September 08, 2009
Miami 38, Florida State 34. If the burning question coming into the night -- and of Miami's season, generally -- was "How much slack will the 'Canes give Jacory Harris?" the answer was pretty clear: As much as Jacory Harris wants. The new UM offense under coordinator Mark Whipple is Jacory's show, with all that implies.
Based on its debut tonight, what that implies is a roller coaster, albeit one where the thrills of the highs are more than enough to justify the few moments when your heart leaps into the back of your throat. Tonight was bona fide gun-slingin' -- especially when you consider where Miami's offense is coming from after four years of arch conservatism from coordinators Greg Olson and Patrick Nix. Under Nix the last two years, Miami averaged 6.4 yards per pass, a little over 11 yards per completion and just shy of four passes of 15 yards or longer per game. Against FSU, Harris averaged 11.4 yards per pass, over 18 per completion, and had 12 completions of at least 15 yards, all but one to players who should be back in 2010. Fellow sophomore Travis Benjamin accounted for the Nix quota of long balls by himself. It was the 'Canes' best statistical air show since November 2004, and far more necessary to beat Florida State on the road tonight than it was to beat the tar out of hapless Wake Forest then. "Swagger" is a much abused term, especially where it relates to Miami in its long road back to the penthouse, but if "swagger" is the short term for unflappable confidence and big play panache, the young stars in this offense pretty clearly have it by the Escalade full.
Sometimes, that's going to get them in trouble: On the flip side of the shootout, Harris threw two bad interceptions in the second half, one of which -- a 31-yard pick-six by Markus White that put the Seminoles up 31-24 in the fourth quarter -- might have sent any of his predecessors into a shell, or maybe a complete tailspin. Harris' response? A 10-play, 73-yard touchdown drive to tie, and (following an FSU field goal to back in front) a 59-yard touchdown drive to win. Back-to-back touchdown drives have been pretty rare for the 'Canes lately; under those circumstances, on the road, they're unheard of. But Whipple, Harris and his many capable targets obviously aren't operating from that old script.
Their fireworks overshadowed a great coming-out party for Jimbo Fisher and Christian Ponder on the other side; midway through the third quarter, in fact, Fisher and Ponder put together a peach of a touchdown drive that had the UM defense gasping for breath and ideas and put FSU comfortably on top by nine. At that point, it looked like their night, and all the postgame superlatives for Whipple and Harris might justifiably be heading their way instead. If only Jarmon Fortson, who had so many close calls all night, had been able to cradle Ponder's final pass in the end zone, Miami would be 0-1 and staring at an immediate future of Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and Oklahoma. Instead, they're 1-0 and seem willing to pass anybody in their path to the brink.