Will Michigan have a new starter under center when it takes the field this weekend? In 24 hours or so, UM Nation should know for sure.
Tuesday, head coach Brady Hoke said Monday, he and his offensive coaching staff will decide whether Devin Gardner, the incumbent, or Shane Morris, the people’s choice, will start Saturday’s game against Minnesota. Gardner was yanked in the fourth quarter of the 26-10 home loss to Utah in favor of Morris, laying the groundwork for this development.
Gardner has been a lightning rod for criticism for the past year and a half, with his play on the field giving critics plenty of ammunition.
In 16 starts the past two seasons, Gardner has thrown 17 interceptions versus just 26 touchdown passes. He’s also been sacked a whopping 43 times, and while that’s a byproduct of a porous offensive line it’s also an indicator that Gardner struggles in the pocket with his reads and progressions and the like.
Gardner started every game last season before a foot injury he suffered in the loss to Ohio State in the regular-season finale sidelined him for the Wolverines’ bowl game. In his first career start, and as a true freshman no less, Morris completed 24-of-38 passes for 196 yards and an interception as UM dropped a 31-14 decision to Kansas State in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.
While Gardner was at one time quoted as saying that “it was amazing how much better [quarterback competition this spring] made me,” the incumbent at the position –despite his pre-spring proclamation— exited the 15 practice sessions without a firm grasp on the starting job. That thought was buttressed as, at the end of spring practice in mid-April, Hoke acknowledged that Morris had narrowed the gap on Gardner.
While Gardner ultimately “won” the starting job, he’s had a tenuous hold on it as he’s thrown more interceptions (six) than touchdowns (five) through four games.
As for how Round 2 of the competition will be decided?
“Efficiency, that’s part of it,” Hoke said when asked what will go into the decision-making process. “Competing and challenging. Who comes out of the week with the best practices and who gives us the best chance to go in and win the football game.
“There’s also the leadership end of it, too. Who commands the offense (better)? And they’ve both done a really good job all year with that, I don’t expect any of that to change.”