In case you missed the news yesterday, QB Ryan Williams has a torn ACL that will require surgery. Williams suffered this injury during Friday's scrimmage while scrambling to his right. It is said to be the dreaded "non-contact injury" , and will presumably keep him from playing this season.
Williams' story is well known by now. A record-setting performance for Miramar High School in the State Championship game in 2009 (broke record held previously by Riley Skinner and some guy named Timothy Tebow). High School teammates with current Hurricanes Tracy Howard and Malcolm Lewis. Started 10 games as a true freshman at Memphis in 2010. Transferred to Miami in 2011. Sat out a year. Primary backup to Stephen Morris the last 2 years.
With all of that in the past, and Stephen Morris no longer on the roster, Williams was the clear front-runner to be the starting quarterback for the 2014 season, or, at the very least, the opener against Louisville. Every time Al Golden was asked, he reiterated that fact. Golden had this to say to reporters after a recent practice:
"I think Kevin Olsen is having a good spring, and Gray Crow and Kevin are competing. But Ryan is ahead right now. Kevin is having a good spring, he is. But as I said going in, Ryan is experienced, smart and he's doing a good job with the football right now."
(Quote taken from a blog entry by Susan Miller Degnan of the Miami Herald)
Now, with Williams presumably out of the equation at for 2014, this is where I think we go from here:
1. Kevin Olsen, this is your team
First, this is now Kevin Olsen's job. Little used Gray Crow is the other QB on scholarship at the moment, but he hasn't shown much to inspire hope for the fans. With 1 more week of Spring Practice left, including the Spring Game on April 12th, Olsen will take the snaps that used to go to Williams and (hopefully) begin to create some synergy with the receivers and get more comfortable running the offense.
Now, I know plenty of you are saying "but Brad Kaaya is James Coley's chosen QB of the future, and that future starts now!!!". I hate to burst your bubble, but that's very VERY unlikely. Since Kaaya's school doesn't allow students to graduate early, he won't arrive on campus until June at the earliest. That means he hasn't gotten a full playbook. Hasn't been in meetings. Hasn't been through UTough. Hasn't done....a lot of things. To ask a true freshman, an 18 year old kid, to come in and do all that is needed to win the job in only 7 weeks is a tall task. One that even a player as talented as Kaaya may be unable to complete.
Ditto everything I said about Kaaya for Malik Rosier. All the talent in the world, but doesn't have time needed to learn the offense and make a push for the starting job as a freshman.
2. A young QB's best friend: A solid running game
Second, the running game has now taken on even more importance. And, you can't talk about the running game without mentioning the health of Duke Johnson and, to a lesser extent, Joseph Yearby. Those 2 are the most talented RBs on the team, with Johnson being one of the best in America at that position. Yearby, a HS All-American, is one of the best prospects at his position to come out of the HS ranks in South Florida since, well, Duke himself 3 years ago.
For those who like statistics, the Hurricanes averaged 160.3 rush yards per game. I think shooting for a 25 yard per game increase, up to 185ypg, is a good and fair mark to shoot for.
With Williams, the running game was going to need to be effective to balance the timing-based passing game he was suited for. Without him, the running game will need to be the backbone of the offense while a young starting QB finds his bearings.
3. Receivers gotta make plays every chance they get
Third, the receivers will need to be on their A-game from the first snap of the year. Olsen doesn't have the experience to overcome drops and route errors early on. He'll be trying to keep his head above water, like all first time starters, and his life will be so much better with assistance from the guys to whom he'll be throwing the ball. Luckily for him, Olsen has the ability to throw to guys like Stacy Coley, Clive Walford, Rashawn Scott, Herb Waters, Malcolm Lewis, Standish Dobard, and many others. Throughout the spring, regardless of who has played QB, these players have made play after play after play.
This is especially true of Coley, who is easily the most talented receiver on the team and said to be the hardest worker as well. Mike Tice had the "Randy Ratio", a certain percentage of passes thrown to the #1 receiver on the team he coached, future Hall of Famer Randy Moss, for his QB in Minnesota in the early 2000s. It wouldn't shock me for Olsen to have his own personal "Coley Quotient", or something similar. That's nerd talk for Olsen is going to look for Coley. A lot.
4. Tweak the formula
If you follow the blog's twitter or my personal twitter (that's @TheStateOfTheU or @UnderwoodSports), you have seen me have an ongoing debate with many people about Ryan Williams' arm strength. I'm not going to go on a tangent about that here, but I will use that to say this: Williams does certain things well as a QB, and we've seen those things become frequently featured over the course of Spring Practice.
Namely, short routes, intermediate routes, and crossing/inward breaking routes between the numbers. With his average arm, not the Howitzer-like cannon possessed by our former QB Stephen Morris, these are the routes he was able to throw, and he liked to throw them, as evidenced by his reported "over 70%" completion rate that both Golden and Coley have referenced this Spring.
Now, we have to find those things that Olsen does well, and make them featured concepts in the passing game. Yes, Olsen has a stronger arm, and that may open more deep out routes, deep crossing patterns, and maybe even a increased reliance on Mike Leach's favorite passing play: 4 verticals. These next weeks, both for the end of Spring Practice and during OTAs in the summer, should be spent finding and implementing things that will allow Olsen to perform to his best potential.
5. Don't be predictable
Every offense has it's staples, plays they rely on as the foundation for success. Good offenses, however, are able to mix in other plays that go against tendencies and keep the defense guessing. This is where James Coley will need to earn his paycheck.
If the defense knows what's coming, particularly on passing downs, Olsen may be in a world of trouble. Teams like Virginia Tech and Florida State will delight in bringing pressure and disguising coverages to try and rattle the young signal caller. If the offense can mix in a bit of unpredictability, some screens, reverses, and/or trick plays, they may be able to take the upper hand and give Olsen positive situations where he can be successful.
Now, are there other factors in play here? Of course. There are 2 other phases of the game that we haven't addressed here. But, for my money, these 5 things are going to be the keys for the offense as we move forward to the end of Spring Practice and onwards to the 2014 season.