The pressure is on Miami's QB -- just how he likes it

Coach Mark Richt has engineered quite a turnaround at Miami with QB Malik Rosier and the Hurricanes. Mark Dolejs/USA TODAY Sports

CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- Teammates and coaches will tell you Malik Rosier performs best when the pressure is on.

He won the quarterback competition last fall when he absolutely had to.

He won the Florida State game when he absolutely had to, helping Miami to 10 consecutive victories to start the 2017 season.

This spring, he held off freshman competitors coming for the starting job because he absolutely had to. Coach Mark Richt sums it up perfectly when he says Rosier simply does not get flustered.

But there is plenty more to say. In the next breath, Richt talks about Rosier being streaky, unable to make consistent throws or enough plays with the deep ball. He will talk about that being the biggest reason Miami lost to Pitt on the final weekend of the regular season. He will talk about the way Rosier has not done a good enough job taking opportunities when they open up during games.

"I just want him to be more consistent, and we'll have less drama and I'll probably age better," Richt says.

Therein lies the challenge for Richt and the Hurricanes' offensive staff this offseason. Despite his flaws, Rosier is the quarterback the coaches trust the most. But how much do they trust him? Though his experience and knowledge heading into his senior season give him an edge over N'Kosi Perry, Cade Weldon and Jarren Williams, that's an edge Rosier can't rest on, either.

How Rosier got to this place is fascinating in itself. Rosier played football and baseball when he got to Miami, before deciding to focus only on football two years ago. When last spring ended, Evan Shirreffs appeared to have an edge in the quarterback competition -- enough that the coaching staff believed he'd eventually win the job in the fall.

But during two scrimmages last August, Rosier outplayed everyone and impressed the staff enough to become the starter. Then Miami began winning, and Rosier showed the maddening inconsistencies his coaches saw during practice. That's probably best illustrated in the Florida State game: Miami had 57 total yards of offense in the first half. Rosier started 4-of-16 for 34 yards.

In the fourth quarter, the pressure turned on and Rosier played perhaps his best quarter of the season. He threw two touchdown passes in the final 5 minutes, 9 seconds, including the game winner to Darrell Langham with 6 seconds remaining.

After opening 10-0, Miami had its sights set on an undefeated regular season. But Rosier had his worst game against Pitt and eventually got benched. The Hurricanes ended 2017 with three straight losses, and offensive breakdowns hurt across the board. Rosier had his three worst statistical performances, leading many to wonder whether he would be able to hang on to the starting job with an open competition in the spring.

Even with Rosier leading the competition, Richt spoke candidly about what he wanted to see his offense do better, and it mirrored the issues that plagued Miami last season.

"We've got to make plays when they present themselves throwing and catching," he said. "We don't do that well enough."

Why not?

"We're not doing a good enough job on a consistent basis putting the ball in play, especially on the deep balls on the outside-lane go balls," Richt said. "If you don't have some great players on the edge and quarterbacks that can get the ball to them, it's going to be a long day. We've had a few of those and we've just got to be able to put the ball in play, and the guys have to make the play when it gets there."

Do a few of those refer to the final three games last season?

"It was in the Pitt game," Richt said. "In the Pitt game, we couldn't hit our target. That was the deal. Other than that, it was a joint effort. That one game, though, we had protection, we had guys open and we couldn't put it on the money that day. That's what that day was. But the next two games it was the normal little bit of linemen, little bit of running backs, little bit of tight end, little bit of receiver. It wasn't like some monumental implosion of the quarterback position. That day, though, at Pitt, we couldn't hit open receivers."

Miami definitely tried to get the deep ball in play last season. The Hurricanes attempted 76 passes that went 20 or more yards down the field. Of those, 45 were long go routes down the left or right side. Miami completed 31 percent of those passes, but that percentage dipped in the latter stages of the season.

Rosier completed only 54.8 percent of his total passes, a number that should be at least 60 percent. Rosier acknowledged this spring that his accuracy rate "needs to go up" and spent some time back home in Mobile, Alabama, working with quarterbacks coach David Morris to get better there.

But he also felt he had improved in his communication with teammates and understanding how to check to better plays.

"There's times ... he sees the blitz, and he goes to his check. He throws a beautiful strike for a first down in a highly contested drill," Richt said. "That's why he's the guy. He knows what to do by far better than the other guys. He gets us in the right things, he gives us a chance for, instead of a good play, a great play, or getting out of a bad play into a great play."

It's in making those great plays that Rosier needs to be more consistent, and that's a question the staff has to answer.

"You try to be consistent in what you tell him on how you want the ball placed versus different looks," Richt said. "The thing about a go ball -- you have to throw it a certain way. If he's a super-fast guy, you might throw it a certain way. If they're side by side and the guy's not super fast, you might throw it a different way. The guy might be totally cut off and you might throw the ball a different way, or if he slips inside, you might throw it another way, so what helps is a nice wide pocket to really see and determine what type of ball I need to throw. If the pocket squeezes in your face, it's not easy."

That was another issue for Miami this spring: The Hurricanes had problems across the offensive line, and that made it more difficult to judge the quarterbacks.

With Rosier, though, Miami has an experienced player who knows how to win. But there is no question he has to play better for the Hurricanes to get better. The pressure is on -- but maybe that is exactly what Rosier wants.