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CHRIS DUFRESNE / ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL

Miami's young quarterback comes out shooting

Guided by a first-year offensive coordinator fresh from the NFL, sophomore Jacory Harris has led the Hurricanes to big wins over Florida State and Georgia Tech and to a No. 9 ranking.

September 24, 2009|CHRIS DUFRESNE | ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL

Check out the vibe at Miami, an urban "swagger" school with a hip-hop, glam-rock football reputation, celebrities on the sidelines and as many national titles -- five -- as Florida and Florida State combined.

Miami has rocketed from unranked to No. 9 in three weeks, after victories over Florida State and Georgia Tech, led by a young quarterback and first-year offensive coordinator hired straight from the NFL.

Kid and coach have done it by putting a pancake block on conventional wisdom.

While prudence and common sense dictate you bring a young quarterback along slowly by limiting the playbook, and making sure he doesn't lose a game for you, Miami has done the offensive opposite.

Sophomore quarterback Jacory Harris, who started two games last year, is flinging the ball around as if he's Ben Roethlisberger or Donovan McNabb, two NFL pros who were coached by Mark Whipple, Miami's new play caller.

The Harris-Whipple combination, thus far, has been strikingly aggressive and successful.

In Miami's Labor Day opener, a thrilling win over Florida State, Harris completed 21 of 34 passes for 386 yards and two touchdowns, with two interceptions

Whipple called plays that cut deep into the heart of the Seminoles' defense, coached by legendary Mickey Andrews, who had boasted this might be the fastest unit he has ever had in Tallahassee.

Whipple, with Harris as his point guard/quarterback, called 19 passes on first down. Harris connected on receptions of 40, 40, 31, 27, 20, 18 and 24 yards, with Miami averaging 18.4 yards a completion.

Whatever happened to rolling your kid quarterback out, cutting off half the field, and padding his stats with button-hook passes?

Harris only turned 19 in May.

Thursday, against Georgia Tech, Harris completed 20 of 25 passes for 270 yards and three touchdowns. In that win, 12 of Harris' 25 attempts were on first down.

"You know what he's done?" Miami Coach Randy Shannon said rhetorically when asked about Harris on Wednesday. "He's learning. If a guy's not learning what you need to get done and you don't feel confident, then you've got to pull back. But if a guy is picking things up and executing, you have to keep going and building his confidence and going along with the offense."

Shannon credits Whipple for not holding Harris or the offense back.

"Coach Whipple has done an awesome job with Jacory Harris, learning what to do with the football," Shannon said.

Whipple, a former head coach at I-AA Massachusetts, came to Miami from the Philadelphia Eagles. He was Roethlisberger's coach in Pittsburgh when the Steelers won the Super Bowl after the 2005 season.

If Miami can get to 4-0 after the starting gantlet of Florida State, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and Oklahoma, the Hurricanes are likely to be in the top five on Oct. 4 and in prime position to make a run to their sixth national title.

Harris and the Hurricanes face a stiff test this weekend against Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va.

Hokies Coach Frank Beamer is mounting his defense.

"I think they run a very efficient offense," Beamer said of Miami. "When that quarterback is confident like he is, I don't blame them; I'd be throwing on first down too."

It was a victory in Blacksburg in 2001 that clinched for Miami a spot in the first Bowl Championship Series title game played at the Rose Bowl.

It was a curious sight that day, officials from Pasadena handing out roses in the farmlands of rural Virginia. Miami went on to rout Nebraska to win its fifth title.

The BCS title returns to the Rose Bowl this year.

And Miami, this week, returns to Blacksburg.

Blitz package

* Bye and bye: Oklahoma redshirt freshman quarterback Landry Jones has been sensational in two starts since replacing the injured Sam Bradford, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner. Jones has thrown for 622 yards and nine touchdowns in victories against Idaho State and Tulsa by a total of 109-0. However, Sooners Coach Bob Stoops refuses to say whether Bradford's sprained throwing shoulder will be healed in time for him to play at Miami on Oct. 3. Until Bradford is ready to play, Stoops said, "I'm not going to deal with it."

* Great, but where else would they go? Nebraska's home game against Louisiana Lafayette will mark the school's 300th straight sellout at Memorial Stadium.

* Ready, set, vote: The first Harris Interactive poll will be released Sunday after weekend games. This is Harris' fifth year as part of the three-pronged BCS standings formula after replacing the Associated Press. The first BCS standings will be released Oct. 18.

* Did you know: The first No. 1 team in the history of the BCS standings, in October 1998, was . . . UCLA.

* Is this the year? California tailback Jahvid Best moved up to No. 2 behind Tim Tebow in the HeismanPundit.com poll, a weekly survey of 13 Heisman Trophy voters. Cal has never had a player win the award. Chuck Muncie in 1975 finished second behind Ohio State's Archie Griffin.

* With Brigham Young and Utah losing last weekend, Houston has a chance to enhance its BCS credentials Saturday with a home win against Texas Tech. No team from Conference USA has ever earned a BCS bowl spot. Here's how it works, though: Only the highest ranked "non-automatic qualifier" in the BCS top 12 receives a major bowl bid. Two other "non AQ" teams, Boise State and Texas Christian, are ranked ahead of No. 17 Houston in this week's AP poll.

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chris.dufresne@latimes.com

twitter.com/DufresneLATimes

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