20 Questions: Michigan Quarterback Controversy?

Posted on Posted in Michigan Football

We here at The Big House Report–namely myself and our fearless leader Anthony–are rolling out a new series starting today. We compiled a list of “20 Questions” pertaining to Michigan football, and we’ll be looking at them individually over the weeks leading up to the season.
We’re going to do this in a few ways: 1) If Anthony and I agree on the answer to a particular question, then one of us will write an article (like I’m doing right now) about the subject. 2) If we disagree, then we’ll co-write a debate piece of sorts, with each of us detailing our particular opinion in a singular article.

Of course, these questions are current as of late April. There will almost assuredly be more questions that pop up over the course of the next 4 months. What if Michigan suffers an injury to a starter? That will obviously spawn more questions. We’ll answer those as they pop up and become relevant, but for now, follow me through the jump for the first question in this new series…


Does Michigan Have A Quarterback Controversy?


I wish I could just end the article right there, but I won’t. I’ll do the whole “go into detail and explain your answer” thing that college professors seem to really enjoy requiring on essays. Bastards. Anyways, if you follow me on twitter or have read anything I’ve ever written on this site, you know I am full on #TeamDevinGardner. Not that I don’t believe Shane Morris will be a good player, because I do, but when it comes to the 2014 season, I don’t think there’s any question that Devin Gardner is the best option at quarterback.

A lot of people like to point to Gardner’s interceptions in 2013 and use that as the basis of their argument for why Morris is better. Well, let’s look at that a little more. Gardner threw 11 interceptions in 2013, versus 21 touchdowns. Obviously, 11 interceptions is too high, but I wanted to look a little deeper than the raw stats. I went back and looked at all 11 interceptions that Gardner threw, and here’s what I came away with:

#1 (vs. CMU): Gardner took the shotgun snap, had time, locked onto Dileo running a square out from the slot, didn’t see the defensive back apparently, threw slightly behind Dileo, allowed DB to make pick. Definitely Gardner’s fault.

#2 (vs. CMU): Gardner takes the snap from under center, turns left on play action fake, tries to go up top to Gallon down the left sideline. Defensive back was running step for step, even a bit ahead, of Gallon. Gardner overthrew Gallon, probably led him a little too much to the inside, bad throw. Definitely Gardner’s fault.

#3 (vs. Notre Dame): We all know about this one. Gardner took the shotgun snap, faced immediate pressure (shocking), twisted and turned all the way back into his end zone, tried to get rid of the ball as he was being sacked, and tossed it haphazardly into the air, resulting in an interception for a touchdown. His fault? Absolutely. But I’m not going to chalk this one up to bad QB play/bad throws/etc, this was more of just trying to do too much in desperation. Regardless, still his fault.

#4 (vs. Akron): Gardner takes snap in Pistol, has time, tries to hit Gallon running a post from the left side, and throws it directly to the defensive back undercutting the route. Without a doubt, 100% Gardner’s fault.

#5 (vs. Akron): Shotgun snap, 3 step drop, no pressure, steps to throw a 10 yard in route to Funchess. Throw is on target, but a linebacker in a drop drills Funchess in the chest right as the pass arrives. Ball deflects up in the air, and is intercepted by a defensive back. Throw was good, but the timing was a bit late and the decision could have been better. However, the ball was deflected up in the air. Could it have been avoided? Possibly, but I’m not gonna put this one on Gardner.

#6 (vs. Akron): Shotgun snap, Michigan tries to set up a screen to the right with Toussaint. Gardner has a guy right in his face (understandable–this was a screen pass), and makes what would be an accurate throw to Toussaint, but he doesn’t see the linebacker who jumped the route. Ball is picked, as we know. Gardner was very clearly screened by not only the guy in his face, but also the “mesh” of sorts that was created by defensive players, offensive linemen, and Fitz all being in the same area at the same time. Despite being screened, I don’t think Gardner should have made this throw. Should have thrown it at Fitz’s feet and taken the incompletion. You could make an argument against this being Gardner’s fault, but I disagree.

