A pair of rough outings leaves Devin Gardner with a lot to prove.
Devin Gardner losing the starting quarterback job at Michigan?
Not a chance.
Well, that was the thought prior to the start of this season, and it was echoed after he torched Notre Dame for 294 yards and four touchdowns during the Week 2 41-30 thriller at The Big House.
Then Akron came along. Then it was UConn. Seven turnovers during that two-game stretch prompted questions about the 6'4", 210-pounder's effectiveness and ability to protect the ball.
Will Gardner finish the season as the No. 1 QB?
Now recharging during a bye week, Gardner, a redshirt junior, must regain his early-season form if he's to lead the No. 18-ranked Wolverines (4-0) to a 10-win season. Come to think of it, he'd do himself a favor by regaining his 2012 form; he led Michigan to a 3-2 record during his first go at No. 1, throwing for 1,219 yards, 11 touchdowns and five interceptions.
He rushed for seven scores, too.
Through four games this year, he's thrown for 801 yards and seven touchdowns with eight picks. He's in a slump, there's no other way to describe it.
“He’s way too intelligent not to work his way out of whatever funk he may be in,” Team 134 coach Brady Hoke told Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press.
But what if he doesn't come out of the "funk", then what?
The super frosh isn't anywhere near ready for full-time action, but he may not be too far behind Gardner at this point. After all, Hoke has suggested that he's "re-coaching" Gardner, according to ESPN's Chantel Jennings.
Morris entered Ann Arbor with a sparkling 4-star rating from Rivals, which earlier ranked him as a 5-star pro-styler. A bout with mono and unfulfilled senior year at Warren De La Salle most certainly contributed to that drop in status. His 2-for-10 performance in the 2013 Under Armour Game probably didn't help matters.
Showing promise during mop-up duty, the 6'3", 201-pound frosh went 4-for-6 during his team's 59-9 romping of Central Michigan in Week 1. Limited time on the field with desirable results. Thus far, Morris' game doesn't scream "I'm ready!", but he could prove to be a game manager if needed.
Of course, extreme circumstances would bring about a change in the quarterback position. Hoke isn't going to yank Gardner after a pair of blunders. Shelving Morris would have been ideal. But that's not an option, so it makes sense for Hoke and offensive coordinator Al Borges to at least entertain the possibility of rolling the dice with Morris.
How Much Is Enough?
Gardner is 7-2 as a starter. That's the bottom line.
Crunch numbers. Watch film. Get hung up on his early turnovers. Think of the offense with Morris at the helm—but don't forget that Gardner is a winner. It's going to take more than two consecutive mishaps to dethrone him from the No. 1 position.
Michigan begins its Big Ten season Oct. 5 by hosting Minnesota at The Big House. Far from world beaters, the Gophers (4-0) are (supposed to be) levels above Akron and UConn. Now, a pair of lower-tier programs nearly clipped Michigan. Akron was a play away from doing it on Gardner's home turf. UConn was one drive away from giving a Hallmark moment to it fans.
If Gardner has a turnover-laden fiasco against coach Jerry Kill's team, it'd be safe to assume that the Wolverines will think of going in another direction. A debacle in Week 6 could be enough to oust him, even if just momentarily.
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81