As schools’ academic years are virtually wrapped up, last season’s juniors are now this season’s seniors, and with that comes extra responsibility and expectations. In the ACC, while there were plenty of players selected in the NFL Draft, the conference still returns a strong group of seniors — many of whom are set to make a strong impact in their final seasons of eligibility.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll be going team-by-team in the ACC to identify the “standout senior” that’s key to his respective squad, and why he’s so important. Think we should’ve featured another player, though? Feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments.
Stephen Morris showed some real glimmers of brilliance in 2012, and a lot of that led to ‘Canes victories. Unfortunately though, he just couldn’t deliver on that potential with consistency (not entirely his fault, of course). In games in which Morris threw for over 300 yards, Miami was 4-0. But in contests where he failed to reach that mark (and actually failed to pass for more than 223 yards in any of them), they were just 3-5. So while we did mention the failures weren’t entirely his fault, it’s kind of tough to sidestep the fact that his team’s success was largely tied to his. Even with star running back Duke Johnson returning for what may end up being a Heisman-worthy campaign, Miami will still largely rely on Morris’s arm most of all.
Morris’s 2012 season was largely deemed a success because he delivered on expectations in a way his predecessor, Jacory Harris, just never showed any ability to. And to a point, this makes sense. In his first season as a full-time starter, Morris managed a three-to-one TD:INT ratio, completed 58 percent of his passes and threw for nearly 3,400 yards. But as we brought up earlier, some games were better than others. In the four games (all wins) in which he threw for over 300 yards, his stat line read: 93-of-158 (58.9 percent) for 1,784 yards, 13 touchdowns and two interceptions. So for the other eight, he’s only got 1,600 yards, eight TDs and five picks on 57.8 percent passing. While the latter three figures there provide some cause for alarm, I think it’s worth taking a good look at the accuracy figure, though. Despite a decidedly less productive eight games, his accuracy barely fell at all. If he’s improving upon that accuracy this offseason, that production drop-off becomes a lot less steep when it’s simply dipping from 63-percent completions to 62.
So despite all the lofty accolades that will be pushed Johnson’s way, it really is Morris that keeps this motor running for the ‘Canes on offense. The question for 2013 now, is whether he can deliver more games like last year’s against NC State, when he threw for an ACC-record 566 yards. While that ceiling may be a tough one to meet with any frequency, it’s an effort like that which should motivate Morris toward a breakout senior season. He’s obviously got the skillset to be one of the conference’s best passers. Now he just needs to find a way to harness that over a full season. As more and more observers start believing in the ‘Canes heading into the fall, I’m tempted to buy in as well.