Miami vs. Florida: 5 Best Ways for Stephen Morris to Exploit Gators' Defense
Stephen Morris is the starting quarterback and offensive captain for the 2013 Miami Hurricanes, and he is emerging as a top prospect for the 2014 NFL draft.
But he doesn't have a marquee win in his college career at this point.
That can change, however, on Saturday.
But he must earn every single yard against a terrific Florida Gators defense.
Florida's defensive line, including Dominique Easley and Dante Fowler Jr., constantly pressures and disrupts opposing backfields. The linebackers, headlined by Ronald Powell, usually make every tackle on the second level. And the secondary, though undeniably young, is full of the vaunted SEC speed.
But the unit is not unbeatable—it's simply rather difficult.
Although there are just a handful of ways to take advantage of the Florida defense, Morris has the talent to find these areas and help spring an upset on the 12th-ranked Gators.
Calmly Command the Line of Scrimmage
Though Saturday is an expected sellout, crowd noise will not be a huge factor at Sun Life Stadium because the 'Canes, obviously, are at home.
Florida will show some blitzes or back off of coverages, but either way, Morris must remain level-headed and in control at the line of scrimmage.
The Gators' defensive line, without the help of linebackers, has proven it can pressure the opposing quarterback. 247Sports' Thomas Goldkamp tweeted that Florida's D-line affected Toledo QB Terrance Owens on 24.4 percent of dropbacks with a four-man rush.
Most of Morris' passes will ultimately be five-on-seven, so it is essential he knows what his progression will be while making his pre-snap reads.
If Morris does not allow the emotions of the game to overcome him and calmly does his job, Miami's leader will be prepared for all obstacles the Gators' defense presents.
Capitalize on Play-Action Attempts
Miami running back Duke Johnson is one of the most explosive players in college football, and the Gators' defense will have to try to contain the super sophomore.
And once the 'Canes offensive line opens up a few holes, play action will be a deadly weapon for Miami. Yes, that is assuming Brandon Linder and his cohorts do, in fact, create space for Duke.
With Phillip Dorsett, Herb Waters and Stacy Coley, the Hurricanes have speed to burn at the receiver position. Clive Walford has also shown he can find open spaces in the middle of the field, so Morris can use his weapons accordingly.
Florida's secondary did not allow big plays against Toledo, but the Rockets had a few opportunities that were not converted. Redshirt freshman Marcus Maye, converted corner Cody Riggs and junior Jabari Gorman were each solid overall for the Gators, but the trio is relatively inexperienced at safety, so a breakdown or two can be expected.
And those breakdowns are when the 'Canes must capitalize.
Don't expect an entire day of moonshots down the field, but a couple of big gains would certainly boost Miami's chances at a win.
Remember the Best Pass May Be Thrown Away
Morris typically makes the right decision with the ball, but he occasionally throws the ball just hoping his receiver is on the same page.
For example, against Florida Atlantic, Morris was hurried by Cory Henry, and the senior threw a floating pass off of his back foot right into Andrae Kirk's waiting hands. The Owls took over at Miami's 20-yard line and eventually put three points on the board.
Granted, part of the interception was miscommunication with Phillip Dorsett, but instead of forcing a pass into coverage, throwing the ball at his receivers' feet was a better option.
The Gators will get plenty of pressure on Morris, so it is imperative he remembers an incompletion is not a turnover. If the 'Canes give Florida excellent field position, Jeff Driskel and company will certainly capitalize on the gift.
A pass landing in the first row of Sun Life Stadium is a better alternative than committing a turnover in Miami's territory. And more importantly, the Gators will not have golden scoring opportunities handed to them on a silver platter, either.
Instead of repeatedly testing great coverage and throwing facepalm-worthy interceptions, Morris can prepare for the next snap.
Ultimately, every play is another chance for Morris to keep the 'Canes moving toward the end zone.
Keep Finding His Receivers' Hands
It sounds obvious, and it is, but I think we can all agree it's difficult to catch an uncatchable ball.
Morris dropped some absolute dimes to Coley, Waters and Walford against FAU, but the beautiful pass, unfortunately, was not always followed by a catch.
Though the receivers sometimes have experienced difficulties actually snagging the ball, that's not the focus here. If Morris stays confident in his arm, he will keep connecting with his receivers to move the chains.
Now, trusting his arm and knowing when to throw it away are not mutually exclusive ideas. Morris needs to know when to get rid of the ball, but the 'Canes will not win if he never targets his receivers unless they are wide-the-heck-open.
Morris must keep placing his passes in Miami's hands, and that's all head coach Al Golden can ask of his quarterback.
Take What the Defense Gives Him
If there is one thing Morris absolutely must not allow himself to do, it is to force the issue. Florida's defense—though it may seem this way—cannot cover every 'Cane on every single play.
Five-yard route is open? Take it.
Pocket collapsing? Step up confidently or tuck the ball and go.
Big-play opportunity? Launch it.
Checkdown receivers may end up being Morris' best friends, and he has plenty of talented targets, like Duke Johnson. And if none of the Hurricanes' receivers are open, Morris can always throw it away, but he also has the athleticism to scramble for a few yards, too.
Avoiding unmanageable down-and-distance situations will help Miami advance the ball, and Morris holds the key to that vehicle.
And of course, a few 'Canes have that SEC speed in their arsenal and can be downfield threats.
Morris will face one of the biggest tests of his career—let alone the season—and he has the physical ability, mental prowess and teammates to pull off the upset.
It doesn't need to be fancy; he doesn't need to light up the box score.
The Gators are not unbeatable, and Morris can prove that on Saturday afternoon by leading Miami to victory one snap at a time.