TEMPE, Ariz. — Shane Morris missed most of his senior year in high school in 2012 with mononucleosis, and he has thrown all of nine passes as a true freshman at Michigan this season. But if making a first college start in bowl game might seem daunting to some, Morris appears bred for it. His swaddling clothes were maize and blue.
"It’s been my dream since I was a little kid to start as quarterback for the University of Michigan," Morris said. "I feel like I’m ready for it. Having the opportunity now, it’s surreal. But I’ve prepared for that. With the team I have surrounding me, receivers, running backs, it’s not going to be difficult for me. It’s getting the ball in their hands."
Morris was speaking about 20 minutes after Michigan coach Brady Hoke announced that he would replace Devin Gardner against Kansas State in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, a meeting of 7-5 teams Saturday at Sun Devil Stadium.
Morris has big shoes to fill. Gardner, a junior, accounted for 3,443 yards of total offense and 32 touchdowns this season, and he saved his best for last, passing for 451 yards and four touchdowns and running for another score in a 42-41 loss to Ohio State in the final regular season game Nov. 30. He apparently suffered a broken left foot in the third quarter but played on it the rest of the way.
Morris, from Warren, Mich., has played in four games this season and has completed 5 of 9 passes for 65 yards with one interception. But since Gardner’s injury, Morris has worked with the No. 1 unit during practice. Senior wide receiver Jeremy Gallon has seen a lot to like but also understands that nerves will be part of the initiation.
"Of course he will," Gallon said when asked if Morris would feel some butterflies. "But it’s our job as a team, as seniors, to calm him down, to let him know that we’ve got his back. I know everything is going to be all right. It’s a football game. He’s been doing it since he was young. It’s nothing new. Just because he’s a younger quarterback doesn’t mean he doesn’t know his material. He’s good at reading the defense, checking out of things if he have to. He’s a smart kid. So I don’t feel like anything has changed."
Michigan, which lost four of its last five games, averaged 33.8 points a game with Gardner leading the way, and it remains to be seen if Morris can keep the chains moving as well.
"The biggest difference is the fact that you’re going from a right-handed quarterback to a left-handed quarterback," Kansas State coach Bill Snyder said. "We have to plan to play against their offense with the idea that at some point in time during the course of the ball game, as all teams do, you probably define yourself a little bit. It just takes a little time to figure out what that definition is."
While Michigan makes a quick transition Saturday, Kansas State underwent its quarterback remake before the start of the season, when All-American and Heisman Trophy candidate Collin Klein finished his eligibility. Klein accounted 3,380 yards and 37 touchdowns in leading the Wildcats within a late-2012 loss to Baylor of the BCS title game, but his two-pronged replacement, Jake Waters and Daniel Sams, has 3,704 yards total offense this season.
Junior Waters starts and does more of the throwing, with 2,198 yards passing and 15 touchdowns. Sophomore Sams, a dual threat, has rushed for 784 yards and 11 touchdowns. The Wildcats averaged 401 yards a game total offense this season.
"Well, I’ve never been a fan of having two guys at that position that play equally, but both of them work diligently at it," Snyder said after the bowl pairings were announced. "Both of them are very deserving of having the opportunity to play. They get along extremely well. They help each other. They are very positive with each other. Even though that’s not my preference, that’s the way it’s played out."
In Gallon and Tyler Lockett, each team has a go-to wide receiver built to stretch a defense. Gallon, 5-foot-8 and 184, has 80 receptions for 1,284 yards and nine touchdowns. He had nine catchers for 175 yards against Ohio State, and with 47 yards will break Braylon Edwards’ season record for receiving yards (1,330) set in 2004.
"He has an innate ability to to go up for balls over guys that are much taller than he is," Michigan coach Brady Hoke said.
Junior Lockett, 5-11 and 175, is following a family tradition at Kansas State, where his father, Kevin, and uncle Aaron set records. Tyler leads the Wildcats with 71 receptions for 1,146 yards and eight touchdowns while becoming a first-team all-Big 12 selection as a receiver and a kick returner. He set a school record with 278 yards against Oklahoma, adding three touchdowns, and also had a 237-yard game against Texas. His father was a star in the program’s resurgence in the mid-1990s and is the school leader in receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. Aaron, Kevin’s younger brother, hold the Kansas State freshman record for season receiving yards.