Saturday didn’t mark the arrival of Super Shane.
No, it was simply the debut of a true freshman who was thrown into the fire, expected to give Michigan some sort of shot at winning the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl in the absence of starter Devin Gardner.
Really, the Wolverines’ 31-14 loss to Kansas State marked the beginning of the Serviceable Shane Morris era—at least it should have. The former 247Sports 4-star pro-styler showed “something,” despite the pathetic effort put forth by the rest of his teammates.
Moving forward with Morris, along with Wilton Speight, in 2014 seems likely.
Completing 24-of-38 passes for 196 yards isn’t a trophy-worthy accomplishment, but considering the circumstances, Morris certainly deserves credit for doing that “something” while others did nothing.
Having to string together a little magic while the No. 1 watches, crutch-bound, from the sidelines isn’t an easy job—even against a 7-5 Wildcats team that opened 2013 with a loss to FCS North Dakota State.
Morris didn’t wow the masses. He showed mobility with a 40-yard run in the fourth quarter, and he probably should have connected on at least three more passes—drops by receivers were to blame for falling short of 28-for-38 for 250 yards and a touchdown.
He looked calm. He only threw one interception, and that was in the third to Dante Barnett. Michigan was already well behind.
Dare it be said that he played a helluva game for a first-time starter?
And that’s why a no-holds barred race for No. 1 in 2014 should be anticipated.
Morris Makes Most of Opportunity
If you were in the “expect the world from Shane” camp, you were disappointed Saturday night. If you were in the “show me something” camp, you were likely delighted.
Morris went 3-for-5 (44 yards) during his first drive, including 13- and 24-yard completions which were heavily aided by the YAC. But he was OK. He didn’t get mauled, and considering Gardner’s past—he was sacked 34 times, third-most in the FBS—seeing an upright Morris was enough to satisfy.
So the Wolverines lost. They were severely underprepared. According to Nick Baumgardner of MLive.com, Michigan defensive end Frank Clark said the following about the lack of continuity as his team was suffocated by K-State:
I think a lot of guys lost the will to play as a family. That's one thing you can't do in football. In football, you've got to stick in there and stay together as a family.
That's something we've got to work on in the offseason.
A 63 percent completion rate and clean uniform shouldn’t have been results of a “family” implosion. Morris’ effort was one of few honest and true goes (Clark included).
According to Baumgardner, James Ross said the defense wasn't "totally into it." That makes sense. The Wildcats went aerial in the first and never looked back. How was Morris supposed to spark a rally when his defense kept giving away points?
Look, there is no clear star on the roster. For those who whiffed on Gardner, don't feel ashamed. Some guys simply don't live up to perceived potential. Morris has the characteristics, at the very least, of a traditional, true-blue pocket passer.
If Michigan can't do it with him, the only other in-house option is Speight.
In an effort to make things clear, Michigan should reclassify Gardner as a wideout. Far from a potential in-the-shadows Heisman dark horse and possible Big Ten MVP, Gardner played like a quarterback who had just five starts and benefited from a tide of good fortunes late in 2012.
He's another Under Armour All-American, just like his predecessor.
But, at 6'6" and 220 pounds, he's slightly bigger than Morris. There will be compromise in this equation. Morris, arguably, has the better arm. But Speight's ball developed during his senior year at Richmond Collegiate (Va.).
Speight is supposed to enroll early, so the spring game could be quite interesting. Russell Bellomy should be back to full health, so that makes four in the mix if Gardner's included. At the very least, three pocket passers should compete for the top job (if the roster stays as-is).
Don't let the 3-star ranking fool you. Speight was recruited by Alabama and Auburn, two schools which have flourished with similar passers. His spiral isn't as tight as Morris, and his velocity isn't up there yet—but he's accurate, patient and very, very tall.
Vision shouldn't be an issue, nor should his intentions. During an interview with Tim Sullivan of TheWolverine.com (subscription required to view), Speight said he's prepared to enter Ann Arbor and was quite comfortable during visits.
Michigan doesn't [host] do it as much with flash as some of the other schools, but they make it meaningful and make sure we enjoy ourselves. I think - I've known this since the day I committed, and a lot of the guys have - it basically solidified all the thoughts that we definitely made the right choice in committing to Michigan. It's a very special place and we were reminded of that this weekend
Possible 2014 QB Crop
Assuming everyone stays put, the following table illustrates Michigan's ball throwers. With the exception of Bellomy, the pool of contestants for starter shouldn't include a guy with an asterisk by his name.
|Bring 'Em On|
|Shane Morris||FR 2013||6'3"/201|
|Brian Cleary*||RS FR 2013||6'3"/209|
|Russell Bellomy||RS SO 2013||6'3"/215|
|Alex Swieca*||RS SO 2013||6'1"/210|
|Garrett Moores*||FR 2013||6'3'/198|
|Devin Gardner||RS JR 2013||6'4"/210|
|Wilton Speight||FR 2014||6'6"/220|
|* denotes walk-on. Roster info via MGoBlue.com|
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81