The Miami Hurricanes held a 31-0 lead going into the final quarter against Florida International on Saturday. Fifteen minutes later, still a convincing 14-point victory was in the books—though the Golden Panthers made things slightly more interesting with a field goal and a pair of touchdowns; the latter on the heels of a recovered onside kick.

Still, the late-game success was solely the result of the Canes taking their collective foot off the gas. Early in the BCS era, margin-of-victory was a valuable commodity. These days, it’s meaningless. What does matter, however—getting back-ups some valuable playing time, while letting starters rest as ACC play kicks off at home this Thursday, followed by a monster rivalry game next weekend.

SCORE LESS IMPORTANT THAN WHAT UM ACCOMPLISHED

Miami still racked up 488 yards on the day, while only surrendering 187—170 through the air, while limiting Florida International to 17 yards on the ground over 24 carries.

Meanwhile, the Canes carved up the Golden Panthers for 248 rushing yards; Travis Homer reasserting himself nicely with 114 yards on 13 carries—including a 35-yard touchdown—while Lorenzo Lingard got his feet re-wet with 10 carries for 50 yards. DeeJay Dallas went seven times for 28 yards, while Cam’Ron Davis carried five times for 24. The Hurricanes’ ground machine chugged along—which was nice to see with the season kicking into a higher gear from this point on.

All that to say, the offensive highlight and biggest talking point of the day came on Miami’s third offensive possession when Richt subbed out starting quarterback Malik Rosier for everyone’s-favorite-back-up, N’Kosi Perry; who was an impressive 17-of-25 for 224 yards, three touchdowns and one bone-headed interception. Perry also rushed nine times for 32 yards.

The swap had nothing to do with Rosier’s output—the senior with a standard fare-type outing early. After a Jeff Thomas return had the Canes starting out at their own 32-yard line, a few Homer runs and reception by Thomas had UM at the FIU 44-yard line. A quick pass to freshman tight end Brevin Jordan came up a yard short of the first down, with Rosier stuffed on 4th-and-1 for a turnover on downs.

Rosier’s next possession stalled with a three-and-out; an incomplete pass to Jordan, followed by back-to-back runs from Dallas that netted six yards. Perry entered at the 7:35 mark, where he stayed until yielding to Cade Weldon early in the fourth quarter—re-entering for the final possession a bit after Weldon fumbled a snap and FIU started making a little bit of noise.

PERRY MAKES MOST OF HIS SIGNIFICANT MINUTES

Lest things get too conspiracy-theory’d out; Richt made the decision to play Perry when he did earlier in the week based on what he’d seen in practice. Whether Rosier did what he did, or pushed the lead to 14-0 on two drives—Perry was getting first quarter playing time this week.

“Here’s exactly what I said to myself: `He’s going to go in third series and we’ll see how it goes,” Richt shared with reporters after the game. “I left it to that. And I thought it was going well enough to keep him in there.”

Regarding Perry’s play overall, Richt didn’t hold back: “He threw some really fine passes. He was on the money a good deal of the day. Most of his decisions were good. He did scramble at times and got us some first downs with his legs. I think he was comfortable. Was he perfect? No. But he did a lot of good things.”

Perry looked good early and did some things with the football that Miami fans haven’t seen over the past decade; stuck relying on game-manager types like Rosier and even his predecessors Brad Kaaya or Stephen Morris. All were serviceable, but none really had that next-level feel—which made sense considering the state of the program during their time at Miami; UM backsliding under poor leadership, or getting killed on the recruiting trail due to a three-year NCAA investigation that ultimately stalled out.

Though he was slow to progress as a clipboard-holding redshirt last season, Perry was the third-ranked, dual-threat quarterback in the 2017 recruiting class—Alabama’s Tua Tagvialoa a top that list, with Texas A&M’s Kellen Mond number two. The last time Miami had a guy with that type of recruiting pedigree; former 5-star, pro-style quarterback Kyle Wright back in 2003—Wright showing up just as the Hurricanes decline began; the highly-touted prospect dealing with four different offensive coordinators during his tenure.

The noticeable difference in talent regarding Perry and Rosier is undeniable; Perry’s velocity and precision both light year’s ahead of the overachieving Rosier—none of which is a shock. Talent hasn’t kept Perry off the field; the mental aspect of his game has. Inability to grasp the playbook, struggling to read defenses—not to mention, an aversion to going to class in spring, which resulted in his suspension for the season-opener against LSU in Dallas.

