Thu Jan 27 05:12pm EST
This time last year, there seemed to be no denying Jacory Harris' potential at Miami. The home-grown quarterback wasn't the highest-rated player of the 'Canes hyped recruiting class of 2008, but his ascension to the starting job at the end of his true freshman year and sizzling start as a sophomore quickly made him the face of an ascendent outfit under coach Randy Shannon. In 2009, that was a good thing: Harris was firmly entrenched as an up-and-coming leader of a top-20 team with the chance to take the offense to another level as an upperclassman.
By the end of 2010, being the face of the Shannon regime didn't carry so much cache. Miami was blown out of its biggest games against Ohio State and Florida State, Harris was knocked out of the lineup for almost a month in a sobering loss at Virginia, attendance dwindled, the turnover margin soared and Shannon was fired immediately following a season-ending flop with Harris back in the saddle against South Florida. With three interceptions in 13 snaps in the 'Canes' Sun Bowl embarrassment against Notre Dame, Harris was pulled for the new up-and-comer, true freshman Stephen Morris, and it seemed as likely as not that Harris would spend his senior season on the bench, a brooding symbol of blown potential.
Which, frankly, may still be the case come September. But if it is, it won't be because of any preconceived notions of Harris as damaged goods, according to incoming offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch, who told a local radio station Tuesday that Harris and Morris will both get a fair shake to win the starting job:
"What he needs to know is this: I have all of the confidence in the world in him, as I do Stephen [Morris]," Fisch told Joe Rose in an interview on WQAM-560 Wednesday morning, “Because I don’t know any better right now. I’m not going to stare at a piece of paper and see what his statistics told me or what a report told me about a guy. I want to see it in person.
"And what he needs to understand, what they both do, is we're going to try to coach swagger, confidence, intelligence, knowledge of the game and passion. We're going to evaluate them on all of it."
For Harris' sake, let's hope the "swagger" and "confidence" sections of the test count more than the statistics – pound for pound, Harris is the swaggeringest quarterback in the history of The U. On paper, not so much: As a sophomore, Harris was picked off 17 times, all but one other quarterback nationally, and served up another 15 interceptions last year despite sitting out three full games with a concussion in November. His 15.8 pass efficiency rating in the bowl game was about as low as it gets by any standard.
Not that Morris set the world on fire – he threw nine picks himself in just five appearances and barely completed half of his passes. That's slightly more forgivable, though, in an 18-year-old who didn't expect to see the field at all as a true freshman until just before halftime of the seventh game. Morris took his first step toward winning over the fans there with a pair of touchdown passes and a touchdown run in a failed fourth-quarter rally at Virginia, and took the offense on a game-winning touchdown march to beat Maryland in his first start. After an initial pick off the bench that helped seal the 'Canes' fate in the bowl game, he delivered a relatively rousing second half.
Faint praise, maybe, but Morris was the only remotely positive aspect of that debacle, and in the spirit of progress, he seems like the obvious favorite entering the competition. On the other hand, the new administration may give Harris the fresh start he needs to fulfill his promise. And if it comes down to swagger, well, no one in this generation of 'Canes is going to beat him out on that front.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.