Morris thrilled for chance to play No. 12 Florida
Published: Wednesday, September 4, 2013 at 9:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, September 3, 2013 at 9:02 p.m.
CORAL GABLES, Fla. — Stephen Morris wanted to play his college football in his home state. Florida coaches said they would probably be willing to give him that opportunity.
That's all Miami had to hear.
When Morris started getting some serious interest from the Gators during the recruiting process in 2009, the Hurricanes quickly convinced the Miami native to remain in his hometown for another four years. That's what Morris wanted anyway, and on Saturday he gets a chance to beat the school that unsuccessfully wooed him when No. 12 Florida (1-0) visits the Hurricanes (1-0) in the renewal of a rivalry that was once among the best in the college game.
“I wanted to stay in Florida,” Morris said. “I wanted to stay home with my family, I wanted to stay as close to my family as I could. I was just waiting for a school to give me a chance, to give me an opportunity. My hometown school gave me that shot. I never looked back.”
The Hurricanes expect every seat in Sun Life Stadium — all 76,854 of them, a bigger-than-usual capacity for a bigger-than-usual game — to be filled on Saturday, and the game will be shown nationally as well.
It could be quite the backdrop for a signature moment that Miami has craved for some time. The Hurricanes are 1-10 since November 2005 when facing teams ranked No. 12 or better, and that one win comes with a bit of an asterisk, since it was over an Oklahoma team in 2009 that was playing without an injured Sam Bradford. And Morris is 0-4 against ranked teams in his three-plus seasons at Miami.
None of that will matter much Saturday, of course.
It's Miami vs. Florida, and it's a game Morris has waited a while to play.
“What is there to talk about? Sept. 7, noon, it is what it is,” Morris said, a sly smile on his face. “We'll be there.”
Florida coach Will Muschamp wasn't with the Gators when Morris was being recruited, so he doesn't know what went into the player's decision to choose the Hurricanes over a team that, at the time, was among the ultra-elite in the college game.
He just knows what he sees on film, and to him, Morris stands out.
“I think he takes the ball to the right spots,” Muschamp said this week. “He gets the ball to the playmakers' hands. He makes really good decisions about where to take the ball, and he makes quick decisions. He's got a very quick mental makeup as far as where to take the football. I think he's one of the better quarterbacks in college football.”
Muschamp isn't alone in thinking that.
Morris wasn't perfectly sharp in Miami's season-opening win over Florida Atlantic — 15 of 27 for 160 yards — but he sizzled at the end of last season and pulled off a fairly sizable accomplishment this summer, when he won the skills competition at the Manning Passing Academy.
Going back to last November, Morris is 4-1 in his last five starts with 12 touchdowns, one interception, a 59-percent completion rate and 1,291 yards through the air. That doesn't even take into account his school-record 566-yard day against North Carolina State last September, either.
“He has a lot of arm talent,” Florida safety Marcus Maye said. “He knows their offense very well. He knows how to read defenses. It's a big challenge for us. He's a great quarterback. We're looking forward to the challenge.”
Morris was there the last time the Hurricanes and Gators played, part of a record-sized crowd in Gainesville, Fla. in 2008 when Florida beat Miami 26-3. It was a 9-3 game entering the fourth quarter before Florida got two late touchdowns, then a field goal in the final minute after Gators coach Urban Meyer decided not to simply run out the clock.
Another record crowd — probably the largest to see a Miami home game at Sun Life — awaits Saturday, and with it, the next chance for a big win. Miami stumbled when presented with chances like this last year, getting beaten by Kansas State, Notre Dame and Florida State in 2012 by a combined 90 points.
“When you're talking about an in-state team, it's a big rivalry game, bragging rights, recruiting rights, a lot of that stuff goes into play,” Morris said. “All we have to do really is focus on our job. And the biggest things that we didn't do in those big games was focus on our job. We can't let the stage get too big. We can't let anything like that happen.”