Michigan football coach Brady Hoke insists there is a chance Devin Gardner will start at quarterback against Kansas State in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, but all signs point to Shane Morris leading the Wolverines’ offense.
Gardner, a dual-threat veteran who amassed more than 3,000 yards of offense and threw for 21 touchdowns this season, hasn’t practiced since the final game of the regular season and arrived in Arizona on crutches. He is apparently suffering from a nasty case of turf toe.
In all likelihood, that will force Morris front and center. Hoke said Gardner may be able to play on Saturday if he can start practicing on Wednesday. If he stays on crutches, Morris, a freshman who completed five of nine passes for 65 yards this season, will start.
Michigan would obviously prefer Gardner to play, but Hoke seems confident in Morris. After a month of practicing with the first-string offense, Hoke thinks Michigan’s offense will look like it did during the regular season if Morris is taking the snaps.
“I don’t know how much it would change it,” Hoke said Monday at a Buffalo Wild Wings news conference. “The throws don’t necessarily have to change. Obviously we think he’s a pretty good quarterback. His ability both with his legs and arm is pretty good. I think they’d have to respect that.”
K-State coach Bill Snyder didn’t have much to say about the possible quarterback switch, either.
“I would imagine there may be some differences between (Gardner) and (Morris) but I think both of them prepare in virtually the same offense, which is extremely complex,” Snyder said. “If you prepare for their offense, you’re virtually preparing for everything. They can do an awful lot of things. Regardless of who the quarterback is, our preparation has been more along the lines of the offense in its entirety. Gardner is a tremendously talented young guy, but there is a lot of talent on that offense that you have to prepare for, it’s not just the quarterback.”
Preparing for multiple quarterbacks is nothing new for Kansas State. It used both Daniel Sams and Jake Waters throughout the season, and so did every team in the Big 12 outside of Baylor.
Michigan’s offense will likely change more than Hoke and Snyder admit if Morris plays, though.
Morris came to Michigan as a touted recruit. Most recruiting databases ranked him as a top-100 prospect. And some Michigan fans pushed for him to start games in the regular season when the Wolverines started losing games after a hot start. They may get their wish in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.
Morris only played in a handful of games this season, but it is clear he has a big arm. Michigan’s passing attack could improve in some areas. Morris isn’t thought to be as mobile as Gardner, so that could hurt Michigan’s running game.
If Morris plays, the biggest question will be how he handles the moment. Will he make freshman mistakes? Or will he build on his recent practices and embrace the situation?
K-State’s defense will have a big impact on the answer.
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