At press time, Harbaugh had sent Michigan’s athletic department an envelope containing a heavily annotated seating chart, a list of the 63,000 seat views he had found unsatisfactory, and a glowing 70-page report on section 25, row 12, seat 9, which he claimed is “exactly what the great sport of football is all about.”
devin gardner will be the starting quarterback
[Note: I wasn’t in South Bend, so this was all transcribed from the video provided by the Athletic Department’s site.]
“Obviously Notre Dame played a very good football game and we didn’t. You’ve got to give them a lot of credit. A lot of credit to what they did on third downs, either defending us or their third down opportunities that they converted on.
“We’ve got to go back to work, and we will as a team. You don’t want to have four turnovers in a game. That doesn’t help you. The red zone, we didn’t help ourselves in there. From the penalty side, we put ourselves behind the sticks offensively. And again, you’ve got to give them a lot of the credit too. But we will bounce back because this is a very resilient, hard-working group of young men who know what it takes to win.”
After [Devin] Gardner started fairly quickly, I think six-for-six, and then did they bring more pressure, did your offensive line struggle; what fell apart?
“I think a little bit it’s never one guy, it’s never one piece of the offensive line, or the quarterback, or the routes, or whatever. When those things happen I think they happen as a team. He started six-for-six. I think we’ve got to give them- we crossed the fifty and they were going to bring more pressure. That’s what they did.”
Can you talk about Ray Taylor and any update on his status?
“I’m not going to talk about any of those injuries. Number one, I don’t know enough about them.”
And then Jabrill [Peppers], he dressed. Could he have played?
“If he could have played we would have played him. We evaluated all those guys before the game.”
And then you dressed him?
“Well, he went out because we were evaluating him before the game.”
You said you’re pretty confident this team will bounce back. How do they bounce back from such a- I mean, this was a pretty humbling loss here.
“Yeah, it is but I think they’ve all been humbled sometime in their life. It’s part of the resiliency this group has.”
Your guys were pretty adamant about how bad they wanted this because of this possibly being the last game. Were you surprised at how lopsided this ended up being?
“This game? Yeah.”
[After THE JUMP: Gardner is still the starter, why Countess was pulled, and bouncing back from adversity]
News bullets and other items:
- The team scrimmages in Michigan Stadium on Wednesday
- Mason Cole really, truly might play. Really.
- Funchess was held out of practice but Hoke didn't even call it a boo-boo so he's likely fine
- Csont’e York is still part of the program
- Devin Gardner is expected to start against Appalachian State
- The coaches will probably know their starting offensive line after Saturday's scrimmage
- Jake Butt being back by the Notre Dame game is “a little nuts”
- Ross Douglas is a wide receiver
“Thanks for coming out. We continued, I think, as a team to practice hard. We continued as a team to take the incremental jumps that we want to keep making every day were out here I think from all positions. Again, the competition is such that it just creates a great competitive environment in everything we're doing. Happy with the effort we've had throughout camp, happy with the improvements and the progress. We need to keep getting better, I think that's a big part of it. The jump that we make this week as a team, because this is really a grind, is important. Tomorrow we'll put it together up at the stadium, we'll scrimmage up there. We'll see how many plays. Would like to get 120 in, 130 plays. We'll talk a little more in-depth what we want to get from each unit, from the first defense to the first offense, seconds, thirds, all the way down so that we can see – we're getting everybody some reps and also a good idea of guys playing up in that stadium.”
We've heard a lot about Mason Cole. What has he done to impress you guys and is it a good or a bad thing or are you concerned that you might have a true freshman starter on the offensive line?
”I think I'll take the back end of it first. If he's good enough, he's old enough. To this point so far he's been good enough. When you look at the people that he's gone against with Frank and those rush ends and the people that he's blocking, five techniques, he's held his own very well. I think I mentioned earlier sometime but he came in a little differently. I give a lot of credit to his coach and his high school team and their preparation. He has a great passion about playing the game.”
Any update on the injuries?
“Yeah, everybody was back. The only one, obviously Jake is still not full speed but the guys who got banged up – Funchess is the only guy that we held out a little bit but other than that I can't think of another guy. I'm just trying to think so I can give you accurate information.”
