Back Morris Ready to Take the Next Step

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Morris Ready to Take the Next Step

By Carlos Pineda
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Miami finished the 2012 campaign with a 7-5 record and tied atop the ACC Coastal Division with a 5-3 record.

CORAL GABLES, Fla. — Stephen Morris knew it was his turn at the helm of "Quarterback U" as soon as Miami's loss to Boston College ended the 2011 season.

In Morris' first year as UM's starting QB, he guided the offense to unanticipated successes last season, including finishing with a program-record 3,415 yards of total offense — a record previously held by Bernie Kosar (3,412 yards). The Hurricanes averaged nearly five more points per game, while amassing 800 more yards than they did in 2011. But Morris will be the first to tell you he wasn't surprised by their offensive production.

"We should've been scoring 40 points every game," Morris told Southern Pigskin during spring camp. "And if we don't I put that on myself, so I really have to make sure we continue that. We don't ever want to rest on our laurels from last year and our confidence from last year.

"We had an explosive offense, but we didn't win enough games. [We've] got to keep building."

Miami finished the 2012 campaign with a 7-5 record and tied atop the ACC Coastal Division with a 5-3 record, but was ineligible to participate in the league title game after a second straight self-imposed postseason ban. Despite missing out on the team's first ACC title game appearance, UM is poised for a strong run this upcoming season.

With 17 career starts under his belt, Morris has come into his own in a role that in the past has been synonymous with success at the professional level. He was named the team's offensive MVP.

Integral in the Hurricanes offensive boom last season was the play of freshman running back Duke Johnson. Named the ACC offensive rookie of the year, Johnson rushed for a Miami freshman record 947 yards and 10 touchdowns, breaking Clinton Portis' freshman mark (838 yards) set in 1998. He also compiled 2,060 all-purpose yards and 13 touchdowns in 12 games.

Johnson described Morris as a "humble guy," "great guy" and "better teammate."

"He knows the offense in and out, so if there's guys in there that don't know what they're doing, he is on top of it to make sure they align right..." Johnson said. "He steps up when coach needs him to, on the field, off the field."

One specific example came in UM's fifth game of the season against N.C. State, in which Morris addressed his teammates with the Hurricanes holding onto a 23-14 halftime lead.

"Just the way he put everybody together and talked to us, 'We got to make sure every possession we get we make something out of it,'" Johnson said.

"He was a leader the whole season, but that one game defined him," he added.

Morris ended up throwing for a Miami- and ACC-record 556 yards and five touchdowns, and threw the game-winning 62-yard touchdown pass with 19 seconds remaining to win 44-37.

Ironically, Morris admits he wasn't the vocal type when he arrived in Coral Gables.

"Coach Golden's always pushing me to get out of my shell and this is when he first came here," Morris said. "I was really quiet and didn't like to communicate... But that Stephen's long gone."

Expectations will be high for UM when fall camp gets underway as they will be an early favorite to win the ACC Coastal. Graduating one starter on each side of the ball, Miami returns 10 of 11 starters.

Carlos Pineda - Carlos Pineda is a featured writer for Southern Pigskin. He covered the UCF Knights football team for Florida Today in 2010. Carlos' work has been published in the South Florida Sun Sentinel, Miami Herald, Orlando Sentinel and Orlando Business Journal. He attended the University of Central Florida. Follow Carlos on Twitter @CarlosFPineda.