Miami's Morris poised for breakout year

CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- Over the final four games of 2012, Miami quarterback Stephen Morris was the best quarterback in the ACC nobody was talking about.

He threw for 1,131 yards and 11 touchdowns -- with no interceptions -- against Virginia Tech, Virginia, South Florida and Duke.

“I just think everyone was having fun,” Morris said. “Everything just clicked. The offensive line called out every blitz, protections -- they were all in 110 percent. My receivers were just confident; they had a lot of swag to them. Our running backs – Duke [Johnson] and Mike [James] were making plays. We got Dallas [Crawford] involved through the Wildcat. A lot of things were moving really great for us despite the three losses prior to that.”

Miami finished the season having won three of its last four games, and that offensive momentum has carried over into the offseason. Morris is a quiet, confident leader who has become more vocal in the locker room and in the huddle. He will have nine other returning starters to work with, including every offensive lineman and ACC Rookie of the Year Duke Johnson. Last season, Morris emerged from the shadow of former quarterback Jacory Harris in his first season as the Canes’ full-time starter. This season, he has the potential for a breakout year, thanks to a talented supporting cast and a greater knowledge of the game.

“I just think it’s a complete 180 turn, just seeing how I’ve grown and matured, not only as a football player but as a man,” Morris said. “Football is such a game of life. It teaches you so much. It taught me how to be humble, how to be mature, and calm and poised in situations on and off the field. In terms of football, the Xs and Os, it’s crazy to see how mentally my aspect of the game has completely changed from how I look at it, from how I read defenses, from how I game-plan.”

Morris’ record-setting season last year was overshadowed not only by an ongoing NCAA investigation, but also by the success of Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd, who is already being hyped as a potential Heisman candidate for 2013. Boyd was the ACC’s Player of the Year, and deservedly so, but Morris is talented enough to make a run at that title this fall.

After all, he quietly put himself in good company last year when he set Miami’s single-season record for total offense with 3,415 yards, breaking the previous record set by Bernie Kosar (3,412) in 1984. Morris finished 2012 with a career-best 3,345 passing yards and 21 touchdowns, and he completed 58.2 percent of his passes. His 245 completions were the second-most in UM history, while his 421 attempts set a single-season school record.

At the end of the season, he earned the team’s MVP award for offense. Two seasons of learning from Harris and playing part-time paid off.

“I wasn’t scared my freshman year, but I was nervous,” he said. “Now I’m just out there having fun with my teammates. I know every play inside and out. I know where everyone has to be. I know the defenses, what they’re trying to do to me and what they’re trying to do to our offense. It’s just having a better understanding of the whole entire game of football.”

This fall, odds are the rest of the ACC has a better understanding of just how good Morris can be.