What happened to Funchess?
”He just got bumped up a little bit. He'll be okay. He probably could have gone today but we're trying to be smart. We've got a scrimmage tomorrow.”
Any update on Csont’e York and is he still a part of the program?
”No question. We are going to go through the process. You know, he's a guy who has been a part of this team and we'll go through this process. His status hasn't changed.”
So he's still part of the program?
”Yeah. Status hasn't changed.”
[Hit THE JUMP for more on Jake Butt, Devin Gardner, the inside linebackers, and a complete lack of clarity regarding the offensive line]
As it turns out, taking this kind of beating has a long-lasting effect. [Fuller]
We all know that a well-timed hit on a passing quarterback, whether or not it results in a sack, makes it far less likely that pass will be completed, not to mention more likely to fall into the hands of a defender. It stands to reason, as well, that the cumulative effect of multiple hits on a quarterback will eventually affect his performance even when he's not taking hits.
Devin Gardner's 2013 season stands as a testament to this hypothesis. After the MSU seven-sack breaking point, there were several occasions when it seemed like he simply didn't have the juice to make certain throws that he didn't have any trouble making before his body was demolished piece by piece.
A recent article from the excellent site Pro Football Focus helpfully quantifies the effect of such punishment on a quarterback's accuracy and interception rate, using a data sample of every NFL throw from the past six years. As a quarterback takes more hits over the course of a game, their accuracy predictably plummets—on every throw, not just the ones when they're eating a defender:
After every sack or hit the quarterback takes, their Accuracy Percentage decreases by an average of a half of a percent. While that might not seem like much, there also isn’t much difference between the best and worst quarterbacks in the league. Based on the graph, an above average quarterback after five hits or sacks performs as well as an average quarterback with no hits or sacks. Once that above average quarterback has been sacked or hit 10 times, they play as well as a below average quarterback who hasn’t been sacked or hit.
The article also shows that interception rates increase substantially as the hits pile up, and more experienced quarterbacks are much better at mitigating these effects than rookie signal-callers—something to keep in mind when considering the relative merits of Gardner and Shane Morris.
When looking at Michigan's 2013 season, there's no question Gardner was a victim of this phenomenon. There's also evidence that he's better than most at handling the heat:
|2 sacks or fewer||152||94||61.8||10.1||7.9||3.9|
The heroic Ohio State (3 sacks) performance skews the numbers, though in fairness, so did Indiana's defense on the other. Even so, Gardner performed markedly better when not under constant pressure, especially when it came to producing yards and points.
The oddball interception rates can be chalked up to the concerted effort by Gardner to make fewer risky plays as the season went along. The desperation throwaways that resulted in stuff like the Stephon Tuitt pick-six turned into sacks intelligently taken as the season wore on, to the benefit of the turnover margin and serious detriment to Gardner's health and ability to make big plays on the ground or through the air.
So here's the hopeful part. Imagine a world in which Michigan has a running game that can move the ball forwards, forcing defenses to respect the run instead of pinning their ears back and going full-bore for Gardner's chest. Imagine a coherent Michigan offense that finds a way to counter the constant opponent blitzes. Imagine a full season of an offense directed by an NFL-level talent who doesn't end half his games resembling a coal miner.
This could very well be Michigan's reality in 2014. If it is, expect Devin Gardner to do big things.
The college football offseason is a long, lonely time. Some fans are lucky to have a basketball, hockey, or baseball team worth watching in the meantime, but for those whose monogamous life partner is college football, the offseason is between eight and nine months long, and often seems even longer. So you can imagine what it’s like to be a college football writer. Sure, you’ve got National Signing Day and spring practice. And you’ve got the occasional Fulmer Cup issues and other assorted stuff. But that won’t sustain you. No, no. You need narratives. And nothing… and I mean NOTHING… chews up clock like chaos at the quarterback position.
So, in light of that, we’ve assembled a How-To manual for selling a quarterback controversy.
