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Film Review: Cam Ward’s 2023 season

Miami’s new QB played the Miami coach’s old team in 2023. Ward threw one touchdown pass in the Cougars 24-38 loss to the Ducks.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 25 Washington State at Washington Photo by Jesse Beals/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Miami Hurricanes have found their man at the quarterback position, and it’s Washington State transfer Cam Ward. Ward is now on to his third school in college football, having played at Incarnate Word (FCS) prior to WSU.

In 2023, Ward guided the Cougars to an SP+ 39th best offensive rating. In 2023, Ward threw for 3,735 yards with 25 touchdowns with seven interceptions. Ward’s numbers were good for 7.7 yards per pass attempt and connecting on 66.6% of his throws.

In 2022, Ward threw for 3,231 yards on 6.5 ypa. Ward tossed 23 TD’s to nine INT’s and completed 66.4% of his passes. Athletic but not a true ‘running QB,’ Ward scored 13 times on the ground over the past two seasons while being sacked 84 times.

2023 Season

In ‘23, the Cougs played three top-17 defenses per the SP+ in: Oregon (16th), Wisconsin (7th), and UCLA (17th).

Against Wisconsin, the Cougs pulled out a 31-22 win with Ward throwing two TD’s without an INT, on 6.6 yards per attempt. Ward also rushed for 43 yards on 17 carries, and four sacks allowed.

Against UCLA, the Cougs lost 17-25. Ward threw one TD, two INT’s, and averaged only 5.05 yards per attempt. Ward also completed only 48.7% of his passes, and had negative rushing yardage (three sacks).

Against Washington (50th in SP+ defense), Ward threw three TD’s, two INT’s, and completed 66.7% of his passes. Ward averaged 6.6 yards per pass attempt and rushed for negative yardage on five sacks and 11 carries.

In a 24-38 loss to the Oregon Ducks, Ward completed 70.8% of his passes with a touchdown on 9.1 yards per attempt. He was sacked six times, but managed 30 yards on 11 carries. Ward didn’t throw an interception vs. Oregon.

15 Plays: Good, Bad and Ugly

I have pulled 15 plays from Ward’s three highest ranked SP+ defenses Ward faced, and from the Apple Cup. Eight good, three bad, four ugly.

The Good

Above- As soon as the safety bites to help over the middle a post is open. Ward throws it in front of his receiver where the cornerback has no chance to make a play. You want to shoot high to the back of the end zone.

Above- Ward drops a dime in there over the shoulder to his WR. It’s a simple vert-sail concept where the inside WR runs the sail and the outside WR runs a fade.

Above- Ward looks the one-high safety to the right before coming back to the 1-on-1 fade to the left. That shoulder turn forces the safety to work right, and keeps him away from helping the CB on the fade.

Above- Something that really hurt Miami with Tyler Van Dyke at QB was his inability to scramble for a 1st down. Ward isn’t a plus ball carrier per se, but he can step up and run when given plenty of grass. 1st and goal vs. forcing a throw, taking a sack, or tossing it out of bounds.

Above- This is a switch concept out of a bunch set. Ward throws it where he should, outside shoulder, I’m not sure why the WR looked inside first. High and away from the CB is the right placement.

Above- Ward can evade a sack, get his eyes downfield, and throw a strike to his WR in stride. Later this type of play haunts him against UCLA.

Above- All you hear about guys like Patrick Mahomes is extending plays (previous GIF) and arm slot (current GIF). Ward drops down and throws over to the slide route off play-action. This is a batted ball for 9-of-10 QB’s.

Above- Switch routes are an Air Raid staple and I hope OC Shannon Dawson doesn’t remove them in this alleged quest for “pro style” football.

The Bad

Above- Ward hits his rhythm drop, hitches up twice (reads) and doesn’t think to take off running. He holds the ball for almost four seconds before being sacked.

Above- Ward here holds the ball for almost four seconds again. Hits his rhythm drop and both read hitches before being sacked.

Above- Again his timing is off internally. This worked in the clip vs. another team and fails here. Sometimes as a QB you have to live to fight another day. Down one point, 1st down, plenty of time- just throw it away. This will absolutely infuriate Cristobal.

The Ugly

Above- I’m not sure if he expects his WR to break out or if the throw is just off. Either way it’s thrown directly to the Washington DB.

Above- This throw is behind his WR and forces him to have to pivot in mid-air. Another Washington INT down seven in a big moment for the Apple Cup.

Above- This time Ward just throws into double coverage not seeing the LB underneath. Reminds me of Van Dyke there on that throw.

Above- I hate the play call. Bunched up with a shotgun QB, play-action roll so he loses 12 the field. Then it’s just a slide-corner concept or scramble. But Ward has to know taking a sack just sin’t an option on 4th and 1.

The Wrap

This is an interesting choice for Mario Cristobal. Cam Ward has been an Air Raid quarterback. Ward says he came back to play college football because he wants to raise his draft stock from “Day 2” to “Day 1.”

Rumors are abound that Cristobal, Shannon, and Ward have agreed that Ward needs more time under center, and in a ‘pro style’ offense. My worry is that Cristobal is about to take a Randal Cunningham and Jon Gruden him.

I really hope this works out as Miami’s schedule is extremely favorable to get into the ACC Championship Game and 12-team playoff, but it’s quite the risk on both sides to try to adapt this late in your career. Here’s to throwing a meaningful 4th and 1 ball to Cam McCormick in the fall!