DURHAM, N.C. — So, Braxton Berrios: That ball Malik Rosier threw to you for the touchdown, was it …
A millimeter off-target? A half-millimeter off?
“I was going to say two, but we can go with one,” Berrios said, playing along in full deadpan.
The understanding: Rosier’s touchdown pass in the first quarter of Miami’s 31-6 win at Duke last Friday was darn near perfect. He threw a 27-yard strike to the back of the end zone, dropping it over the head and into the hands of his receiver.
Berrios has reliable mitts and leads Miami with 192 yards and three touchdowns on 10 catches. However, at 5-foot-9, he is hardly the Hurricanes’ biggest target. No matter. Rosier put it where only he had a chance.
“What can you say? It was a beautiful ball,” Berrios said. “We ran a great play, and he put it right over the top of that safety. It was a gorgeous play.”
One of the major questions surrounding Rosier, a redshirt junior who supplanted Brad Kaaya as Miami’s starting quarterback, was his throwing accuracy. Through three games, Rosier has proven doubters wrong.
He leads the ACC and ranks 12th nationally in passer rating (166.98). His completion percentage (65.6) is 15 points higher than his score in two years as a reserve. Throwing to a dynamic skill group like Miami’s will get a quarterback a 9.1 yards per attempt rate (17th nationally, second best in the ACC), but Rosier has been on the money.
Is that a surprise?
“No,” Berrios said. “Malik’s a good athlete. He’s a great QB. We’ve known that from the moment he stepped in. It was Brad’s show for the longest. Now he finally has his chance.”
Kaaya, who plays for the Carolina Panthers, attended Friday’s game with teammate Corn Elder. Like Berrios, he feels his team is in good hands, and he’s not stunned to see his pal shine.
“He’s putting the ball where it needs to be, I believe,” Kaaya said. “He’s giving our playmakers a chance on each play. It’s his second year in this offense, and it really shows. He was in all the meetings with me last year.
“It’s almost as if he’s a three-year starter — just from the preparation and mental standpoint, he’s been at this a few years now. He’s been in all the meetings with me and coach and taking mental reps. Now it’s week after week, you’ll probably see him progress. He’s really come along well.”
Kaaya, UM’s all-time leading passer, left school after his junior year and was a sixth-round pick of the Detroit Lions. He cut by that team Sept. 2. The next day, which happened to be his 22nd birthday, Carolina signed him to be a third-stringer behind superstar Cam Newton and 13-year veteran backup Derek Anderson.
Kaaya’s departure created the opening for Rosier, his former roommate and close friend. The Mobile, Ala. native played in 10 games, starting one, in two years as Kaaya’s backup. He felt plenty confident in Durham, since that’s where he made his first career start (2015, a 30-27 win).
Saturday, he’ll try to become the first Hurricanes quarterback to win in Tallahassee — or beat the Seminoles anywhere — since Jacory Harris in 2009. The game is 3:30 p.m. on ESPN. Miami is ranked 13th. FSU is unranked.
No one wearing orange-and-green has a more discerning eye for quarterbacks than Mark Richt, who elevated Rosier to QB1 on Aug. 19. As a former Hurricanes backup-turned-starter, he understands Rosier’s path. As UM’s play-caller and chief quarterbacks coach — his son, Jon, officially holds that title — he appreciates Rosier’s production.
Before playing Miami, Duke ranked 21st nationally in opponent passer rating. More passes against the Blue Devils went for interceptions (seven) than touchdowns against (five). Against that disciplined defense, Rosier produced a similar statline (15-of-26, 270 yards, two touchdowns, one interception) as he did in that dramatic win two years ago (20-of-29, 272 yards, two touchdowns, one interception).
However, he was much sharper Friday. He was a threat on the ground (15 carries, 45 yards, touchdown), rushing for 13 and 10 yards on a pair of first-down attempts. He did most of his damage through the air, tossing seven passes between 25 and 49 yards, two of them for touchdowns.
Richt said Rosier, who completed his first eight attempts for 155 yards and a touchdown, “showed a lot to me,” and “did some really outstanding things.”
He specified a play in the second quarter, with Miami leading 14-3 and facing third-and-8 from the Duke 28. The Blue Devils adjusted Rosier read a well-timed blitz and zipped it to Berrios, who was running a flag route (10-to-15 yards upfield, then a 45-degree cut toward the pylon). He was shoved out at the 3, and Duke’s defense forced a field goal, but plays like that give Richt confidence Rosier can succeed under the kind of pressure the Seminoles could bring.
“That play was a fantastic job of reading coverage,” Richt said. “They brought the house, it was a zero coverage blitz, they’re bringing more than we can block. They disguised it well, brought it late, last second he realized what happened and he went to the perfect guy with the ball. He threw a beautiful strike with someone bearing down on him.”
FSU (1-2, 1-1 ACC), which edged Wake Forest 26-19 on Saturday, returns home Saturday for the first time since losing 27-21 to North Carolina State. In that game, Wolfpack quarterback Ryan Finley completed 69.7 percent of his passes for 255 yards and two touchdowns. FSU. whose defense was widely considered one of the best in the country, ranks 39th in yards per play allowed and 88th in opponent passer rating (against Alabama, N.C. State and Wake Forest). The Noles’ lone interception of the year came Saturday, when a Wake Forest receiver bobbled a ball into the hands of defensive back Kyle Meyers.
Rosier has thrown for 820 yards, with eight touchdowns and two interceptions. Both of those miscues, Richt said, were “really good decisions where the ball went a little too high. He knows better, he just didn’t throw it like he should have.”
Against Toledo two weeks ago, Rosier missed freshman Jeff Thomas on a play that would have gone for big yardage, and threw it right to safety Jordan Williams. Toledo scored on the next play. Same thing Friday night: he “overshot” Ahmmon Richards on a would-be touchdown, Richt said, and created an easy play for Duke’s top cornerback, Bryon Fields. Miami’s defense bailed him out.
Those plays are two reasons Rosier isn’t basking in the positive attention. Entering the season, the conventional wisdom surrounding Miami was: if the Canes have a quarterback, they’ll have a chance to end the seven-game losing streak to the Noles. Rosier has proven himself competent.
But for a UM quarterback, there are few proving grounds like Doak Campbell Stadium.
“I’d say it’s going OK,” Rosier said of his season so far. “There’s a lot of stuff I’ve got to improve on. Go back, watch the film, I’m going to get better, I’m going to practice better. We’ve got a big week coming up.”