#7 (at UCONN): Shotgun snap, Gardner has time, runs through his progressions until he comes to his 3rd option, which is Gallon running a drag that he ends up cutting off. Gallon is sitting down about 8 yards from the line of scrimmage, and he’s relatively open. A defensive back is closing from one side, and he has a safety behind him, but this is a completeable pass. Gardner throws a little high, and the ball deflects off of Gallon’s hands up into the air where it’s picked. Could Gardner have made a better throw? Yes. But could it have been caught? Yes. Could it just as easily been an incompletion? Yes. I’m not gonna put this one on Gardner, it ended up being another case of bad luck on a deflected ball.

#8 (at UCONN): Under center, mild play action look. Gets some pressure from his front side, but steps up nicely to avoid it. Gets off a clean pass, going down the right sideline to a streaking Chesson. Chesson has his guy beat by a step, but Gardner under throws him and leaves it to far inside towards the hash marks. The cornerback closes, gets in front of Chesson, and makes the pick while shielding Chesson from the ball. It’s a very good play by the corner, but this one is on Gardner. Underthrown pass that was also off-target.

#9 (at Penn State): Shotgun snap (off target slightly), Gardner immediately looks right, gets a bit of pressure but can get off a clean pass. Trying to hit Gallon on a 10 yard comeback route, but apparently just doesn’t see the defensive back in his zone drop. It’s an easy pick for the DB, who simply moves slightly to his left to make the interception. 100% on Gardner. Terrible decision, and he didn’t help himself by staring down Gallon almost immediately after the snap.

#10 (at Penn State): Pistol formation, turns to his right to fake to Green, but Green went left (not sure who screwed up there), tries to hit Gallon on a medium depth (about 12 yards) dig route. Gardner doesn’t see that the outside linebacker who had lined up on the end of the line had dropped into a shallow zone. Linebacker makes a very athletic play, timing his leap and getting UP to make the pick. Could Gardner have made a better pass here had he seen the linebacker? Yes. Regardless, I’m not putting this one on DG. The read was the correct one–Gallon was open and DG’s pass would have drilled him right between the 2 and 1 on Gallon’s chest, but the linebacker made a very good football play. This one wasn’t really anyone’s fault.

#11 (at MSU): Pistol formation, Gardner takes the snap (already beat to hell at this point) and immediately tries to throw one of those back shoulder sideline routes to Gallon down the left sideline. There are a couple problems here: 1) He throws it much too far to the inside, and 2) Darqueze Dennard is covering Gallon man to man. Dennard screens Gallon away from the football, swivels his hips athletically, turns towards the inside while still screening Gallon, and makes a good play on the football. As much as I don’t want to, I have to put this on Gardner. It was a bad throw, plain and simple.

Okay. Well. I hope that helped a little bit. By my analysis/film study, 8 of the 11 interceptions were definitely Gardner’s fault. I could hear arguments for a couple one way or another, but 8 is the number I’m going with. If you cut 3 interceptions off of Gardner’s total in 2013, you end up with 21 touchdowns versus 8 picks. 8 still isn’t a good number, but when you take into consideration the offensive line he was playing with, the complete lack of a running game, and the fact that he was beat to a bloody pulp in many games, I am left with the impression that the complaining about Gardner’s turnovers is overblown.

My point here is simple: Yes, Devin Gardner commits too many turnovers, despite several of them having significant disparity over whose fault they really were. However…do you really think Shane Morris would do better? Look at what we know about the upcoming season: The offensive line, while hopefully better, isn’t going to be a stalwart unit. The running game, while undoubtedly improved, isn’t going to be a team strength. The team loses 2 of the top 3 receivers (Jeremy Gallon to the NFL and Jake Butt to injury). Devin Funchess is still learning how to play wide receiver exclusively. Jehu Chesson is still raw as hell, Freddy Canteen is a true freshman, Amara Darboh is still hurt recovering from injury, and AJ Williams/Keith Heitzman have a single career catch between them.

