Williams to make first career start in Saturday night season opener against Florida
In 2014, the Miami Hurricanes started freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya in the team's season opener against the Louisville Cardinals. Five years later, the Hurricanes will start another freshman quarterback against the No. 8 Florida Gators on Aug. 24 in the teams' season opener in Orlando, Fla.
Williams will get his first start in a pressure-packed, rivalry game before a national television audience (on ESPN) in a prime-time (7 p.m. ET) TV slot to help kick off the 150th season of college football.
"This is something that I've always strived for growing up, Williams said. "It's been my dream since I was a kid. When I was six years old, I used to sit in front of the TV and watch Michael Vick play. That's a dream I have always had, and I've strived for it. Having the opportunity to lead this team is the opportunity of a lifetime, and I am going to take full advantage of it."
Last year, Williams was merely a practice player, despite the Hurricanes' offensive struggles. Miami finished the year 113th in passing yards (167.3 ypg) with just 1.5 touchdown passes per game (81st).
Williams' only game appearance was against FCS opponent Savannah State, where he completed one of three pass attempts for 17 yards in mop-up duty. He also had a short touchdown run in the 77-0 rout. However, Williams did enough during the spring and summer to convince new head coach Manny Diaz and offensive coordinator Dan Enos that he is the right guy to start against the Gators on Saturday night as he beat out returnee N'Kosi Perry and Ohio State transfer Tate Martell.
"Obviously Jarren is a gifted passer," Diaz said. "He has learned, I think, the maturity that comes with being the starting quarterback at a place like Miami. He is becoming more and more comfortable with the offense. I think Jarren, also, is a guy that hit [the ground running] 20 miles per hour this summer. Jarren is a better athlete than, I think, people give him credit for –- all the reasons he was recruited to come here in the first place."
Williams will be significantly tested against a Florida defense that is considered one of the best in the SEC. In 2018, the Gators finished 12th in the country in total defense (180.3 ypg), 20th in scoring defense (20.0 ppg), and 17th in turnovers per game (1.9).
One of the keys for the Hurricanes will be keeping Williams upright throughout the entire game. True freshman Zion Nelson is expected to be the starting left tackle. Right tackle John Campbell Jr. is a redshirt freshman while junior left guard Navaughn Donaldson is the only upperclassman in the projected starting five. Donaldson and sophomore DJ Scaife Jr. are the only returning starters.
Needless to say, Miami's inexperienced offensive line and how the group protects Williams will be something to monitor the entire game. One way to help both the quarterback and front line would be to run the ball effectively.
Rushing leader Travis Homer left for the NFL after last season. So expect junior DeeJay Dallas and sophomore Cam'Ron Harris to receive the majority of the carries against the Gators. It would be beneficial for Miami to use a ball-control offense with Williams starting in his first game.
Williams is being thrown into the preverbal fire in Week 0 against the Gators. But expect Enos and Diaz to have some type of plan for success as the Hurricanes don't want to be embarrassed on national television like they were in their 33-17 season-opening loss to LSU in AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, a season ago.
"Got to get your first start sometime," Enos said.
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post and is a reporter for Pro Player Insiders. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.
(Top photo courtesy of hurricanesports.com)