Devin Gardner possibly out for BWW Bowl, pray for Shane Morris

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After playing the role of a tackle dummy for opposing defenses all year, the wear and tear of playing behind Michigan’s dreadful offensive line has finally caught up to Devin Gardner, who is missing out on valuable bowl preparation time with a turf-toe injury.

Gardner has been walking around in a boot and using crutches for aid as he tries to heal himself in time to get back on the playing field. His efforts in the late-game stages against Ohio State were absolutely brilliant and gutsy. Watching that game, though, you got the idea that the entire season was finally catching up to him. He was hobbling in every which direction, leading his team in a fourth-quarter rally that just barely fell short.
Every Wednesday, he would tell the media persistently that he was physically fine, saying he’s “a football player.” So despite the situation following that crushing loss, Gardner was expected to be just fine in due time and leading his Wolverines on December 28 against Kansas State in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.

In a video on mgoblue.com, though, Brady Hoke dimmed some of those hopes and expectations by saying Gardner might not be returning to practice until late this week at best. Should he not be out on the practice field by Monday, it’s tough to see him being fully prepared for the bowl game.

In that case, we’re looking at true freshman Shane Morris to step up. Four games, 5-of-19 passing, 64 yards, one interception–that’s what the Wolverines are currently working with. And even though both Brady Hoke and Al Borges have praised the progress of Morris from game to game and since his last appearance, you can’t evade the feeling that Morris just wouldn’t be ready for this game. Not at this point in his career, anyway.

During his senior season at Warren De La Salle, Morris had to leave at halftime of a game after being too gassed because of mononucleosis. At that point, it wasn’t believed the virus had reached his spleen, making it possible for him to continue playing. But the toll was enough to yank him from that game, and it eventually kept him from seeing the field the rest of that season.

Morris spent a good amount of time in the hospital, weakened by the mono. Heckling from fans and rivals eventually even led to the star recruit suspending his Twitter account.

“I didn’t delete it,” he said. “I just suspended it. I need to rest while I have mono and I didn’t want anything distracting me.”

Hopefully that gives you an indication of type of toll mono took on the young kid.

He attempted to make a recovery, go through a week of practice and participate in the Under Armour All-America Game for high school seniors on January 4, but he was clearly still under the thumb of mono and had an unimpressive performance on national television, causing much of his hype to disappear. Since then, it doesn’t seem the virus has any sort of hold on him, but that period of physical and mental fatigue cost him valuable time in the process of prepping for major college football.

The expectations for Shane Morris in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl wouldn’t be tremendous. It would be his first collegiate start, and he’d be doing so behind one of the worst offensive lines in the Big Ten. After all, that’s why he’s in this position to begin with.

My number one concern for Morris likely taking at least some snaps against Kansas State is how it limits the ways Michigan can protect its quarterback. With Gardner, it’s easy to move the pocket and get him on the run. Ideally, it gives him two options: run or throw. But the few times we’ve seen Morris roll out of the pocket haven’t been pretty. He was not an accurate thrower in those situations, and he doesn’t exactly have the mobility of Devin Gardner. So with that being said, Michigan would have to put a lot on the shoulders of the offensive line to perform better than they did in the regular season. Much better. It would also mean keeping Derrick Green and Fitzgerald Toussaint in the backfield for blocking purposes, likely leaving Morris without an easy check-down in most situations.

Speaking of the running backs, it would be vital for them to establish the ground game. I’m sorry, but you couldn’t convince me to put all the marbles on the arm of Shane Morris. He’s not there yet. It would be a blessing to have the option to pound the ball up the middle and make the defense play honestly.

Fitz Toussaint is Michigan’s leading rusher this season with 646 yards and 12 touchdowns. Many questioned his ability to be a feature back in Michigan’s offense because of his lack of production. So Derrick Green joined the party, seeing some significant time in the final three games of the season, where he combined to go for 149 yards on 42 carries. It wasn’t anything stellar, but his physicality was a breath of fresh air.

Kansas State allowed 145 rushing yards per game during the regular season, so it doesn’t seem too far-fetched to say Michigan’s backs could muster up some damage–or at least enough.

As we continue to approach the bowl game, it’s looking as though Shane Morris won’t be the exclusive quarterback out there; Brady Hoke seems to think Gardner will at least be able to contribute. But I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Morris taking a majority of the snaps against Kansas State. In that case, not all is lost, there is much to gain.

Tyler Fenwick
Managing Editor at The Big House Report
I am an aspiring journalist studying at IUPUI. I am the third (and youngest) manager of The Big House Report, and it's my responsibility to make sure it runs more smoothly today than it did yesterday.