When I step back and try to look at all of the evidence objectively, what I want in a starting quarterback in the vacuum that is the 2014 season, I want to see experience, leadership, mobility, rapport with receivers, and a full grasp of the offense. Let’s run down that checklist one-by-one:

Experience: Devin Gardner has 17 career starts, and played sporadically in that weird 2 quarterback thing Al Borges insisted on running for spurts during the 2011 season. Shane Morris has a single career start, with virtually no time as a backup (garbage time vs. CMU and MSU).

Leadership: I’m not in the Michigan locker room. I don’t know Devin Gardner personally, nor do I know how his leadership skills are at a personal level. I do know that he was awarded the Tom Harmon Legacy jersey, which is given based on a multitude of factors beyond playing skill. Shane Morris is a true sophomore, an underclassman. For all I know, Shane Morris is the unquestioned leader of the Michigan locker room. He might just as easily be a prima donna who his teammates despise. I don’t know. I don’t pretend to know. It’s also important to understand that Michigan lost two 5th year seniors on the offensive line. Say what you want about Taylor Lewan, but it’s impossible to ignore the loss of that leadership (from both players). The offensive line will, in my opinion, be starting 3 redshirt sophomores (Erik Magnuson, Kyle Kalis, Ben Braden), a true sophomore (Kyle Bosch), and a redshirt junior (Graham Glasgow). That’s a very young offensive line, regardless of what school you’re talking about. But This Is Michigan (Brady Hoke trademark). In a new offensive system, with a young offensive line, a young backfield (Derrick Green/De’Veon Smith/Wyatt Shallman/et all), and young receivers…give me the 5th year senior quarterback.

Mobility: Devin Gardner was rated the top dual-threat quarterback in the class of 2009. He has rushed for over 600 yards and 20 touchdowns in his career; as well as escaped from pressure to make a throw on countless occasions using his legs and premier athleticism. He played wide receiver for half a season, where he caught 16 balls for nearly 300 yards, despite not having the experience/technique for the position. Shane Morris is a good athlete and is faster than given credit for, but in this category, give me Gardner 100 times out of 100.

Rapport with┬áReceivers: Jeremy Gallon, Gardner’s favorite target, is gone. Jake Butt is injured and probably out for at least a good chunk of the season. All that being said, when it comes to the projected top pass-catchers in the 2014 season, it’s Gardner who has the most experience with them and who has built up the most rapport with them. Funchess and Chesson saw tons of time last year on the 1st team, with Gardner as their QB. Darboh, when he was healthy, has built up a rapport with Gardner operating on the 1st team. Although Morris has taken 1st team snaps this winter/spring, which has undoubtedly helped, I’ll take Gardner here.

Full Grasp of the Offense: Here’s where I believe the playing field is leveled. Doug Nussmeier is installing a new offense at Michigan, and when he came in, Gardner could barely practice. That gave Shane Morris valuable time to get a leg up in terms of running the new offense. Throughout the spring, it was said that Gardner and Morris split the 1st team reps evenly, but it was Gardner who started the spring game (grain of salt implications apply). This is the closest of the categories, but I’ll take Gardner again.

If you want to talk about pure “measurables” when it comes to the 2 quarterbacks, I can see how some would argue for Morris. He has a freakin’ rocket launcher attached to his left shoulder where his arm should be, he has swagger, he has moxy, and it’s easy to see why he was a highly-touted recruit with a high ceiling. If you asked me who would have the better career at Michigan when it’s all said and done, or who would be the higher NFL draft pick, I’d be much more hesitant with my answer. But, it’s important to remember that this discussion is pertaining directly to the 2014 season. Which quarterback gives Michigan the best chance to win football games in 2014? I believe that answer, without a doubt, is Devin Gardner.
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Derek Devine
Institutional voice of Alma College during the day, Michigan fanatic at night. Taking TBHR to the next level one post at a time.