On Thursday, Michigan head coach Brady Hoke announced freshman quarterback Shane Morris will start in Saturday's Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl against Kansas State. Morris takes the spot of Devin Gardner, who is out with a foot injury sustained in the second half of Michigan's 42-41 loss to Ohio State on Nov. 30.
With the loss of Gardner, the Wolverines stand as five-point underdogs against the Wildcats, per Vegas.com. But Michigan fans can have hope in three key reasons why Shane Morris will shine as the Wolverines' signal-caller on Saturday:
1. He's playing with veteran skill players
Though Morris may not have the same precise timing with second-team All-Big Ten receiver Jeremy Gallon as Gardner does, Morris will still have the services of one of the Big Ten's most dynamic receivers at his disposal on Saturday. Gallon, who finished second in the Big Ten with 1,284 receiving yards this season, has the playmaking ability to give Morris a reliable outside target.
Sophomore receiver Devin Funchess has shown the ability to adapt to multiple quarterbacks during his young Michigan career—having success with both Denard Robinson and Gardner under center—and shouldn't have any issue getting on the same page as arguably the best passing quarterback he'll have played with in his two seasons with the Wolverines.
Ditto for running back Fitzgerald Toussaint, the Wolverines' leading rusher in 2013, whose greatest success as a running back came in 2011 with Robinson functioning more as an efficient passer than any other time during his Michigan career. Toussaint's pass-blocking experience should also help Morris find time in the pocket, despite an interior offensive line that has struggled down the stretch.
Though freshman Derrick Green is Michigan's current starting running back, Green has spent most of the season working his way up the Wolverines' depth chart. A fellow second-teamer for most of the season, Morris should have the best chemistry with Green of all his offensive weapons.
2. He has all the physical tools
As head coach Brady Hoke's offense continues to shift toward a more pro-style set, Morris is the poster child of a pro-style, pocket-passing quarterback. He has most of the necessary tools to perform at a high level; it's just a matter of execution.
Morris was the first commitment of Michigan's class of 2013 and was initially the highest-ranked recruit in the class. He showed flashes of his ability to "drive the ball to any area of the field," according to ESPN Recruiting Nation, in limited action against Central Michigan and Michigan State earlier this season.
Both head coach Brady Hoke and Morris himself echoed confidence in the freshman's ability to perform as the starting quarterback on Saturday, per Nick Baumgardner of MLive.com:
"The last couple weeks have been really confusing," Morris said Thursday in his first official meeting with the media as a Michigan football player. "We didn't know, really, what was going to happen with Devin and the chances of me playing became more prominent.
"But I've prepared all year. For 12 weeks I prepared like I was going to be the starting quarterback. They always say you're one play away. Well, it's true."
"We've scaled some things back," said Hoke, who also announced that sophomore Russell Bellomy will serve as the team's backup with Gardner out. "But there's a lot of offense in there still."
3. He's playing against a middle-of-the-pack Big 12 Defense
Morris played just one drive against Michigan State on Nov. 2, but he'll face a much less formidable defense on Saturday.
Kansas State ranks fourth in the Big 12 and 45th in the NCAA in total defense, allowing 367 yards per game. The Wildcats allow 221.8 yards per game in the air, good for 47th in the NCAA.
Though Kansas State is by no means a defensive slouch, the Wildcats' average defensive stats suggest Morris could be in for a strong outing on Saturday.