With Devin Gardner sidelined with a foot injury, freshman quarterback Shane Morris made his first start ever in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl against the Kansas State Wildcats. While the end result was a disappointing 31-14 loss, Morris provided most of the rare bright spots for the Michigan Wolverines during the game, surprising many with his poise and decision making under center. Will that performance be enough for Morris to steal the starting quarterback job away from Gardner for 2014?
Morris finished the game completing 24-of-38 passes on the day (63.2 percent) for 196 yards with no touchdowns and an interception. It wasn’t a world-beating performance by any stretch of the imagination but he was working in his first start without the benefit of anything out of the running game. While Morris is more of a pocket passer, he showed off his athleticism with a 40-yard run in the second half and ended up leading the team in rushing with 43 yards on four attempts (the rest of the team combined for 22 yards on 11 carries). Most impressive was his fast start to the night, completing 15-of-19 passes for 121 yards in the first half when most young quarterbacks would likely be finding their rhythm.
There’s no denying that Brady Hoke and offensive coordinator Al Borges would be more comfortable working with a prototypical pocket passer like Morris as they have struggled to properly utilize Gardner on more than one occasion this season. Morris is better equipped to run the offense that Hoke wants to run at Michigan and could use the experience from the bowl game to fuel a strong offseason to make a solid case to be the starter in 2014.
If Morris can show that he should be under center, that wouldn’t mean that Gardner stays on the sideline. The Wolverines are in desperate need of playmakers on the offensive side the ball, most notably at wide receiver. With Jeremy Gallon moving on, Michigan has just Devin Funchess (49 catches, 748 yards) and Jake Butt (20 catches, 235 yards) as key contributors in the passing game returning next fall. When Gardner played receiver in 2012, he was able to contribute 16 receptions for 266 yards, which would be a nice boost to the 2014 receiving corps. It would also get Gardner more opportunities to use his athleticism out in space rather than trying to escape defensive linemen on every snap.
It would be a risky move taking the ball out of the hands of Gardner in 2014 but it might be a move that makes the Michigan offense stronger next season. While they still have serious questions about their offensive line and running game, perhaps shaking things up under center could provide the Wolverines a spark to get them rolling next fall.