Miami coach Manny Diaz didn’t need to see a snap of preseason camp to know D’Eriq King would be his starting quarterback. Diaz knew it by the way the grad transfer dazzled at Houston, the way he made the most of the Hurricanes’ abbreviated spring practice and by the way he carried himself throughout the summer.
“We’ve been talking about it for a long time,” Diaz said. “Having a quarterback that the entire locker room believes in.”
The ’Canes think they finally have one in King, the 5-foot-11, 202-pound Texan. If they’re right, Miami should be able to challenge Notre Dame and North Carolina for the right to play Clemson in the ACC championship game. If they’re wrong, the ’Canes will remain stuck in mediocrity — just as they have for most of the past 18 years — and the pressure on Diaz will intensify.
King, then, isn’t just the most pivotal player at The U. He’s the most important player in the state and the most interesting thing to happen in Coral Gables since the turnover chain.
Miami’s persistent struggles at quarterback are hard to digest. A program that once had Jim Kelly, Vinny Testaverde and Bernie Kosar on the same roster (1982) hasn’t had a passer finish in the top 15 nationally in efficiency since Ken Dorsey in 2002. The ’Canes last fielded a top-30 scoring offense in 2009. Even their 2017 Orange Bowl team ranked 116th in completion percentage (53.3).
Native son Mark Richt — another quarterback on that 1982 team — couldn’t fix the position. Neither could Miami’s last high-profile transfer, Tate Martell.
So why might King?
Start with his dynamic physical traits. He’s quick and elusive as a runner, strong-armed and accurate as a passer.
King showed both at Houston in the final minutes against USF in 2017, lobbing a completion to convert on fourth-and-24 and rushing 20 yards for the game-winning touchdown. He broke Florida legend Tim Tebow’s record by running and throwing for a score in 15 consecutive games (and counting), and receiver Dee Wiggins has seen him chuck the ball 60 yards downfield in practice.
“He’s not an athlete playing quarterback,” first-year offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said. “He’s a quarterback that’s athletic.”
That’s evident by the way King processes information.
Lashlee likes his instincts. But for cornerbacks coach Mike Rumph, King’s top feature is the way he goes through every read and progression before getting the ball out quickly.
“That’s a gift that I see at the next level,” said Rumph, a former first-round pick who spent five years in the NFL. “He definitely has that gift.”
As importantly, Miami appears to have the right offense in place to maximize King’s gifts.
Lashlee played and coached under Gus Malzahn, who thrived with talented dual-threat quarterbacks Cam Newton and Nick Marshall, and spent the last two seasons at SMU under Air Raid disciple Sonny Dykes. The idea of a spread-the-field, up-tempo system led by an electric runner and more-than-capable passer seems like an ideal fit. The expectations rose in preseason camp when Diaz called the offense’s first scrimmage the best he’s been around.
But the hype centers on what King did in 2018 (an AAC-record 50 touchdowns) and not what happened last year. His completion percentage (52.7) dropped more than 10 points as Houston slogged to a 1-3 start. King opted out then to preserve a season of eligibility — which he chose to use at Miami after transferring in January.
King said he loved his years in Houston but felt “it was time for me to move on.”
“I have no regrets,” King said. “I haven’t even just kicked the idea around about me staying there or coming here. I’m just excited to be a ’Cane. I’m ready to go this year.”
If that shows on the field, Miami should emerge as one of the top teams in the ACC. If not? It could be another year of futility in Coral Gables.
UAB at Miami
8 p.m. Thursday, Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens