CORAL GABLES -- Two days after being renamed UM's starting quarterback by coach Al Golden, senior Jacory Harris apologized to Hurricanes fans and UM President Donna Shalala on Friday for breaking rules as a freshman that cost him a one-game NCAA-mandated suspension.
Harris said he felt literally sick and had an anxiety attack watching the Canes lose at Maryland Monday night despite a gutsy effort from sophomore Stephen Morris. Harris described how anxious he was to get back to school the following morning at 7 a.m. to break down film before Golden and assistants even walked through the doors to get to work themselves. But mostly, Harris said, he's just happy knowing he's been given another shot to lead the Canes.
"It's always a great thing to have the starting job, but you just have to go out there and do something with it," Harris said. "That's what I've been doing, concentrating on the things we have at hand with Ohio State, leading the team by example and doing the small things: executing, small things like operations, making sure we get in and out of the huddle, just having fun."
The last image Canes fans have of Harris is of a quarterback whose career was close to flat-lining. You remember: Sun Bowl, Notre Dame, Dec. 31, El Paso, Texas. Harris was 4 of 7 for 37 yards and three interceptions against Notre Dame. With 11:13 to go in the first half, he was benched and replaced by Morris.
But Golden insists Harris is a different quarterback now, a far less turnover-prone passer in Jedd Fisch's safer offense. Harris says he is too.
"People only remember the last time you were on the field. That's fair," Harris said. "But going through the spring, summer and camp with this new offensive coordinator has helped me out, made me smarter, made me able to be a better quarterback. I feel better going into this situation, going into Ohio State. I just believe if I execute the right way, make sure my playmakers get the ball and not make a lot of plays by myself, everything should fall into place."
Harris said despite the suspension and despite his struggles in the past he has more confidence than he's ever had in his career. "A lot of it is due to the system and a lot of it has to do with changing my mindset, recognizing this is my last year, this is all I got left and I can't let my teammates down anymore," Harris said.
"I can't do the things I've done in the past and I have to find ways to get better. That's pretty much been my mindset."
"I wasn't disappointed," Morris said of not getting the chance to compete for the starting job this week as Golden had originally said he would. "I thought whatever Coach Golden and Coach Fisch decided I just moved on from there. There's nothing more to say about that."
But there's also little doubt in Morris' mind, he played well Monday at Maryland. Some have argued maybe well enough to keep the starting job.
"I thought I did good. Coach Fisch told me I was 15 for 18 before the last two minute drives. Having that completion ratio is pretty good," said Morris, who finished 19 of 28 for 195 yards, two interceptions and a first half fumble. "Last couple drives we just needed to execute a lot better. Other than that, from an operational standpoint, getting personnel in and making sure we have the right personnel and groupings, we needed to be better.
"I take that on me. That's mostly my responsibility to make sure we have people in the right group, substituting correctly. I take that as a quarterback."
When asked if he thought rallying UM to a victory Monday night might have won him the starting job, Morris said: "Not at all... I don't think about it like that."
Maybe that's true. Maybe everybody knew Harris was going to be named the starter this week anyway. Golden made it pretty clear Thursday Harris won the job in camp -- even though for weeks he'd been saying it was "neck-and-neck" and battle.
Either way, Morris isn't to blame for Monday's loss. In fact, it seems like it was his teammates who let him down.
The back-to-back delay of game penalties? "Noise issues," Morris said. "The o-line really couldn't hear me. The receivers couldn't really hear me and they were literally right next to me. It was loud. Just making sure everybody is in the right spot at the right time, we really didn't have that. A couple times we had the wrong personnel in. We should have just ran with the plan instead of just doing other stuff we tried to do."
The game-sealing interception return for a touchdown by Cameron Chism late in the fourth quarter? That's a play Morris said the team "reps a lot of times." Tommy Streeter, his intended receiver, could have fought for the ball a little harder.
"It's one of our money plays that we like to play a lot," Morris said describing Chism's Pick-6. "It was man-on-man, Cover 1, mostly just man across the board. Trips was to my left side and they were all covered up. It was just one on one with Streeter on my back side and I forgot the DB. It was a good matchup. I like the matchup, better than my three receiver side. I took my drop and threw the ball there and [Chism] made a good play on it.
"If I had to do it over again I would have done the same exact thing. I would have wanted my receiver to be more physical. That route is a very physical route. I'm not asking much from him other than understanding that he needs to come down with the ball especially in a crucial situation like that. But at the same time I'd take the same play. I have all the faith in Streeter. As soon as the play was over I said 'Bro, forget about it. We got to move on and try to score.' But I have all the faith in him. We work on it everyday in practice. I know he'll be fine."
For now, Morris will go back to being Harris backup. And Hurricanes fans will cross their fingers and hope Golden made the right choice.