The last time quarterback Devin Gardner was on the football field, he delivered an epic performance against Ohio State (32-of-45, for 451 yards and four touchdowns, one rushing touchdown)—marred only by a failed two-point conversion in the final minute that could have propelled Michigan to victory.
Michigan coach Brady Hoke went for broke on that last possession because his defense had been shredded all day by Ohio State, and his starting field-goal kicker Brendan Gibbons wasn't available because of injury. Hoke made the decision to try to end the game in regulation instead of risk extended overtime play. His decision made even more sense when Gardner showed up for the postgame press conference wearing a walking boot, the result of a turf toe injury experienced during the game.
Now over two weeks since the injury, Gardner still has not returned to the practice field. In a video posted on mgoblue.com, coach Brady Hoke said, “We held Devin out today, we want to make sure he’s rested enough…We want make sure he’s totally healthy.” He admitted that Gardner might not return to practice until later this week.
That timetable would leave Gardner less than a week to prepare for the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl game versus Kansas State. His return is not a question of toughness—Gardner has taken a beating all season behind an offensive line that finally showed signs of jelling in Michigan’s final regular-season game—but rather practicality.
Can Gardner perform at a high level after missing three weeks of conditioning and most of the 15 bowl practices?
Michigan might better served by getting quarterback Shane Morris some significant game experience in the bowl game. Morris has already lost the opportunity to redshirt, having appeared in four games this season. It doesn’t matter that he played so little (5-9, 65 yards), according to the NCAA:
…It does not matter how long you were involved in a particular competition (for example, one play in a football game, one point in a volleyball match); you will be charged with one season of competition.
Now, there is the chance Morris may have some hidden injury (cough, cough) that allows him to be granted a medical redshirt for this season. Gardner himself is returning next season, having been granted a medical redshirt.
Considering Gardner’s lingering injury and Michigan playing in a second-tier bowl game, this is a great opportunity to see how Morris can perform under center. It’s also a chance to see how Morris fits into offensive Al Borges’ offensive game plan.
Another win will not lessen the sting of this disappointing season, but getting Morris some important repetitions would provide Michigan with insurance if Gardner gets injured next season.
A coach secure in his position probably would rest Gardner and use the game to groom Morris to be a viable backup next season.
Hoke says that team is playing this game “…for his seniors,” but after two consecutive disappointing seasons and increased criticism of his coaching staff, there’s a lot riding on this game.
And whoever starts at quarterback will tell us how much.
Phil Callihan is a featured writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations in this article were obtained via Press Conference Source.