Richt was never holding Perry back; a lack of maturity was—which was addressed after Monday’s practice, where Perry got his share of first-team reps.

“He’s maturing as a player. He’s doing much better now. Now, I tell you Cade Weldon has done the same thing,” Richt shared with the media on Monday. “Those guys started out a little slow on the maturity-level stuff. It has taken them a little while to understand what it takes to be a guy that deserve to play out there and now they’re both really practicing well and playing well.”

Combine that lack of maturity in his quarterbacks, with a lack of cohesion with Miami’s work-in-progress offensive line—it makes sense why Richt stuck with the guy who went 10-3 last season, ended a seven-game losing streak to Florida State, beat Virginia Tech and Notre Dame in back-to-back primetime games, captured the elusive Coastal Division for the first time in 14 tries and helped the Hurricanes reach the Orange Bowl.

RICHT PROMOTING COMPETITON & FORCED-GROWTH

Furthermore, for all those paying attention—it was painfully obvious Richt wanted to see his back-ups take the job from Rosier as he wasn’t going to hand anything to an underclassman that needs to be molded into a true leader. The position of quarterback at the University of Miami; it’s a tall order—in need of more than a strong high school highlight reel to get the job done. Whoever is under center needs to have some moxie, resolve and a strong will—while leading his offense through words and actions.

All throughout spring ball, the third-year head coach made it clear at every turn the the quarterback position was wide open—and would remain that way into the new season. Richt’s parting shot to the local media when asked about the quarterback situation being open as spring wrapped: “Oh yeah. Until the very bitter end. All season long, too. Every week.”

As fall ball got underway—and with knowledge that Perry would be suspended for the opener in Dallas—Rosier got the nod; the old adage, better the devil you know versus the devil you don’t, perfectly applicable as a new season got underway.

Where that approach took one to the chin; Rosier rolling into that LSU match-up looking like the exact same guy Miami fielded in losses to Clemson and Wisconsin to close out the year. All the talk of any off-season improvement; it certainly wasn’t noticeable in Dallas—though to be fair, the Hurricanes as a whole looked outmatched by the Tigers in the opener. The defense had it’s breakdown moments, giving up a few too many big plays and never once rattling newbie quarterback Joe Burrow.

The notorious Turnover Chain? Stayed in its fancy protective case all night and never made an appearance, either. When the Canes were on last year, the entire team—Rosier included—fed off those 30 regular season forced-turnovers.

Whenever that chain made its way around someone’s next and a sideline celebration ensued, a rejuvenated offense took the field and everyone seemed to play a degree or two better, overall.  Between those losses to Clemson, Wisconsin and LSU—Miami forced one turnover, early-on in the Orange Bowl. Outside of that, the Canes’ defense hung tough, but wasn’t the difference-maker it’d been during that 10-0 start.

ROSIER HIT HIS CEILING; PERRY YET TO SCRATCH HIS

Had Rosier looked somewhat improved against LSU and the Canes knocked off the Tigers, that in itself would’ve quelled the majority of the Perry-related chatter. Instead, the opposite has occurred in regards to a fan base that bought into fool’s gold with the epic start last season, only to come crashing down with a three-game losing streak, where quarterback play was quickly put under the microscope.

Roll the LSU loss up in that and its understandable that patience has worn thin—even if a little bit of that is misguided, regarding a fan base tired of irrelevancy and desperate to be back, entering year three of a rebuild.

Both Rosier and Perry shone in a rout of Savannah State—which was to be expected—but last week’s win in Toledo served as proof that nothing will quiet the anti-Rosier crowd, short of a changing of the guard. Rosier was in command early against the Rockets, finishing 13-of-23 for 205 yards, with two touchdowns and no turnovers—also rushing eight times for 80 yards and three scores.

Despite the impressive performance and road rout of Toledo, not a positive word was uttered about Rosier—as if any tip of the cap or props would somehow derail from the pro-Perry push so many have been making. That said, the frustration is more than understood as Rosier’s overall stats leave much to be desired. Out of 128 players with 200-plus pass attempts since the start of the 2017 season, only 13 have a lower completion-rate than Rosier’s 53.7-percent. No bueno.

