Many probably attribute the stellar play of Jacory Harris to the confidence gained from the ringing endorsement Homerism gave him all the way back in February. Let’s get real–there’s more to the development of Miami’s sophomore quarterback than just catching my eye during the bowl season. Under the tutelage of new offensive coordinator Mark Whipple, Harris is putting up gaudy numbers in leading his team to a fast 2-0 start.
While there’s no doubt that the maturation of the baby ‘Canes has played a role in their offensive explosion, a deeper look at the numbers suggest Miami’s productivity on first down has helped kicked the offensive into overdrive.
Harris’ passing efficiency rating is about 45 points better on first down than it is overall, and the difference in his first-down and third-down rating is significant. While Harris is leading the country in yards per passing attempt at 11.1, he’s averaging even more yards per first-down attempt, 14.1. Of Miami’s 28 pass attempts on first down, half have yielded first downs and 12 have gained more than 15 yards.
Run or pass, Miami is averaging 8.4 yards per play on first down. That kind of production consistently puts Harris and the Miami offense in short yardage on second and third down, which, in turn, gives Whipple a wider variety of options in terms of play-calling. Therefore, defensive coordinators must account for both the ground and the air on nearly every down, discouraging them from shifting personnel, keys and formations to suit different situations.
And how is Miami pulling this off? Solid execution, obviously, and Whipple’s diverse play-calling. Borrowing from his time spent as an NFL assistant, Whipple is maintaining a healthy mix of run (34) and pass calls (28) on first down. With the success Miami has had through the air, defenses have to respect the prospect that Harris will come out throwing. Back off too far, though, and run support against the two-headed monster of running backs Graig Cooper and Javarris James is weakened.
Keeping second and third down manageable puts the green Harris in low-pressure situations that help build a young signal caller’s confidence. Easier said than done, but if Virginia Tech’s defensive staff can turn up the heat on Harris this weekend by playing tough on first down, it should be interesting to see how Miami’s young star responds.