All eyes inside Sun Life Stadium figure to be fixated on 19-year old redshirt freshman quarterback Kevin Olsen Saturday night when the Hurricanes kick off their annual spring fling at 6 p.m.
Thursday, in UM's final practice of the spring, the eyes of former Hurricanes quarterback and 1992 Heisman trophy winner Gino Torretta were on Olsen. Barring a surprise development or injury, Olsen will be the starting quarterback when Miami opens the season Labor Day night at Louisville.
Torretta knows what it's like to be thrown into the fire in college at a young age.
During UM's 1989 national championship season a 19-year old Torretta took over as a starter for Craig Erickson after he broke a knuckle on the index finger of his throwing hand against Michigan State. Torretta stepped in and went 3-1 -- the loss coming at No. 9 Florida State when he threw four interceptions. Erickson, a junior, returned the next week and led UM to the national title.
Those Hurricanes of course had the nation's No. 1 defense, oodles of stars on offense and were able to survive some average numbers Torretta put up as a freshman: 57 percent completion percentage, 1,325 yards, 8 TDs, 8 INTs. In this scenario, Al Golden's Hurricanes have no veteran waiting in the wings if Olsen struggles -- and they probably won't have the nation's No. 1 defense either.
Talented All-American freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya will arrive in mid-May from California. But either way, fifth-year senior Ryan Williams has a long road ahead of him coming back from a torn ACL. After watching Olsen on Thursday does Torretta think he can handle the brunt of the 2014 season if it falls on his shoulders?
"Got no choice," Torretta said. "Some guys respond well to it. Some guys don't. That's the way I look at it. Heck when I got thrown into it I didn't have a choice. I didn't have a chance to think. At least he does. Now he has a little bit of a chance to think and prepare as the starter.
"I think the physical ability is there. The ball velocity is there," Torretta continued. "I just think the rest -- the mental side of it, decision making process, reads, getting on the same page with receivers -- all of that will come with practice and reps.
"Obviously you're glad he's got spring ball and then he's got the fall. But that's the thing every quarterback has to work on. Peyton Manning 10 years into the NFL is a lot better than Peyton Manning as a rookie even though his ability could be a little bit less. Physically, Olsen and Gray [Crow] are there. It's just getting on the same page with receivers and making the right reads, that sort of stuff."
Hardly a ringing endorsement. But then again, how many redshirt freshman not named Jameis Winston or Johnny Manziel make it look easy? Last year only 13 freshman -- redshirt or true -- were among the top 100 passers in the country in terms of quarterback rating. Temple's P.J. Walker (60.8 completion percentage, 2,084 yards, 20 TDs, 8 INTs), Texas Tech's Davis Webb (62.6 comp. pct, 2,718 yards, 20 TDs, 9 INTs), Penn State's Christian Hackenberg (58.9 comp. pct, 2,955 yards, 20 TDs, 10 INTs) and Houston's John O'Korn (58.1 comp. pct, 3,117 yards, 28 TDs, 10 INTs) were tops among them after Winston.
Thursday, Olsen had his up and down moments. He tossed a 45-yard touchdown pass -- with beautiful touch down the sideline to Rashawn Scott. He also got picked off twice and had several passes batted away by defenders.
Even before Williams tore the ACL in his right knee during the team's second scrimmage last week, coach Al Golden said Olsen was getting better this spring. Golden said Olsen's teammates were also gaining more confidence in him. Still, it's clear Olsen has a ways to go -- especially when it comes to making sound decisions and delivering the ball quickly.
"It's hard just watching a practice to [gauge] the mental side of it," Torretta said. "But I think the reads will come. There were some busts defensively I think threw him off a little bit on some of the reads, it looked like. I can't be sure not knowing what plays were called, what the secondary was running. But, it's all about repetition. Quarterbacks get better more with repetition than any other position. And I think that's what it is going to come down to. If it was me, I'd be clamoring for every single rep I could get."
Torretta, who has been around to provide a lot of keen advice to other UM quarterbacks over the years, says he sees some of Kyle Wright's abilities in Olsen. Wright was the No. 1 quarterback in the country coming out of high school and put up decent numbers in his college career: 59.2 completion percentage, 5,835 yards, 38 touchdowns and 31 interceptions during some lean years for UM from 2004 to 2007.
"Kyle had all the ability. Running, ball flight, all that. Olsen does as well," Torretta said. "He moves around the pocket well like him. It's speeding up the decision making process that's the key. Because it's going to get a lot faster on Saturdays than when he's out here."