MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — The first trip to the end zone of the Miami spring game Saturday was orchestrated by a pair of freshmen. N’Kosi Perry, a rising redshirt freshman, led the second-team offense throughout most of the day at Hard Rock Stadium and in the first quarter he pushed the Hurricanes right up to the goal line. From 8 yards away, Perry took a quick drop and flung the ball to the back right corner of the end zone. Brian Hightower, an early enrollee wide receiver, leapt and pulled in the first touchdown of the day.
It was Perry at his best. He made plays with his legs and with his cannon arm — the two attributes that helped make him a 4-star dual-threat quarterback coming out of Vanguard High School in Ocala, Fla. — but this was the sort of tight-window throw that separates his potential from consistent results.
Go up and get it, 7️⃣!
First points are on the board thanks to a nice snag from Brian Hightower. pic.twitter.com/Gk7VfL9ny7
— Canes Football (@CanesFootball) April 14, 2018
He also went only 11-for-26 passing.
“I like how the younger guys are competing and they’re making some plays,” coach Mark Richt said in a postgame press conference. “I think all of them, given the right amount of time in the pocket and open receivers, can do pretty good.”
All eyes were on the quarterback battle at Miami Gardens this weekend. Malik Rosier, last season’s starting quarterback, rightfully earned criticism for his inability to elevate the Hurricanes offense. Perry, coming off a redshirt season, proved tantalizing because of sheer athleticism. Even Jarren Williams, an early enrollee, factored into the competition because of the raw passing ability that made him a 4-star pro-style quarterback in the 247Sports composite rankings for the Class of 2018.
With one week left in the spring workouts, the competition is just about right where it began. Rosier took nearly all the first-team reps during the scrimmage Saturday and didn’t once suit up with any of the reserves. Perry made some flashy plays both with his arm and legs, but also threw an interception and posted a completion percentage worse than all but one single-game mark by Rosier in 2017. Williams threw a touchdown, too, but looked very much like a player who just arrived in Coral Gables, Fla., in January.
Are you kidding, me?!?!
Have a day, Mr. Hightower. pic.twitter.com/jCae8LUDrB
— Canes Football (@CanesFootball) April 14, 2018
Even if the gap has closed since the start of spring practice, it hasn’t closed enough to make this a 1A vs. 1B situation. Rosier is still ahead, with Perry and Williams trying to chase him down from behind.
“Malik really didn’t get much of a shot to stand back there and size some things up,” Richt said. “I can’t think of many balls that were thrown up for grabs.”
It wasn’t exactly because Rosier was perfect, either. The rising senior proved once again he’s the quarterback Miami expects him to be — nothing more, nothing less. The signal caller connected on 9 of 14 passes for 105 yards. He didn’t a throw a touchdown, but he didn’t throw an interception, either. Rosier can be steady enough to let the Hurricanes rushing attack and defense win games for them.
Rosier did his work behind a shaky offensive line, too. Richt has been candid about the offensive line play all spring. Miami’s original mix of players wasn’t working, so the Hurricanes moved offensive lineman Navaughn Donaldson from right guard to right tackle earlier this week.
Team Soffer, which consisted of first-team defense and second-team offense, pulled out a 17-0 win against Team Carol in front of a crowd of 15,875, and Richt attributed the win mostly to shaky line play from the starters. Miami’s first-team defense steamrolled the offensive line, and in a scrimmage setting, Richt wanted to play straight up instead of leaving extra blockers to help Rosier and Co.
It made for an unimpressive showing by the Hurricanes’ presumed starter. Still, it wasn’t shaky enough for Richt to say the race has tightened significantly. Miami will actually still have three more practices to evaluate — spring practice ends Saturday — and all signs point to Rosier maintaining a significant lead heading into the summer. When fall camp arrives, the chase will resume.
“I was standing back there,” Richt said. “Whoever the No. 1 quarterback was out there [Saturday night] was going to have a hard time, so I can’t sit there and downgrade Malik for a lot of the things that happened because there wasn’t an opportunity a lot of time to show what he can do.”
Miami spring game stats
Offense full stats
Passing: Malik Rosier 9-14-0, 105; N’Kosi Perry 11-26-1, 166 (1 TD); Jarren Williams 9-14-0, 107 (1 TD), Augie DiBiase 1-2-0, 2.
Rushing: N’Kosi Perry 8-45, Travis Homer 7-29, Robert Burns 5-14, Lorenzo Lingard 6-12, Jarren Williams 3-11, DeeJay Dallas 4-2, Malik Rosier 6-(-24)
Receiving: Lawrence Cager 2-48, Brian Polendey 2-40, Lorenzo Lingard 1-6, Dayall Harris 4-27, Jeff Thomas 3-29, Brian Hightower 4-100 (2 TDs), Mike Harley 4-23, Travis Homer 3-10, Darrell Langham 3-66, Daquris Wiggins 2-20, Michael Irvin Jr. 2-11.
Defense top performers
Gregory Rousseau: 5.5 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 3 sacks
Gilbert Frierson: 2 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 1 sack, 1 interception
Scott Patchan: 2 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 1 sack
Michael Jackson: 2.5 tackles, 1 forced fumble
Michael Pinckney: 2 tackles, 0.5 tackle for loss