I did not make this headline up
“We’re not going to talk about injuries and I might as well bring that out now. And some of that is because you can say something about something and then you’re wrong. Everybody heals a little differently, and the other thing is for our kids. I want to make sure we’re doing a good job protecting them.” — Brady Hoke, 9/17/14
Regardless of how you felt about the on-field performance, what Brady Hoke did in putting an almost certainly concussed Shane Morris back on the field was reprehensible and, if you believe the first job of a head coach is to protect his own players, worthy of a firing. The fact that Hoke let Morris stay on the field as long as he did in the first place—when Morris, at one point, waved at the sideline while needing a lineman's support to stand—was awful enough; to ask Morris to re-enter that game was beyond the pale.
A national television audience just saw every reason why they shouldn't send their football players to Michigan.
An ornery crowd filtered in slowly, with the "attendance" of 102,926 such an obvious farce much of the crowd booed when it was announced. Booing, in fact, was a theme on the day. It started early, when a couple inside running plays netted little. When Minnesota entered the tunnel with a 10-7 halftime lead, the boos rained down again.
By the time Morris lost a third-quarter fumble when he simply dropped the ball in the pocket—the press box announcer flatly stated "fumble not forced by anyone on Minnesota," afterward—the student section had moved on from boos to chants of "Fire Brandon." For the uninitiated, that would be in reference to Dave Brandon, Michigan's embattled athletic director.
The first half proved competitive, at least, if not at all interesting. Michigan punted on their first three drives, Minnesota on their opening four; provided stellar field position by the defense, the Wolverine offense tallied their first red zone trip and touchdown against a Power 5 team this season on a nifty ten-yard scamper by De'Veon Smith. The Gophers answered just two minutes later, however, with a ten-yard scoring run of their own when quarterback Mitch Leidner ran untouched around the corner off an inside run fake.
Minnesota added greatly to the fan unrest when they marched 92 yards in 2:17 to end the half with a Ryan Santoso field goal. Then the floodgates opened in the third quarter. Minnesota forced Michigan to punt from deep in their own territory, allowing the Gophers to "drive" eight yards in seven plays for another Santoso field goal, putting them up 13-10. Two plays later, Theiran Cockran tipped a Morris pass to the flat, and it fluttered right to Gopher LB De'Vondre Campbell, who brought it back 30 yards for an easy touchdown.
After the Morris fumble on the very next drive, Leidner ended a five-play drive with a little flip-pass to Maxx Williams for a one-yard score. What had been a 10-7 game just 4:32 earlier morphed into an ugly 27-7 blowout. When Morris was finally pulled, Devin Gardner entered the game and immediately engineered a touchdown drive, capping it off with a three-yard run, defiantly standing as two defenders collided with him upon entering the end zone. During that drive, Gardner lost his helmet for a play, necessitating either a timeout be called or a backup enter. While Russell Bellomy also grabbed his helmet, Morris went in.
On what would ultimately be Michigan's last drive, another woeful three-and-out (their seventh of the game) from the shadow of their own end zone, Devin Funchess also went down injured, and left the field with a noticeable limp. When the game mercifully ended shortly after Michigan punted, still technically down just two scores on the scoreboard, Funchess and his teammates limped to the locker room; Morris left the field on the back of a cart.
"I didn't see that. I can only answer for me," said Hoke, when asked if he noticed Morris looking wobbly on his feet.
If that's the best you've got, Brady, it's best if you let someone else protect the players.
I scrapped the original question because there's a burning one out there:
Gardner or Morris? Who should start, who will start?
Ace: Before the press conferences this week, I'd still have gone with Gardner—despite his awful performances against Notre Dame and Utah, I think he still gives Michigan the best chance to win. We've seen him at his best—and playing at his best while overcoming injury and a horrendous O-line—and that best is right up there with any college QB, while Morris has yet to show much other than similarly inconsistent, turnover-prone play in his short time on the field. If this team needs to win now, and to save Brady Hoke's job they clearly do, I think Gardner is the play unless he's so broken physically/mechanically that it's impossible for him to scrape his ceiling. (I'm about 80% there on thinking this is the case, by the way, but last year's Ohio State game lingers in my mind as a strong counterpoint—remember, that performance came out of nowhere, and he had a broken foot to boot.)
That said, the way this has been handled publicly makes me believe Morris will be the starter—why not dispel the speculation if there isn't going to be a change?*—and at this point I think they have to go with that. Most fans believe Morris will be the starter and most are ready for the change now whether or not they were on board; if they head into the Big House thinking that way and Gardner is announced as the starter, there are going to be boos directed at that decision—which is basically booing Gardner, probably the person associated with the football program who least deserves that treatment—and that's just not going to help anything. I understand the reasoning behind putting Morris in—he's the future, the present option isn't going so well at all, and he gets the chance to learn on the fly in a game setting and hopefully improve before our very eyes—but it's a huge risk for Hoke if he goes there, especially if he sticks to his word that he won't rotate QBs.
Playing Gardner comes with its own risks, of course, but the biggest risk is still playing a QB with this career stat line: 36/67, 340 yards (5.1 YPA), 0 passing TDs, 4 interceptions.
*Since the most common response I've seen to this is "so Minnesota has to prepare for Gardner," I'll note that there's no way in hell Minnesota isn't preparing for Gardner—and Morris, too—no matter what Brady Hoke says in a press conference.
[jump for the rest of us]
FORMATION NOTES: A lot of this kind of stuff.
Probably 50/50 between this and gun with more gun coming late as Michigan tried to make it look like they were trying to come back without actually doing so.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: Everything as per usual, with the exception of Morris's late insertion and maybe a little more playing time for Jake Butt.
AGAIN APOLOGIES: Audio on the clips is messed up this week.