THINGS YOU WILL NEED:
Having two new guys doesn’t do it. Sure, you can milk a few “who will replace Johnny Graduate?” stories out of it, but that’s just a quarterback battle. We need a quarterback CONTROVERSY.
Notice that you don’t need a bad incumbent. I mean, if the incumbent sucks, that’s fine. But it isn’t a requirement, and in fact may not be enough. Instead, you need…
A Disappointing Season
We’ll call this the Football Leadership Ability Correlation/Causation Observation Effect (or the “FLACCO Effect” for short). Regardless of numbers, the eye test, or the relentless nagging nature of numbers and stuff, people will inevitably correlate team success with the righteousness and overall gooditude of the quarterback. Win a Super Bowl? Massive contract, because you are ELITE. Go 7-6 despite incomprehensibly huge numbers? Constant complaints.
Does the defense have something to do with it? Maybe the offensive line, or the receivers, or the schedule, or the coaching? Yeah, yeah. Excuses, excuses. Winners win, dammit, and winning quarterbacks win when they quarterback. You didn’t win. You aren’t a winning quarterback.
Take, for a completely random example, the University of Michigan. Michigan was 7-6 last year, and the offense struggled. Devin Gardner led the offense. It was therefore Devin Gardner’s fault.
An Intriguing Challenger
This part isn’t terribly important, but it helps. And by “intriguing,” I don’t necessarily mean “good.” Again, if he’s good, cool. Go with it. But all you need is somebody plausible. In other words, you need a blank slate with a soupçon of positivity. You can have some data on the guy, but it better either be (a) good, or (b) scarce.
Do you have a former four- or five-star recruit lying around? Maybe he played a game or two and didn’t crash into a wall or vomit repeatedly? Cool. Go no further. You’re in.
Check all that apply:
- Did the Incumbent have a bad game at any point?
- Did the Incumbent throw any interceptions at bad times?
- Did the offense stall from time to time?
- Were there moments where the Incumbent made mental errors or displayed anything that could be perceived as weakness or a lack of desire?
- Did unrelated good things happen to other people?
Notice the lack of an “if yes, explain” box. There’s no need to go fleshing this out with context. Data points don’t need context. That’s how data points work.
Check all that apply:
- Has the Challenger ever looked good for any stretch of any game?
- Has he thrown any touchdown passes?
- Did the offense move the ball from time to time under the direction of the Challenger?
- Has the Challenger ever demonstrated positive intangibles of any kind?
- Does the Challenger have… uh… physical/demographic characteristics that seem more “quarterbacky” to some readers?
- (Optional) Does the Challenger have any trait or skill that the Incumbent lacks, or has it in greater quantities than the incumbent?
It’s all about body language. Who looks more into the game, huh? HUH?
Quarterback controversies don’t just fall from the sky. They must be conjured by a powerful force. A wizard is preferable, but failing that, coachspeak will do just fine.
Question: To be clear, when Devin is healthy, obviously he will be at some point, Shane is going to get a chance, Devin is going to have a chance or is Devin going to go in as your starter?
Answer: “I think that is an unknown. Again, we were 7-6 and we’ve got a lot of young guys. We’ve got a lot of competition. Now does Devin have the most experience – yes. There is no question.”
Did you miss it? Let’s try it again, but this time without that messy ‘rest of the answer’ crap.
Question: “…is Devin going to go in as your starter? “
Answer: “I think that is an unknown.”
See how easy that was? Heck, we can take it one step further, in headline form:
Brady Hoke: Quarterback position “is an unknown”
And we’re off to the races.
Putting it all Together
The rest is pretty simple. Rehash the disappointing season, introduce the new guy, compare the apples to the oranges, and throw in a quote or two to prove you didn’t make it up. Let’s see how this all works, and tell me if this sounds familiar.
After a disappointing 7-6 season, Michigan has a lot of questions to answer. One big question is whether Devin Gardner will be the starting quarterback next season.
