September 25, 2007
CORAL GABLES - Miami quarterback Kyle Wright had a much different look on his face after facing a ranked opponent.
There was a smile, and the fans were praising him on message boards after the Hurricanes' 34-17 victory against No. 20 Texas A&M at the Orange Bowl. Wright completed 21 of 26 passes for 275 yards and two touchdowns. It was maybe the most impressive performance of his career, and he finally showed he could defeat a ranked team.
Wright, a senior, has struggled when playing against top teams. Just look at the numbers. Wright is 13-1 versus non-ranked opponents, throwing 23 touchdowns with 12 interceptions. Against ranked teams, he was just 2-6 before the Texas A&M victory and had played poorly, with just four touchdowns and eight interceptions.
For at least one game, though, he proved he could win a big one. It came at an important time for the Hurricanes.
Miami's two previous wins (against Marshall and Florida International) were average performances, at best. The Hurricanes were able to defeat FIU at home by only a 23-9 margin. They were never in danger of losing, but a team as talented as Miami should be more convincing against FIU, which has the nation's longest losing streak.
So a big effort was needed against A&M, and Wright delivered. He resurrected an offense that had been drawing criticism for its inability to make big plays and score touchdowns inside the red zone. He led the Hurricanes on an 18-play, 80-yard touchdown drive on the opening possession. It was a good indication it was going to be Wright's night.
"That was great to come out and execute," Wright said. "It was great to be able to go up and down the field like that and cap it off with a touchdown."
At that moment, it seemed that Wright finally could relax. The last several months have been trying for him.
After Wright was the starter for the last two years, one in which he led the ACC in touchdown passes, coach Randy Shannon decided to open the quarterback competition during the spring and preseason. Wright, who entered Miami as the nation's top high school quarterback, never lived up to the lofty expectations. His play was inconsistent, and he never won over the fan base.
Wright suffered a broken thumb and missed the final four games last season. His replacement, Kirby Freeman, led the Hurricanes to a 2-2 record and a victory over Nevada in the MPC Computers Bowl. Freeman played well enough to make the coaches consider making a switch.
Then, after a preseason quarterback battle, Freeman was named the starter just days before the opener. It was the lowest point of Wright's career, because he faced the possibility of spending his final season on the bench. That's not exactly the finale expected of someone considered one of the best high school quarterbacks ever to come out of California.
"Obviously, the decision didn't go my way in the beginning," Wright said. "After sitting down and thinking about it, the only way I could go was to keep working hard and keep pressing and keep fighting every week."
Wright was so disappointed with the move that he refused to speak with the media. Instead, he just quietly kept competing in practice and waiting for his opportunity. That came in the second game of the season, against Oklahoma.
Freeman struggled in his first game, against Marshall, and he never got the offense going against the Sooners. The coaching staff felt a change was necessary, and Wright trotted onto the field midway through the second quarter. His second chance had arrived.
Wright looked as if he had never left his starting post. He led the Hurricanes to their only touchdown in the 51-13 loss. Although Freeman returned in the second half, it was evident that Wright would be the player to lead the Hurricanes.
The following week, it became official that Wright was once again the starter.
"The one good thing with Kyle is, all the way through from the time I got here, it's been pretty much the same," first-year offensive coordinator Patrick Nix said. "He's had a lot to deal with, and he's dealt with it very good. I've told him the whole way through that it's just going to make him a better person no matter what. He's going to be stronger."
STAFF CHANGES MADE ROAD TOUGH
Wright is at Miami, as the starter, despite dealing with some tough circumstances. He has played under a new coordinator in each of the last three seasons. If you count his redshirt year, he's had four in his five years at UM.
"It's really tough," said Craig Bergman, Wright's coach at Monte Vista High in Danville, Calif. "You have different types of offenses. After a while, you forget what one wanted and what others didn't want. With linemen, blocking is blocking. When it comes to quarterback, it's really different."
Still, Wright has overcome it all and has one final shot to lead Miami back to respectability. The Hurricanes were unranked in the preseason but now are only a win or two away from returning to the polls.
One player already has made a successful return. Wright is back where he belongs and, perhaps, where he never really should have left.