[After THE JUMP: a portal to another universe where Michigan doesn't suck (I DID IT FOR THE CLIIIIIIIIIICKS)]
News bullets and other items:
They have a plan for what they want to do at quarterback, and it won’t be revealed until the game.
Same goes for any other personnel changes.
“We ready? Alright. The team- we had a great practice yesterday. Came out and had a good day of work. It’s exciting to move forward, as you all would expect. We get to start the Big Ten season. The Brown Jug is a very big deal to us and keeping the Brown Jug here. We’ve talked about it as a team. We read the history of the Brown Jug and it’s something that has another part, not just being a Big Ten game but being a game that’s the oldest trophy game in Division I college football, so we’re excited about that. Obviously getting to conference play is exciting and we have to have another great day today, another great day on Thursday and Friday in our preparation and we will do that.”
Brady, any further developments on the quarterback situation?
“Well, you know, we’ll wait until game time with it. We’ve got an idea of what we want to do but for what’s best for us and the program and what we’re trying to get done, and that’d be the same at any other position.”
Coach, is Brad Berlin capable of being keeper of that little Brown Jug?
“Yeah, Brad does a great job and obviously some of you don’t know [but] Brad is our new equipment manager and he has big shoes to fit himself into [since] we’ve had Jon Falk for 40 years, but Brad on Sunday came up and said, ‘Okay, what do we do with the Jug’ so I had to educate him a little bit but he’s done a great job.”
What have you told the kids about the history of the Jug?
“Well, the inception of it and the games that have been those games that have been very exciting and down to the end. I think one of the messages is you don’t want them to come over and take the Jug off the sidelines. We want to keep it stored away here.”
[After THE JUMP: all the quarterback talk that’s fit to (electronically) print]
Coach, can you talk about the tempo of the offense? Is it where you want it to be at this point?
“Obviously we’d like it to play a little faster. Right now our focus is playing right. Execution. We’ll worry about tempo later, and I think like we’ve said before we want to control the tempo of the game on offense, whether that’s to slow the game down or speed the game up.”
Doug, Brady said he’ll have a decision tomorrow on the starting quarterback. What’s going into that decision?
“Well, I think there’s a lot that goes into the decision of who plays quarterback and both guys have done an outstanding job of preparing and practicing and competing. It’s what we’ve talked about all along at every position on our team; we want to have competition and we want to compete and challenge every day.”
Whichever one is in there, I assume the turnover message has to be reinforced.
“Definitely. I mean, you start from base premise of what we talked about fro day one that we continue to talk about every day and until we get it right we’re going to continue to struggle. It’s the turnover margin. You can’t win football games when you lose it. It’s the one telling statistic in all of football over time. You lose the turnover margin week in and week out and you’re going to struggle to have a good football team.”
Doug, I guess at this point not knowing who the quarterback’s going to be what positives do you see? What could you do differently if Shane Morris were your starter?
“Well, I don’t know that you say you start all over and change your offense. No. You do the things that play to Shane’s strengths and Shane’s obviously a talented guy. Got a lot of arm strength. He is a young player like a lot of our players and learning, and Devin does- they both are similar in a lot of their style. Both you can see can make plays with their feet. Both have really good arms, and we feel really good about either one of those guys.”
[Hit THE JUMP for more]
News bullets and other items:
The team’s goal is to win the Big Ten, but you probably knew that already
The starting quarterback will be determined tomorrow
Some of the criteria for who will start: efficiency, competing, challenging, completions in practice, and leadership
Don’t expect the quarterbacks to platoon
The problems on offense are not the same as last year, as this is a new system
Read the whole thing if you’re into Brady Hoke’s made-up words
“Number one, thanks for coming out. [We] start Big Ten play this week and that's something that we've always fixed on is the Big Ten championship. I think getting started is important. It's a new opportunity. As far as last week we did some good things and didn't do some things as well as we need to and those are things that from a coaching standpoint we always need to do a better job in our coaching of it and in our execution that we need to have. There's some positives and we want to repeat those positives to the guys. Yesterday we did a good job staff-wise in the clarity of the mistakes and fixing those mistakes and [I] like that. Like how they came to work. Like how our team has competed and challenged every time they go out. Like how they've done a nice job with the leadership within the program and how they have gone about the work and I've said that before. Questions?"
Brady, you’ve talked about the leadership that you believe exists in your team. Has that leadership group given you any feedback on how to improve the results of the offense this season?
“No. I don't think that's what they're all about. I think they're all about is how the attitude of the team is and their attitude has been great. I think the way they've gone about and treated each other has been great and we just need to keep that up and keep working hard.”
Brady, you guys reviewed the tape. Do you guys know who your quarterback is today?
“No. We will make a decision tomorrow.”
What did you guys do yesterday? Did you split reps or…
“We'll make a decision tomorrow.”
After watching film how did Devin look and how did Shane look?
“Well, I think they both had some really good things and then they did some things not so good. I think if you're looking for was there one guy who played better than the other no, I don't think so. I think they both know what they need to do better and they will, and I think they both competed and made some good decisions also.”
Brady, not necessarily just about the quarterback but partly about that: 2-2 start and the offense has looked not good. How do you stay the course? How do you not make some major shuffling right now?
“Well, I'm not saying we’re not, right? Tuesday we'll make some decisions. Or we'll let you know the decisions, let's put it that way.”
I mean, could it be beyond quarterback and [include] other personnel?
“I think you look at everybody. You look internally and then you look at everybody and see what combination of whoever in that starting 11 give you the best chance to win. Maybe it's a different personnel group. Maybe it's more two tight ends, three tight ends. You know, as Jake [Butt] gets healthier he'll be more a part of the offense but we'll see how that goes.”
[After THE JUMP: special teams issues, offensive issues, quarterback issues, other issue-y issues]