Perry looked all the part Saturday afternoon at HardRock; Homer stealing the thunder on No. 5′s first drive, by way of a 35-yard touchdown run. On the next possession, Perry strutted his stuff with a laser to Lawrence Cager for a 26-yard touchdown strike; the quarterback having limited time and a small window in which to get the ball between two linebackers, and with Cager still in front of the safety.

The two hooked up again for a score midway through the third; Perry avoiding the rush, stepping up in the pocket, rolling right, directing Cager and dropping it in his hands in the back of the end zone a step before he was out the back. Perry also showed nice touch on his second touchdown—a floater delivered into Jordan’s outstretched hands as he drove into the end zone with a defender draped on his back.

Alas, nothing is perfect—Perry’s interception on 3rd-and-10 from the UM 35-yard line late in the third with a 31-0 lead; as ugly as the one he threw against Savannah State. Upside; it offers coaches another teachable moment for an underclassman who could’ve gotten a bit big-headed from his performance—but should also serve as a reminder to the critics why Richt has had some reservations in regards to Perry’s ready-ness.

Getting it done against a few pushovers is one thing; but what do those mistakes look like in heated ACC games this season with a divisional title on the line? Imagining Perry on the road this season in Charlottesville, Chestnut Hill, Atlanta or Blacksburg—it still seems a tall order, though that doesn’t mean he’s not ready. Time will tell. For now, the million dollar question for all—what does this Thursday look like at HardRock when conference play gets underway?

“SCRIMMAGES” IN THE REAR-VIEW; CONFERENCE PLAY AHEAD

With no rhyme or reason as to Richt pulling Rosier and simply wanting to get Perry some meaningful reps, what does that mean for North Carolina? The Tar Heels were 0-2 after road losses to Cal and East Carolina before regrouping with a home win against Pittsburgh this past weekend, 38-35. Nathan Elliott was competent under center, going 22-of-31 for 313 yards with two touchdowns and no turnovers, while Antonio Williams rushed for 114 yards and two scores on 16 carries.

Defensively, UNC gave up 402 yards to Pitt—174 through the air and 228 on the ground. With the Heels vulnerable to the run, the Canes could have a field day with Homer, Dallas and Lingard—putting less pressure on the quarterback to shoulder the responsibility of winning the game. North Carolina’s averageness aside, Miami has little margin for error with ACC play if it wants to repeat as Coastal champs for another crack at Clemson.

Despite fans anointing Perry the new starter—again, based on an impressive outing against FIU—Richt hasn’t *officially* announced which direction he plans to go come Thursday. With the short week, Miami coaches were already breaking down North Carolina film soon after Saturday’s contest ended—with four days of practice set, taking the Canes right up to Thursday’s showdown.

First team reps for Perry on Monday lend themselves to the belief that he’ll earn his first start come Thursday—though Richt still seemed to be talking himself through the starting process on Monday morning when rapping with Joe Rose.

“I have a pretty good idea. But I’d prefer to … To be honest with you I’m not 100-percent sure, but I do a lot of things based on what my gut, what my spirit is telling me, and right now I’ve just been scrambling around trying to get this game plan in.”

With 12 quarters of glorified scrimmaging these past three weeks—back-ups seeing significant playing time and coaches rightfully concerned with building up depth—playtime is over for Richt and the Canes. The first third of the season is in the books, with a second-best case scenario; Miami sitting at 3-1 entering conference play.

Toss in the fact North Carolina is still down, Florida State is reeling, Boston College and Virginia Tech were both humbled by lesser competition this past weekend—and the Hokies lost starting quarterback Josh Jackson for the year; the Canes are still in control fo their collective destiny regarding a Coastal Division title repeat.

North Carolina is the next step in a natural progression and season flow—better than FIU, but not Florida State-level (though down, the Seminoles have won six consecutive in South Florida and will bring their best against the Canes). Richt ripped the Band-Aid off and made a definitive Rosier-to-Perry change for all the college football world to see—so now it’s time for that next step forward; Perry getting a shot at st

Seems counterintuitive to go back to what was—especially considering the timing. Richt allowed Perry’s coming-out party a week after Rosier’s best outing dating back to last fall. Why do that now if there wasn’t more in store?

On paper, it’s just a Thursday night showdown between Miami and a mid-level conference foe, but in reality—based on what’s taken place the past two weeks for the Canes—hard not to believe something bigger is brewing.

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