Gardner started 12 games last year, but doubts linger as to whether he’s the best fit for the offense Brady Hoke wants to run. Gardner, who was recruited to run Rich Rodriguez’s spread option attack, struggled at times last year. He threw key interceptions in near-calamities against Akron and UConn, and the offense he led stalled in losses to Iowa and Nebraska. The Wolverines also lost, once again, to rivals Michigan State and Ohio State. Both arch-enemies up in BCS bowl games, while Michigan ended up in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. Brady Hoke is under serious pressure, and he has to be looking for a change.
Enter Shane Morris.
Morris was a five-star recruit out of high school, and sat most of his freshman year behind Gardner. Morris started the BWW Bowl and showed flashes of the kind of arm strength and poise that make him a threat to take the reins for Big Blue. He threw for nearly 200 yards and completed over 63% of his passes (higher than Gardner’s 60.3% completion rate). If Hoke wants to return to the days of the big-armed pocket passers, Morris looks like his guy.
Hoke insists this is an open competition, saying instead that it’s “unknown” who will start.
Of course, I just made that whole thing up, and the only part that required me to do more than look at box scores and pull fun narrative storylines out of my ass was the last sentence. See also: here and here and here and okay stop clicking those links.
What If We’re Wrong?
Oh, that’s the best part. You can’t be wrong. You’re not claiming the new guy WILL start… you’re just saying the new guy MIGHT start. It’s 50-50. Heck, you can even give the incumbent a 60-40 edge. Repeat after me: “this battle will go right through fall camp and right up until the season opener (and maybe beyond), though if I had to make a prediction, I’d guess that Gardner starts.”
What’s even better is that almost nothing can refute your narrative, and just about every piece of news can confirm it in some way. Devin Gardner has a poor spring game? “See, the door is open.” Practice reports indicate Gardner is an unstoppable hell-beast? “The competition is bringing out the best in Gardner.”
If things get slow during the off-season, this particular well won’t go dry. You just need to add a fresh ‘source,’ such as “buzz from practice,” “sources inside the program,” or even “the word out of Schembechler these days.” You can also ask hilariously loaded questions, like asking the new guy “do you think you can be the starter?” (as if anyone is going to say, “nah, I’m not that good, so pray that this guy stays healthy ‘cause I’m basically a 7-loss season waiting to happen).
It was terrible that Hank left him in that safe house all alone. I wonder how long he stayed.
You may be starting to think to yourself “this is kinds sounding plausible.” And you might even start believing it yourself. And in doing so, you might be tempted to engage with people who think you are completely full of crap. DO NOT DO THIS. This “controversy” is an oblique attack. Stick and move. Don’t get tied up on the ropes. If you do, people will probably point out some of the following tidbits:
- Devin Gardner is going to be a 5th year senior. He’s been on campus for 51 months. Shane Morris will be a true sophomore. He’s been on campus for 10 months.
- Gardner has 17 starts as a Michigan quarterback (and another 8 at wide receiver). Morris has played approximately 5 quarters.
- Devin Gardner completed 60.3% of his passes last year. He threw for 2960 yards (247 yards per game) at 8.6 YPA. Those are pretty damn good numbers.
- In Big Ten play, Gardner threw for 14 touchdowns and 3 picks.
- And he put up those numbers despite (a) having absolutely no running game (and in some cases LESS than no running game), (2) having absolutely no pass protection, and (d) playing through a broken Devin and three cracked Gardners.
- You probably can’t name the last time an incumbent starter who threw for 8.6+ YPA didn’t start the next year. I know I can’t, and I looked back to 2005 to try to find someone. Couldn’t.
- In his most recent game under center, Gardner threw for 451 yards and accounted for five touchdown without a pick. He did so on foot so busted he was limited in practice three months later.
- Shane Morris’s bowl performance was basically a series of bubble screens and those jet-sweep-in-front-of-the-QB things that somehow still count as passes. His downfield throws were… an adventure.
- Insider buzz has apparently confirmed what history and basic logic would indicate: it’s Gardner.
- Incumbents always always always win these “battles.” In 2012, Andrew Maxwell completed 52% of his passes at 5.8 YPA. And he STILL started the opener (and likely would have continued to start if he hadn’t thrown for under 3.5 YPA).
Wow. I wouldn’t put that stuff into your articles. It kinda makes it sound like the earlier stuff was complete bullshit.