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Miami QB Stephen Morris flashes in upset over Florida

By Rob Rang | The Sports Xchange/CBSSports.com

Stephen Morris has the speed to roll out, but his right arm is what scouts like. (USATSI)
Stephen Morris has the speed to roll out, but his right arm is what scouts like. (USATSI)

The Miami Hurricanes' best player may be sophomore running back Duke Johnson, but senior Stephen Morris could prove the bigger story for NFL scouts this season.

The rocket-armed passer is the most gifted quarterback from The U since Vinny Testaverde was selected No. 1 overall 26 years ago. Questionable decision-making, however, makes Morris a potentially boom or bust pick.

Morris' stat line was far from eye-popping, but by completing 12 of 25 passes for 163 yards and two touchdowns, Morris guided Miami to the victory over the favored Gators, who entered the contest ranked No. 12 by the Associated Press. For as impressive as he was in staking the Canes to an early lead, Morris almost undid his strong start with a terribly overthrown pass in the fourth quarter that was intercepted and threatened to derail the upset.

The 6-foot-2, 215-pound Morris entered Saturday's regional showdown against Florida as NFLDraftScout.com's No. 39-rated prospect for the 2014 draft and the third quarterback behind Clemson senior Tajh Boyd and Louisville junior Teddy Bridgewater.

Unlike the spread attacks that contribute to Boyd and Bridgewater's more impressive statistics, Morris' success comes via a traditional pro style offense, taking most snaps from under center and often being asked to make challenging downfield throws. He is a classic drop-back passer with enough athleticism for the roll out -- but his best attribute is a powerful right arm.

Morris gave Miami the early lead with a perfectly thrown corner route to wideout Herb Waters on the first drive. Morris lofted the ball with excellent trajectory and accuracy, leading Waters away from three-year Florida starting cornerback Cody Riggs but also providing his receiver with enough space to get not one, but both feet in bounds.

He was criticized by former quarterback and ESPN color commentator Brian Griese for a third-down pass that fell incomplete on Miami's next drive, but a second look seemed to show that Morris made the correct read, throwing a back-shoulder fade against tight man coverage. His receiver, junior Phillip Dorsett, however, ran a vertical and therefore the pass bounced out of bounds, at least 5 yards behind his intended target.

Morris and Dorsett certainly were on the same page on the next drive, connecting on a 52-yard touchdown to extend Miami's lead. Taking the snap from under center, Morris faked a handoff to Johnson, dropped back and lofted a beautiful pass to Dorsett, who caught safety Marcus Maye flat-footed with a well-run post route.

Any NFL team considering Morris in the 2014 draft will review this game because Florida has as much defensive talent as any unit the 'Canes will face. The Gators' defense dictated Miami's play-calling much of the game, especially in a slug-fest of a second half. Morris was only sacked twice but he was hurried on virtually every throw, frequently absorbing solid shots from defensive tackle Dominique Easley, linebacker Ronald Powell and others as he released the ball. He was asked to complete passes against arguably the toughest secondary in college football where cornerbacks Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson are potential early-round prospects, themselves.

While Morris helped his cause in Saturday's win, there are concerns. Like the Chicago Bears' Jay Cutler, Morris is quite confident in his arm and will attempt to squeeze passes through closing windows. The Gators were mostly unable to capitalize on most of Morris' questionable decisions, dropping a few potential interceptions before true freshman cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III snared one in the fourth quarter.

Morris' target (Dorsett) was open for a potential first down on the third and 25 but Morris simply overthrew him, putting too much loft on the ball as he stepped up to avoid the rush. Morris and his teammates were bailed out by an interception of Florida's Jeff Driskell, the Gators' fifth turnover.

 
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