-from-behind overtime win at Georgia Tech on Sept. 22, Miami coach Al Golden said he saw something click in quarterback Stephen Morris.
“He just started throwing and not thinking as much, just trusting his technique and his footwork and his arm,” Golden said. “He just started throwing. Really if you look at the last 20 minutes of that game, it wasn’t like he got hot, he just started relaxing and hitting his receivers and trusting his reads and he’s carried it over into this game. I’m excited. I think he would tell you that if he could go back, he could go back and say the turning point was maybe Kansas State because he was trying to do too much as we got down and got behind. Now he’s just trusting the execution of the play to lead him to success.”
And the rest of the offense is following.
When Miami travels to Soldier Field in Chicago on Saturday, where it will face No. 9-ranked Notre Dame and the nation’s No. 3 scoring defense, it will bring an offense that has racked up more than 400 total yards in each of the past three games. In his first season as the full-time starter, Morris is coming off an ACC-record setting performance of 566 passing yards in a win over NC State, but the Canes have yet to face a defense with a front seven as aggressive as the Irish's. If the young Canes are going to pull off another stunner, Morris will need another poised performance in the passing game to exploit an inexperienced Notre Dame secondary.
“Everyone on this offense is just clicking right now, and I think we’re moving great, and coach [Jedd] Fisch is doing a great job of calling a great game every single game,” Morris said. “We’re not worried about anything else. We’re not worried about who our opponent is or anything like that. We’re just trying to play our best game every game. The first couple of games we were just getting a good feel for each other, getting a good feel for this offense. I think this offense can be very explosive. We have great coaches. I’m very confident in all my receivers, my offensive line, my tight ends and my running backs. I’m confident that they’re going to make the play for me.”
The feeling should be mutual.
Morris enters Saturday’s game ranked first among ACC quarterbacks in passing yards per game (327.0) and in total offense (333.2). In the past two games, he has totaled 1,002 passing yards (436 at Georgia Tech; 566 vs. NC State). His 287 passing yards in the first half against NC State were more than his total in three of the first four games this season. With the defense struggling, the offensive success has been a major factor in the Canes’ 3-0 start to league play.
“Stephen’s development has been an incredible component in terms of our success,” Golden said. “So far, especially in the ACC, he’s grown up a lot. He’s throwing the ball more effectively right now and he’s hitting his vertical shots better than he was earlier in the year. He’s a leader. He’s creating with his feet now and keeping his eyes down the field, which is great because he’s making plays down the field.
“I just think the last two weeks he's done a good job,” Golden said. “We saw glimpses of it the previous three weeks, but we didn't see the consistency. After a couple errant throws in the first quarter of Georgia Tech, he settled in, started to relax, doing a great job throwing, not aiming right now. I think obviously the receivers have stepped up. There's some trust there. We're protecting him well. I think he's making good decisions with the football. Obviously from an athletic standpoint, he can create. He's fast. He's got good vision down the field. He's got a big-league arm.”
He’s also got a big-league defense coming after him on Saturday. Notre Dame has already forced 13 turnovers through four games this year after forcing 14 all of last season. No school in the FBS has allowed fewer touchdowns this season than Notre Dame (three). Notre Dame ranks third in the FBS in scoring defense in 2012 -- allowing just 9.00 points per game. The Irish defense has not allowed a touchdown over their last eight quarters.
Morris said he expects the Irish to make plays -- but he said the Canes will too.
“It’s taught me that we’re a very explosive team, that we have the opportunity to score,” Morris said of the past two weeks. “But at the same time, there’s a lot of things to clean up. We can’t be complacent with whatever the score may be. We saw that in Georgia Tech and we saw that against NC State as well. We’ve got to continue to put points on the board, continue to have our foot on the pedal, and keep going.”
Only time will tell how far Morris and this offense can take them.