CORAL GABLES, Fla. — Friday night will be about the quarterbacks. The one who’s changed a program, and the one Miami simply hopes has changed into a more reliable version of his former self.
Hurricanes coach Manny Diaz made it official Wednesday, announcing after practice that N’Kosi Perry will be the starter on Friday against visiting Virginia. He’ll oppose Bryce Perkins, whose wizardry at the position has made UVa the favorite in the ACC’s Coastal Division.
Perry, who lost the starting job to Jarren Williams in preseason, came off the bench on Saturday to throw for 422 yards and four touchdowns against Virginia Tech. The Hurricanes rallied from a 28-0 deficit to tie the game before losing 42-35, but Perry’s performance resonated here in South Florida.
“We think N’Kosi gives us a chance to win,” Diaz said. “I think we all saw last Saturday the improvement in his game. We’re excited to get behind him, ride behind him and find a way to beat a very well-coached and tough-minded Virginia football team.”
Williams is dealing with what Diaz termed an “upper extremity” issue, which is assumed to be a sore shoulder. But even a fully healthy Williams might have been in danger of losing playing time after throwing three interceptions in the first quarter against the Hokies.
Diaz stressed that Williams remains “QB1” when healthy. Still, Perry has a shot to make another statement on Friday night following his lively performance against Tech, which demonstrated the improvements that Diaz says he’d already noticed in practice.
“You want to see it confirmed in the game,” Diaz said. “Even with Jarren’s first start, you do. You watch the way they perform out here and you see especially see the improvement.
“I think it’s actually kind of cool that N’Kosi gets to start against Virginia, because that was kind of the game last year where it kind of went backwards on him. To have a chance to come in there and lead our team at home I think is pretty exciting.”
Perry led Miami to a 5-1 start last season as a redshirt freshman, throwing for 11 touchdowns and three interceptions over the first six games. But things fell apart in a 16-13 loss to Virginia in Charlottesville on Oct. 13, when Perry threw two picks and completed only three passes.
Perry downplayed the redemption angle, stressing that the Hurricanes (2-3, 0-2 ACC) simply need to be better regardless of who’s at quarterback.
“The whole team needs a win,” he said. “Losing sucks.”
Getting a win against Virginia is always a challenge these days, thanks largely to the brilliance of Perkins. After joining 2018 Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray as the only other player to throw for at least 2,600 yards and run for at least 900 yards last season, he’s piloted the Cavaliers to a 4-1, 2-0 record and a No. 20 national ranking.
“He’s a magician,” Miami defensive coordinator Blake Baker said. “He is really, really good. He finds his way out of trouble all the time throughout the game. Doesn’t matter first, second, third down, red zone — anytime you’re watching that guy, he finds a way to get himself out of trouble.
“Extremely accurate. Very, very accurate quarterback. He’s what drives that machine. He’s a very, very good quarterback, probably the best quarterback we have faced up to this point all year.”
One might think that the Hurricanes got a jump on preparing for Perkins when the Hokies opted to start dual threat Hendon Hooker at quarterback last weekend. But Diaz highlighted their differences rather than their similarities.
“The Perkins issue is he’s so accurate as a passer and then he’s so hard to sack,” he said. “I know they do get sacked, but he’s still like Houdini back there and then he just goes on the run, so a lot of his yards are really scrambles. They will call some run plays for him, but I think the actual QB run game is probably built more into Virginia Tech’s offense than Virginia’s.”
Either way, the Hurricanes are determined not to have a repeat performance from last weekend. That is, other than Perry, who was rewarded for continuing to work after losing his job in the preseason.
“I’m proud I didn’t quit, but I knew I wasn’t going to quit,” Perry said. “I’m not a quitter. Never been one, and I never will be.”