Gardner out, freshman QB Morris in for Michigan vs. Kansas St.
Shane Morris sat out most of his senior season in high school and spent a good portion of his first in college watching games from the sideline.
After two years of mostly idling, the big-armed quarterback will be thrust into a spotlight unlike any he’s seen before: as Michigan’s starter against Kansas State in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl on Saturday.
"Just getting back to football after sitting out has been crazy and now to start in a bowl game is pretty amazing," Morris said Thursday.
Morris spent his first season in Ann Arbor as Devin Gardner’s backup, getting mop-up duty in three games.
Gardner sustained a turf toe injury in Michigan’s regular-season finale against Ohio State and suffered a setback last week, showing up in the desert wearing a protective boot.
Michigan coach Brady Hoke said Gardner would have to practice by Wednesday to play in the bowl game and wasn’t able to go, opening the door for Morris.
"Obviously, we recruited him at Michigan to be the quarterback at Michigan," Hoke said. "This is a great opportunity. We have a lot of faith in how he goes about his business getting ready to play."
As a senior at De La Salle High School in Warren, Mich., Morris was limited to four games after a bout of mononucleosis sent him to the hospital for a week.
Despite his limited action as a senior, Morris was considered one of the nation’s best pro-style quarterbacks and drew interest from some of the top programs around the country.
There was little doubt where he’d go.
Morris grew up in Michigan, came from a family of Wolverines fans and has baby pictures of himself in Michigan’s 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. "It’s a huge bowl game. I’m excited."
Morris won’t go into the game completely cold.
He attempted nine passes during the regular season but was able to learn by watching Gardner, a versatile quarterback who’s thrown for over 4,000 yards and 32 touchdowns in 21 games as a starter the past two seasons.
With Gardner ailing, Hoke had Morris work with the first-team offense during the bowl practices, giving him extra preparation time for his first college start.
"Everything has been great with him," Michigan receiver Jeremy Gallon said. "He’s been connecting with the receivers, the running backs, building a stronger chemistry with the O-line. There’s nothing new about him. I feel like he’s been here forever."
With Morris under center, Michigan will have a different look on offense. Gardner was a mobile quarterback who could make things happen with his legs as much as his arm.
Though also agile, Morris is known more as a passer, a big-armed left-hander who’s had to work at times on putting more touch on short passes so his receivers can catch the ball.
Hoke said he has scaled back Michigan’s offense some, but also has changed things a bit to emphasize what Morris can do.
The change under center has made no difference to Kansas State in its preparation for the bowl game.
"If you prepare for their offense, you’re virtually preparing for everything," Wildcats coach Bill Snyder said. "They can do an awful lot of things. Regardless who their quarterback is, our preparation has been along the lines of their offense in its entirety."