Michigan still unsure at quarterback

By Joshua Kinder

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Now three days away from the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner doesn’t appear to be any closer to playing in Saturday’s game against Kansas State.

It’s a major blow for the Wolverines, who ended the regular season on a bit of a slide already — losing five of their last seven — and now have to replace a dynamic game-changer at QB with Shane Morris, a true-freshman who has just nine pass attempts all season.

Associated Press
(Michigans’ Shane Morris and Kevin Koger console Devin Gardner after their 42-41 loss to Ohio State in an NCAA college football game on Nov. 30, 2013 at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Mich).

Gardner hasn’t practiced since Michigan’s 42-41 loss to Ohio State on Nov. 30. Wolverines’ coach Brady Hoke said Monday that he would prefer to see Gardner practice at least once before Saturday’s game against Kansas State at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Ariz. — televised nationally on ESPN at 9:15 p.m. — but as we inch closer to kickoff, that appears to be less and less likely to happen.

Hoke said Tuesday that Gardner, despite not physically practicing, has continued to prepare as if he will start the bowl game.

“He just assumes he’s going to play, and that’s the way we go about it,” he said. “If for someone reason he doesn’t, he doesn’t. But we don’t think any other way.”

Hoke hasn’t ruled out the chance that Gardner could still play Saturday, even if he doesn’t practice once this week, perhaps coming off the bench like K-State has done with quarterback Jake Waters and Daniel Sams.

But just how effective would Gardner be after sitting for a month? If he’s anywhere as good as he was during the season, it would be a gigantic boost for the Wolverines. Gardner passed for 2,960 yards and 21 touchdowns and rushed for nearly 500 more yards and another 11 scores before injuring his foot.

“Who knows? He knows the offense,” Hoke said of Gardner. “That’s what’s good. If we could get him a few practices, I think he would become very functional because Devin’s smart and he stays on top of things pretty good.”

But Michigan does have a Plan B — in case Gardner can’t go — which includes a scaled-down offensive look for a young backup quarterback who is just 4 for 9 this season for 65 yards and an interception.

“As it becomes more apparent that (Morris) could be starting, we have to be very judicious about how we go about repping him in terms of what plays to run, the ones he knows the best and understands the best,” Hoke said. “So, we’re at that point now.”

Hoke hasn’t come out and said Gardner won’t play, or start for that matter. But it’s become clear Morris is doing everything starting quarterbacks do to prepare for the Wildcats.

“We’ve had a lot of time to get him ready and take the No. 1 reps, which he’s never done before,” Hoke said. “(Shane) is come along nicely. He’s studied hard. He’s really worked at it. It’s showed up because he’s improved a lot from the first day we started bowl practices to today, which is natural because he has had the reps.”

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