The news that Shane Morris will start at quarterback for Michigan against Kansas State in Saturday's Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl is bringing plenty of people some holiday joy, as it gives the Wolverines a look at what the future will be at quarterback.
For much of the season, especially during rough stretches for starting quarterback Devin Gardner, fans called for Morris, a highly touted true freshman, to get a chance to play.
As the season came to a close, however, it was Gardner who was playing his best football of the year.
In the past four games, Gardner completed 87 of 143 passes (61 percent) for 971 yards, eight touchdowns and zero interceptions. Those are the kind of stats that would generally bring a positive outlook and confidence into a bowl game, compared to Morris’ 5 of 9 for 65 yards, zero touchdowns and one interception on the season.
A large part of Gardner’s season-ending success was due to the offensive line finally starting to come together and a run game -- outside of Gardner -- finally starting to form. Those two aspects gave Gardner the time in the pocket to make good decisions while also giving time for plays to develop.
Those are also the two things Morris will have to rely on the most Saturday.
He’ll be facing some pretty tough defensive linemen, and there will likely be little worry from the Kansas State sideline in sending pressure against a freshman who has played in only four games because, well, he’s a freshman who has played in only four games.
Morris came to Michigan heralded for his strong arm, but he struggled -- like many freshmen -- with his touch. Even in seven-on-seven tournaments and high school games, he impressed with how far and fast he could throw the ball, but his passes were often uncatchable by his receivers.
But Michigan coach Brady Hoke and offensive coordinator Al Borges have praised Morris for how much he has grown this season, both physically and mentally.
Morris was the first recruiting commitment for this Michigan coaching staff. He was unable to enroll early because of his private school’s graduation rules, but he was excited to get on campus in the summer after more than two years of being a commit.
“It has been my dream since I was little to start at quarterback for the University of Michigan,” Morris said Thursday. “It’s a huge bowl game. I’m excited. I grew up in Michigan. My family surrounded me in Michigan. I have baby pictures of me in Michigan jerseys.”
That excitement isn’t what will keep Michigan competitive Saturday, though. The offensive line will have to play its best game of the year as Kansas State defensive linemen like Ryan Mueller (18.5 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks) look to get to the freshman who has attempted only nine passes on the season.
Morris said he and Gardner have been keeping in touch daily on what to do and how Morris should run the offense against the Wildcats.
Bowl games often provide a look at the future, but Michigan -- with Morris as its starter and Gardner sidelined -- is getting an even bigger glimpse.