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Why picking a QB is Coach Diaz’s first true test as head coach

There are plenty of on-field and off-field implications for the most anticipated position battle ahead of the 2019 season

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NCAA Football: Miami Spring Game Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Manny Diaz and the Miami coaching staff have been hard at work since December on the recruiting trail, bringing in transfers, and implementing a new offense to better utilize their skill position players. The early returns have been promising, and have given weight to CMD’s new mantra of “The New Miami.” One question that still has yet to be answered, is who will lead the offense on August 24th when the Canes take the field at Camping World Stadium in Orlando against the Florida Gators. It has been on the mind of Canes fans everywhere, as it well should be, because much of the program’s success depends on it.

State of the U has had plenty of commentary and analysis on the subject:

Spring Football Position Preview: Quarterback

Does height matter at the quarterback position?

Should Tate Martell be Miami’s Taysom Hill?

Miami Is Completely Revamped at the Quarterback Position

The race between redshirt sophomore N’Kosi Perry, redshirt freshman Jarren Williams, and transfer redshirt sophomore Tate Martell has featured up-and-downs for each candidate throughout the spring, leaving us with little clarity of who has the upper hand. Not only is the decision a difficult one for the coaching staff, but it carries much more weight this year than in others. Here’s why:

Manny Diaz needs to get off to a great start

NCAA Football: Miami Spring Game
Manny Diaz has shown that he can get elite production out of the defense, can he raise the play of the offense this season?
Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

The first year for a new coaching staff is crucial in setting the tone and ensuring the coach’s tenure will last more than a season or two. Coach Diaz is stepping into a locker room that is expected to win now because of the level of talent already on the roster, as opposed to a team coming off of a 10-loss season. He doesn’t have the luxury of stripping the house down to the studs and waiting for “his guys” to come in.

Also, with a strong week 0 matchup against a SEC defense coming up, the Canes will need solid QB play from the start. As we saw last year against LSU at Jerry World, things can get ugly quick if the QB can’t take care of the football or generate offense. The Miami fan base expects their team to win big games because of the program’s storied history, and opening the new coaching regime with a loss against an in-state rival will not sit well with the Canes faithful.

The eyes of the nation are on this QB race

NCAA Football: Florida State at Miami
Despite leading a huge comeback over the Noles last season, N’Kosi Perry still finds himself in a 3-way QB battle
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The Canes already have to contend with the “is Miami back?” storyline every season, which puts additional pressure on the program. This may feel like a superficial issue, but media coverage can affect recruiting, ticket sales, etc. QB position battles are a normal point of interest during the offseason across the nation, but Miami added a double-edged sword when they secured the transfer of former 5-star recruit and Ohio State QB Tate Martell. Martell brings a name recognition with him that neither Jarren Williams or N’Kosi Perry possess, complicating the decision-making process. If the coaching staff goes with Jarren or N’Kosi, they’ll know that the “Put in Tate” chants will be on the tip of the tongues of fans and the media at the first sign of trouble. The current national coverage of the race pretty much assumes Tate will be the pick, and the college football community has been waiting to see the Las Vegas-native get an opportunity to start after sitting behind other talented QBs the last two seasons at Ohio State.

Here are some national commentaries:

Quarterback Battles Still Up in the Air Following Spring Practices - Bleacher Report

“This is probably the most wide-open competition of the bunch. Throughout the spring, beat writers changed their opinion on the projected pecking order on a practice-by-practice basis. And the spring game did little to provide clarity. Martell had the most impressive day and did so primarily against the first-team defense, but he was the third quarterback to see action, if that matters in the least.

As far as a guess goes, Martell wins the job, Perry is the primary backup and Williams leaves. Not one of the six possible one-two-three permutations would be much of a surprise, though.”

Miami, Auburn and Central Florida top college football’s best spring quarterback battles - USA TODAY

“That Martell was granted immediate eligibility in his transfer from Ohio State drastically alters the makeup of Miami’s competition. Before, the focus centered on Williams, a talented if unproven redshirt freshman, and Perry, who has the physical ability to shine but failed to impress in his time as the starter. Now Martell takes center stage under new offensive coordinator Dan Enos, formerly of Alabama, and the expectation is that his athleticism will eventually separate him from the pack.”

We all have a very recent cautionary tale for mismanaging a QB room

NCAA Football: Miami Spring Game
Canes fans have been calling for Jarren Williams to get a legitimate opportunity since his arrival on campus last summer.
Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

The 2018 Canes were plagued by poor QB play on the field, as well as divisive forces off the field as a result of how Mark Richt and his staff handled the position. The fans were calling for N’Kosi Perry early and often due to Malik Rosier’s struggles, resulting in a midseason change that initially yielded positive results (2nd straight win over FSU!). However, at the first moment of weakness for the young QB, Coach Richt switched back to Rosier because of his experience. Deejay Dallas and other players had to address the team’s support of their QB to the media, and multiple reports of dissension were coming from the locker room. The poor QB play also nullified one of Miami’s greatest strengths, which was their wealth of talent at receiver, running back and tight end. This couldn’t have been an enjoyable way to spend a season, not to mention falling short of expectations following their 10-3 campaign in 2017.

NCAA Football: Florida State at Miami
Elite offensive playmakers like Jeff Thomas need a consistent QB to get them the ball this season
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Throughout the spring, N’Kosi Perry, Jarren Williams, and Tate Martell have all shown flashes of quality necessary to lead this program going forward, and if any of them have a great season, Miami will be in a much better place than they were at the end of 2018. Now the coaching must do everything in their power to get it right.