TALLAHASSEE -- Playing in big games and events can make some of the greatest athletes in sports physically uncomfortable. Nerves can make them feel sick, drive them to point the of total ineptitude. Jacory Harris wasn't born with that trait in his DNA.
As the quarterback and leader of UM's offense, he led Miami back from a 23-14 deficit, a 31-24 deficit and a 34-31 deficit in the second half. In the huddle he was J Cool. On the field, he was a 6-4, 190-pound quarterback who could only use three fingers on his throwing hand to throw the football. Three fingers? That's all Harris said he could feel after he took a shot from FSU freshman cornerback Greg Reid early in the fourth quarter.
As Miami waited through two kickoffs to get the ball back after Markus White returned an interception 31 yards for a touchdown to give FSU a 31-24, Harris worked on the sideline to regain feeling in his shoulder, arm, pinkie and ring finger as true freshman AJ Highsmith warmed up. Harris took his first snap and fumbled it. The feeling never really returned. But whatever he did on the sideline convinced Randy Shannon to keep him in the game.
And, somehow, Harris mustered the strength to lead UM on back-to-back scoring drives. Harris didn't just toss the pigskin and let his receivers do all the work. He sparkled, completing seven of his final nine pass attempts for 122 yards and a touchdown.
On third and 15 from the UM 22, FSU sent the house, Harris stepped up in the pocket and found Leonard Hankerson crossing over the middle for 16 yards. On third and 6 from the UM 42, he had an FSU defensive end ready to take him to the turf. He fought him off, kept his poise and found Travis Benjamin opened downfield for 20 yards. Harris converted another third down conversion and then saved his best pass for last, squeezing the ball between Travis Benjamin, the sideline and two defenders 40 yards down field. A play later, Graig Cooper put UM ahead 38-34.
"It was a great throw," Benjamin said. "He put it outside, where only I could catch it and I made the catch."
Harris finished with 386 yards passing (the most by a UM quarterback against FSU), 21 of 34 with two interceptions, two touchdowns and a one-yard plunge into the end zone. It wasn't even close to his best performance. But it was arguably the best game by a Canes quarterback since Ken Dorsey was here. It was gutsy, inspirational and just his third start in a Hurricanes uniform.
Left tackle Jason Fox is amazed at just how cool Harris can be when the pressure is on. Even he was a little nervous when the game was on the line. Harris, however, was the same as he was in the final 12 minutes as he was for the other 48.
"If you get rattled in that situation, your offense will be able to tell, they can see in your eyes that you're scared," said Harris, now 32-1 as a starting quarterback in his football career. "I believe the only thing to be scared about is death. So, why go out there and be scared and nervous?"
Harris admitted afterward this was probably the toughest game he'd play in since he led Miami Northwestern to a come-from-behind win over Deerfield Beach when he was a senior in the state semifinals in 2007.
His teammates, however, couldn't tell. "He was never nervous, no yelling, always calm, working on the next play," Benjamin said. "If the quarterback is calm, there’s no sense to be nervous. Because he's the captain of the offense."
Yes, the type of captain and leader Miami has been longing under center since No. 11 left.
BUZZ KILL: I don't want to be Buzz Killington, but... how upset would you be about this team if Christian Ponder's final pass isn't dropped by Jarmon Fortson in the end zone? My point is Miami's defense still gave up 404 yards, 34 points and FSU was 6 of 15 on third down. As Randy Phillips said after the game, "You’ll never see this Miami defense play that bad again." You better hope so.
GAME BALLS: Obviously, Jacory Harris earns the ball on offense. Defensively, I'm going with Brandon Harris. Despite being whistled for pass interference late in the game, he had nine tackles to lead UM and one huge pass breakup in the end zone in the waning moments. He also stayed stride for stride with an FSU receiver and batted another pass away in the second half. Good game for Harris, who was clowned against FSU last year. Graig Cooper only ran for 31 yards on seven carries and had a nice touchdown grab on Miami's next to last possession. But where he really impressed me was on kickoff returns. He had five returns for 177 yards including a long of 63. He gave Miami field position at its own 34, 46, 25, 32 and the FSU 29 yard line. He was very, very important in this win.
HELMET STICKERS: Got to hand one to receiver Leonard Hankerson, who started the night with a Hankerson special (drop), but rebounded with four catches for 72 yards including a long of 40. Here's a number that should grab you. Hankerson caught all of 11 passes last year. So, he's on pace to destroy his career bests. Randy Phillips should pick one up to for recording UM's first interception of the year and fifth since the 2008 season began. That's three picks now for the Canes secondary in the last two years of the Wesley McGriff era. Matt Bosher had a few kickoffs that weren't impressive and a few squibs that nearly blew up in UM's face. But he still did a great job on punts. He pinned FSU inside of its 10 yard line twice.
THE BIG UGLIES REPORT: Game 1 for new starters Harland Gunn and Matt Pipho were surprisingly good. Jacory took a few licks and was sacked by Dekoda Watson, but all in all plenty of time to throw. "“We didn’t want anybody to touch him,” Fox said. “He got hit some, but he was able to be successful tonight and that was our main goal.”
WORRY ABOUT: As good as Harris was Monday night, Miami fans ought to be concerned about his throwing arm. At the Emerald Bowl he suffered similar numbness after taking a big lick. He stayed in Monday's game because of adrenaline. But it will be real interesting to see how he wakes up on Tuesday morning and if the numbness is still there.
INJURY WATCH: On the injury front, the players to follow this week are sophomore receivers Aldarius Johnson (who looked like he tore a muscle as he was writhing in pain on the turf) and LaRon Byrd, who didn't return after landing on his back hard after trying to haul in pass in the first quarter. All of the other players who went out Monday -- defensive end Olivier Vernon, defensive tackle Marcus Forston, linebackers Colin McCarthy and Sean Spence -- returned after cramping up.
AMBER ALERT: If anybody spots Miami's pass rush please call John Lovett immediately. Outside of Allen Bailey's sack and Marcus Robinson's key sack and strip, Miami failed to put much pressure on Christian Ponder at all.