After another lackluster defensive performance, the Miami Hurricanes have some lingering questions going into bowl season. One thing is not up for debate—the explosiveness and next-level potential of wide receiver Stacy Coley.
The freshman sensation hauled in three receptions for 73 yards and two touchdowns for Miami in a 41-31 win over Pitt. Coley also took an end-around 73 yards for a score in the final minute of the first half, which proved decisive in a game that tightened up down the stretch.
Coley closed the regular season in the opposite manner than it began. In the opener against Florida Atlantic, Coley dropped two would-be touchdown passes in his first-ever collegiate appearance. A week later, the freshman mostly watched from the sidelines as Miami relied on offensive veterans in an upset of No. 12 Florida.
By late September, Coley hauled in his first career touchdown in a rout of Savannah State and began building his case as the Hurricanes' next great pass-catcher.
Coley made his way to Coral Gables by way of Northeast High School in Oakland Park, Fla. The 4-star prospect out of Broward County verbally committed to Florida State, but had a signing-day change of heart, choosing Miami in an emotional press conference last February.
The Seminoles' loss was the Hurricanes' gain.
Coley finished the regular season with 27 receptions for 486 yards and five touchdown, while making his presence felt on special teams, as well. Between kickoffs and punt returns, Coley netted 593 yards with two scores on the year.
Miami appeared loaded at wideout when the season began, but injuries soon took their toll. Rashawn Scott went down in the season opener, missing half the season while deep-threat Phillip Dorsett suffered an MCL tear mid-October at North Carolina. The Hurricanes also lost running back Duke Johnson to a broken ankle at Florida State in early November, putting more pressure on the passing game.
The bevy of setbacks opened the door for Coley to step up and dazzle, which is precisely what the talented freshman did.
Where quarterback Stephen Morris relied on the deep ball the past two seasons, short passes to Coley in open space have proven equally as effective. On the opening drive against Virginia Tech, a bubble screen to Coley in the flat wound up an 81-yard touchdown.
At Pitt, the same play netted an identical result—Morris-to-Coley, follow some key blocks and off to the races, this time for a 34-yard touchdown, giving Miami an early 14-0 lead.
On a day when wide receiver Allen Hurns went over the 1,000-yard mark for Miami, a torch was seemingly passed from senior to freshman.
Hurns finished with a career-high 173 yards on nine receptions, remaining Morris' favorite target due to an ability to always get open and move the chains.
Praised for his work ethic all season, Hurns left Coley a blueprint for merging talent and effort into an unstoppable package.
The Hurricanes and Coley wrapped up the regular season 9-3, bouncing back from a three-game losing streak with two straight victories.
Miami will play in its first postseason game since the 2010 season and still has an outside shot at next week's ACC Championship Game in Charlotte, barring two mild Saturday upsets in the Coastal Division. Regardless, Coley has at least one more shot to compile some highlight-reel footage before 2013 is officially in the books.
A different quarterback will be under center for the Hurricanes next fall, but Miami's offensive future is bright as "The Coley Show" has just begun.
Follow Chris Bello in Twitter @allCanesBlog.