Devin Gardner, the veteran Michigan quarterback who amassed more than 3,000 yards of total offense and scored 21 touchdowns this season, will not play against Kansas State in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.
Shane Morris, a freshman with nine career pass attempts to his name, will take his place in the starting lineup.
The switch isn’t much of a surprise, considering Gardner suffered a foot injury in the final game of the regular season and arrived in Arizona on crutches, but it is significant.
Michigan’s offense will have a new look when it takes the field Saturday at Sun Devil Stadium. And K-State’s defense must adjust to the change.
“There is an awful lot we don’t know about him,” K-State coach Bill Snyder said.
On Thursday, Michigan players insisted their offense will remain similar to the one they ran during the regular season. But there will almost certainly be some changes.
“We’ve scaled some things back,” Michigan coach Brady Hoke said.
Gardner is a dual-threat quarterback capable of running zone-read plays and taking off on designed runs. Morris is known more as a pure passer, who only runs when he has to.
“Shane and Devin are different when it comes to running ability, but that’s the only difference,” Michigan tight end Devin Funchess said. “Devin can see more holes. Shane is a phenomenal quarterback, though. You can’t shoot that down. He gets everything where he needs to.”
A month’s worth of practices as the No. 1 quarterback will only help Morris when he suits up for the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. But it’s fair to wonder how well he will handle the setting.
Morris has seen limited action at Michigan, completing five of nine passes for 65 yards with one interception. He only recorded stats in two games this season. And it’s been a while since Morris has consistently seen game action at any level: He missed the majority of his senior season in high school with mononucleosis.
He said he can’t remember the last time he started a football game.
“It’s not a big difference,” Morris insisted. “I don’t think it is going to hurt my play at all. I have a great team around me that is going to help me out. I just have to get them the ball and watch them make plays.”
Morris said he has prepared for each game as if he were the starter.
“It’s been my dream since I was a little kid to start as quarterback for the University of Michigan,” Morris said. “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. It’s really cool.”
The Wildcats appear to be catching a break with the Wolverines’ quarterback swap, especially with their experience of preparing for multiple passers. Every team in the Big 12, other than Baylor, used multiple quarterbacks this season. And K-State has been preparing for both Morris and Gardner throughout bowl practices.
But some Michigan fans lobbied for Morris to play in place of Gardner when the Wolverines lost five of their final seven games. He was a top-100 recruit coming out of high school.
Oh, and he’s a lefty. Those are always difficult to simulate.
“We don’t have a left-handed guy to put in there other than me, and I can’t throw like he can,” Snyder said. “I can’t project what they are going to do, but I am confident he is well-versed in the system they have in place.
“There is so much in their offense. They can do all sorts of different things. You have to prepare for all of it, regardless of the quarterback.”