CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) — Miami quarterback Jarren Williams got the word that he was going to be the starting quarterback for the Hurricanes, and his first thought wasn’t about celebrating.
Instead, he suddenly realized how big a job he’s just inherited.
Williams’ first college start — his first significant college playing time — comes Saturday, when Miami takes on No. 8 Florida in a long-awaited season-opener for both teams. It will be pressure-packed, a rivalry game before a national television audience in the game that will kick off the 150th season of college football.
“All my hard work has paid off,” Williams said. “And now I’ve got to work even harder.”
Williams was barely more than a practice player last season for Miami, even in a year where the Hurricanes’ passing game struggled mightily. His only appearance was against lower-division Savannah State, where he went 1 for 3 passing for 17 yards and ran for a short touchdown. Yet he did enough this spring and summer to convince new coach Manny Diaz and offensive coordinator Dan Enos that he is Miami’s best hope in 2019.
Most of the attention surrounding the Miami quarterback competition went toward returnee N’Kosi Perry and Ohio State transfer Tate Martell. Williams wasn’t getting many headlines, except from the only evaluators who mattered.
“What separates Jarren is Jarren has a little bit of an instinct,” Diaz said. “Once you get past the arm talent, it’s just an instinct of knowing where to go with the ball and a feel for the game that I think is really different from the other two, and I thought that might’ve been the deciding factor.”
So on one hand, Miami is throwing an inexperienced quarterback into the fray.
On the other, Florida doesn’t know much about Williams either.
“It’s tough preparing for a guy you’ve never seen play,” Florida cornerback Marco Wilson said. “Heard he’s a pretty good quarterback, but he’s also young so we can try to use that to our advantage. I know as a young person it might be tough to play, and definitely at quarterback, so that’s something. We’re going to try to put some pressure on him.”
The Hurricanes know that’ll be the approach the Gators employ, and are working on prepping him as best they can — with hopes that he will remain somewhat cool under fire.
“My message to Jarren is, one play at a time,” Miami offensive coordinator Dan Enos said. “He’s going to be juiced up, amped up, whatever word you want to put on it. … But the best way to help Jarren Williams is if the rest of our offense plays well.”
True freshman Zion Nelson has won the job at left tackle, so not only is Miami’s quarterback essentially making his debut but the person primarily tasked with keeping Williams upright is as well. Right tackle John Campbell is a redshirt freshman, and the only senior who’ll likely be on the field for Miami’s first offensive snap is grad transfer K.J. Osborn — who is making his Hurricanes debut.
“Got to get your first start sometime,” Enos said.
For Williams, that time is Saturday.
He learned that he won the job about a week ago, and since then he’s been full-go with Miami’s first-stringers. Martell and Perry are still battling for the backup job, but Williams is getting settled as the new leader of the Hurricanes’ offense.
“I had no idea which direction this was going to go in,” Williams said. “All I could control is what I could control — my effort and my preparedness. When they told me who it was, I was surprised. It was a very big moment for me.”
The Hurricanes hope more big moments are yet to come.
AP Sports Writer Mark Long in Gainesville, Florida contributed to this report