Among the thousand or so other issues that are currently plaguing Michigan Wolverines football, we have a quarterback controversy in Ann Arbor.
After last Saturday’s weather delay, in what was perhaps the most embarrassing loss for the program since falling to the Toledo Rockets in 2008, starting quarterback Devin Gardner was benched in favor of backup Shane Morris. While Head Coach Brady Hoke has dodged questions about who his starting quarterback will be against the Minnesota Golden Gophers this Saturday, at some point someone will be taking the snap from center Jack Miller, and that someone won’t be any good. But the least one can do is be familiar with who that someone is.
Gardner has been on the downswing ever since his Hail Mary touchdown pass keyed the Wolverines to an overtime victory over Northwestern in his second career start in 2012. So what’s wrong with Gardner? He simply hasn’t shown any progression since 2012, and frankly has regressed as a passer. He’s tough and he’s athletic, but he doesn’t have quarterback “stuff.” Gardner is too easily rattled by pressure of any kind. Too often he drops his eyes when the pass rush comes and tries to bail out of the pocket, leading to costly sacks and errant throws, and exposing his body to unnecessary punishment. His confidence is clearly shaken after throwing interceptions, and he will avoid making downfield throws even when there is an open man.
Moreover, Gardner’s ball security is atrocious: in 21 starts, he has thrown 22 interceptions, and fumbled 17 times, of which nine of them were recovered by the opposing team. That’s roughly 1.3 turnovers a game for a guy who was supposed to be the next best thing after taking over from Denard Robinson. Eight of those turnovers have come in just four games this season, and only two of those games did Gardner even finish. If Brady Hoke chooses to have Gardner remain under center, he’s going to be relying on his defense to finally get turnovers on a consistent basis to counteract the hole that Gardner will dig for this team.
If you think “Sugar Shane” is the answer for Michigan, we don’t have much in common. As bad as Gardner has been, Morris doesn’t present much of an upgrade at quarterback, other than the fact that he has more time than Gardner. Morris is a true sophomore who has only started one game, the 2014 Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, which I saw in person. Morris has recorded a stat in six games—he’s thrown four interceptions in those appearances. And, by the way, he has yet to score a touchdown in his career and has completed only 7 passes in 20 attempts so far this season. While Morris does show off a strong arm, he has proven himself to be just as turnover prone as Gardner in every appearance he’s made. Not to mention he is a lefty, making him more susceptible to blindside hits. The only hope with Morris is that he can improve with stable reps on the first-team offense.
Regardless of who the quarterback is for Michigan this season, it won’t be pretty. Hoke and his staff are coaching for their jobs right now, new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier included. If Gardner keeps his job, it will more than likely be because he is the safest bet to keep this staff employed beyond this season. Otherwise Morris would be the logical choice, at least to see what they have with him heading into next year. Although honestly I would rather see them install the Wing T offense, rather than let either of these guys put the ball in the air, and just hope that true freshman Wilton Speight will be ready to take the reins next season.
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