With starting quarterback Devin Gardner’s status for the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl in doubt because of injury, backup Shane Morris is taking most repetitions in practice. Morris is being prepared to lead the Michigan offense if Gardner, who was injured last month against Ohio State, is not available for the game.
Gardner has been using a walking boot and crutches but was expected to be available for the bowl game. That expectation was dimmed when head coach Brady Hoke said in a video on mgoblue.com that Gardner might not return to practice until late this week. With the bowl game being a week from Saturday, Gardner would have less than a week of practice to get back up to game speed—if he returns at all.
Michigan is preparing its game plan for either quarterback—Gardner or Morris—to play against Kansas State.
In a press conference posted on mgoblue.com offensive coordinator Al Borges talked about preparing with Gardner’s status in doubt.
“We’re not sure how this is thing is going to end up, so we’re preparing a normal game plan…We can always cut back depending on what [the starter] is capable of.”
Borges further praised Morris progress.
“Passing is a finesse art…he’s learning to pace the ball and get it under the defense. His deep ball has improved, and he’s getting a feel for what the position’s all about.”
One of Hoke’s mantras since taking over has been, “…that the expectation is for the position not the player,” but Morris would be the least experienced quarterback to start in the Hoke era if Gardner cannot play.
Morris has appeared in only four games for Michigan (5-of-9 passing, 65 yards) as a true freshman and missed much of his high school senior season because of illness. Starting against Kansas State in a bowl game would be a high-profile debut for Morris, a 4-star recruit who was one of the top quarterback prospects in the state of Michigan.
Hoke inherited Heisman hopeful Denard Robinson as quarterback and then had Devin Gardner to replace him. Morris could be Hoke’s first quarterback recruit to start a game.
The only other quarterback on the roster with game experience is Russell Bellomy, who's appeared in five games during his career (4-of-21 passing, 46 yards, four interceptions) but missed all this season after being injured in spring practice. Bellomy was recently cleared to practice and has been sharing reps with Morris.
Whoever plays quarterback for Michigan will benefit from an improved offensive line that is taking advantage of the bowl preparation to gain much-needed experience. Borges praised the progress made by his young offensive line.
“Everybody is getting a feel for the offense. Bowl games are kind of another spring football [worth of practices].”
This game is a chance to evaluate Morris heading into next season and prepare him to be a viable backup. If Gardner isn’t near 100 percent, Hoke should rest him. Gardner was crushed after last-minute losses to Iowa and Ohio State—a loss to Kansas State might seriously impact his confidence heading into next season.
Phil Callihan is a featured writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations in this article were obtained via Press Conference Source.