Big edge to Miami's Harris if he keeps job

August, 18, 2011
8/18/11
12:01
PM ET

Steve Mitchell/US Presswire
Jacory Harris has attempted more passes than any other QB currently in the ACC.

New Miami (FL) Hurricanes football coach Al Golden’s first major decision will be naming his starting quarterback. The competition between senior Jacory Harris, the incumbent starter, and sophomore Stephen Morris has been the biggest on-the-field news in Coral Gables this month. If the choice turns out to be Harris, Golden will be putting his offense in the hands of a quarterback who has thrown 39 interceptions in his 36 games at Miami. But Harris has experience, and that could be invaluable in a young and winnable ACC.

The Florida State Seminoles and Virginia Tech Hokies were voted ACC preseason favorites, but both teams need to replace quality starting QBs. At FSU, EJ Manual takes over for Christian Ponder (a first-round draft pick). At Virginia Tech, Logan Thomas has to fill the shoes of Tyrod Taylor (now with the Baltimore Ravens).

Similar quarterback issues exist across the ACC as Russell Wilson (NC State), T.J. Yates (North Carolina), Marc Verica (Virginia), Kyle Parker (Clemson) and Josh Nesbitt (Georgia Tech) either graduated or left school.

Ten of the 12 ACC teams will start a different quarterback from their first game last season. In fact, only the Boston College Eagles, Duke Blue Devils, Maryland Terrapins, Wake Forest Demon Deacons and Miami have quarterbacks returning who threw at least 100 passes last season. In comparison, 11 of 12 teams in the Pac-12 return a quarterback who threw at least 100 passes in 2010.

With a lack of experience conference-wide at QB, Miami has a chance to capitalize on the experience of Harris, who has attempted 354 more passes than any other quarterback currently in the ACC.

However, if Harris plans to lead the Hurricanes to an ACC title, he must cut down his interceptions. Harris’ accuracy has been a reliable indicator of Miami’s success: Since he became the full-time starter in 2009, Harris threw five touchdowns and 18 interceptions in the nine games that Miami lost and 33 touchdowns and 14 interceptions in its wins.

Overall, 21 of his 36 interceptions came on passes that traveled 15 yards or more in the air. He would often throw “jump-balls” to receivers Leonard Hankerson and Travis Benjamin. When targeting these two receivers on throws of 15 or more yards, Harris threw 11 interceptions in 110 attempts.

An average FBS quarterback completes around 43 percent of his passes thrown 15 yards or more and throws an interception about once in every 19 attempts thrown this distance. Since 2009, Harris completed a similar percentage but threw an interception about once in every ten pass attempts thrown 15+ yards.

On short and intermediate throws, Harris has been more effective. Since 2009, he’s completed 67.5 percent of his passes thrown fewer than 10 yards (FBS averages around 70 percent). Harris likely will be asked to throw more of these short and intermediate passes. That’s because Golden’s offense – at least at Temple - was conservative and run-heavy. The Owls attempted the eighth-fewest passes in FBS since he took over in 2006; Golden likely will ask Harris to manage the game keep his passes short, thus cutting down on his interceptions.

Harris will be the only senior starter in the ACC, so his may give Miami a significant advantage in the ACC, so long as he can adapt to Golden’s new offense.

Golden said the quarterback competition remains "a close call" after Jacory Harris and Stephen Morris combined to complete more than 70 percent of their passes in Sunday's scrimmage. Read more.

For exclusive video, stories and blogs about quarterbacks from every level of competition, check out ESPN’s “Year of the Quarterback” page.

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