Mike Lantry, 1972
Like most people, I was not expected much of a QB competition this spring. It seemed like it was Gardner's job to lose, barring injury. Now that we have a new pro-style OC coming in, without any history with either QB, I think it could open the QB competition in the spring. Shane Morris obviously has a lot of talent and showed good poise during the bowl game. However, if Nussmeier is as good of a QB developer as advertised, we might finally see Gardner reaching his potential, like we've seen in a few games the past two years, more consistently. Do you all think Gardner still has a big lead on Morris this spring?
Late in the 2013 Copper Bowl there was a two play sequence that epitomized Team 134. First, Shane Morris threw a nice pass to Jeremy Gallon for a 22 yard gain. That catch moved Gallon past Braylon Edwards into first place for most receiving yards in a season for a Michigan receiver. On the very next play, Morris threw an interception that was returned to the Michigan 7 yard line, thereby proving that we cannot have nice things, at least not this year. I guess you could extend that sequence by a couple plays to include the resulting Kansas State touchdown. Too often, especially early in the season, the offense put the defense in difficult situations and the defense was not able to make a stop. We blamed the offense and Al Borges for the early season woes that extended throughout the season. But that just masked the fact that our defense was not up to the standards of the traditional Michigan Defense. The Ohio game and this Copper Bowl finally exposed our defense. Digging through a boxscore to try to explain defensive deficiency is a difficult task. But that's what I'll try to do.
Burst of Impetus
* Michigan won the toss and rightly deferred. The idea is to let the game get started and let our true freshman QB - in his first start - calm down before throwing him to the wolves. On K-State's first drive, they faced four third downs. They converted all four. The first time our defense stopped K-State on 3rd down, we were down 21-6 and there was only ~6 minutes left in the 3rd quarter. In fact, on K-State's 2nd and 3rd drives, they never even got to third down before scoring TDs. In a game where we needed everyone to step up and help out our backup QB in his first start, the only one who stepped up was our backup QB.
Who's on First?
* 24 players recorded a defensive stat for Michigan. K-State had 19 players record a defensive stat. This is something I've harped on all season long. On the first drive of the game, I saw numerous subs get into the game. Are you telling me that our guys are getting tired 10 minutes into the game? I want the best guys out there who give us the best chance to win. I want guys to get into the flow of the game, read the queues and start figuring out the offense. Instead, there is a constant revolving door where guys are being shuttled in and out before they get a chance to get into the flow of the game or break a sweat and they spend more energy sprinting to and fro the sideline than they do playing the game.
* Of the 9 players who recorded 4 or more tackles, 4 were middle linebackers. Have you ever seen another team split playing time between the first and second string MLBs?
* We only recorded 4 TFLs, as K-State's line was continually driving our line off the line of scrimmage. I can understand a beast like Carlos Hyde getting significant YAC, but K-State's starting halfback was doing the same thing, and he's about 5' 7", 160 pounds.
* Spielman said something about how he asked Mattison who his best defender was this year, and the first thing out of Mattison's mouth was "Frank Clark." Against Ohio State, Frank Clark had one tackle. Against Kansas State, Frank Clark had one tackle. When your best defender is averaging 1 tackle per game in his last two, something is wrong.
* Say what you will about our defensive backs, they did have a penchant for getting interceptions and breaking up passes this season. Against Kansas State, we had 0 interceptions, 0 passes broken up, 0 passes blocked, and only 1 QH. The DBs were giving up way too much cushion, and even then, Countess was beat deep on a double move. The turf looked suspect, which may have caused some of the hesitancy, but at some point don't you have to change your cleats or your gameplan to account for that?
* In the previews, we read how K-State's main offensive weapon was WR Tyler Lockett. So naturally, UofM single covered him all game and gave him a huge cushion on critical third and short situations. I asked this of Borges earlier in the year, and it applies equally well to Mattison after this game, did he bother to scout K-State, at all?
* Shane Morris finished 24 of 38 for 196 yards, exceeding all sane expectations for his first start. He did throw a late INT, but that's understandable. The high completion percentage was a result of numerous short throws, but for the most part, he was accurate and on target. The one thing that was missing was a little more accuracy on a couple long balls.
* Morris also showed decent pocket awareness, only getting sacked one time.
20 Pound Cheeseburgers
* As Ace pointed out, our two leading rushers were our QB and Tight End. Our running backs should be made to watch how K-State's little Hubert ran. I get it that the offensive line generated zero push, but eventually someone has to break a tackle or make someone miss. Our 4 RBs combined for 8 carries and 13 yards. Our offense was slightly better in not giving up so many TFLs, but that's because we rarely had the ball. K-State had 5 TFLs for a total of 13 yards lost. Hey, I'm looking for positives, no matter how small.
V. Sinha Legends Jersey
* Jeremy Gallon caught 9 balls for 89 yards with a long of 22. He set two Michigan records in the process, one for consecutive games with a reception at 39, and the other for single-season receiving yards. All season, we were concerned that Gardner was focusing in too much on Gallon. Well, 9 of Morris' 24 completions went to Gallon. Could it be, the guy just gets open and catches the d@mn ball, garnering trust from his QBs? The biggest question mark next year - besides the offensive line, of course - will be who steps up to take Gallon's place? Even if it's by committee, that's a lot of offense that needs to be replaced.
Norf and Souf
* Norfleet had one nice end-around (which technically was a pass reception) for a 9 yard gain, and promptly never saw the ball again. Thanks, Al.
* Yeah, they were bad. We did average a net of 40.6 yards on 5 punts, so at least that unit performed well, but the kick coverage was atrocious. Meanwhile, our punt return team got an incomplete grade, as K-State only punted once.
I'm an international umpire
* Brought this section back just to comment on the Umpire, Matt Jordan, who showed more athletic ability than anyone on our defense when he dove into the pile after K-State's first fumble to see who made the recovery. Dudes got mad skillz.
I was born in 1970. I started going to games in 1976. Michigan always won. I went to the Rose Bowl in '78 and saw Michigan lose for the first time, by 7 points to Warren Moon and the Huskies. That day I learned that Michigan doesn't always win, but for the next two decades, you could be sure of one thing - Michigan would have a shot at winning at the end, even if you extend that definition to include a Hail Mary / on-side kick combo.
To quantify that feeling, I went back through the Bentley records. In the 70's, Michigan lost 2 games by double digits, and the worst loss was by 16 points to Minnesota. In the 80's, Michigan lost 7 games by double digits, and three of those were the year Harbaugh broke his arm. In the 90's, Michigan lost 10 games by double digits, with the two worst losses being by 20 points. In the aughts, we lost 17 games by double digits. The worst was a 35 point loss to Ohio in RichRod's first season, but the game I remember most as being a wake-up call was the 2002 Citrus Bowl loss to Tennessee by 28 points. How could a good Michigan team lose by 4 touchdowns? It just didn't make sense. Lloyd got the program back on the right track until '07, when Oregon embarrassed us by 32. Now we're in whatever this decade is called, and so far, through 4 seasons, we've already had 13 double digit losses. Yes, 6 of those were in Rich Rod's last season, but we had 3 last year and 2 this year. Brady has to turn things around in a hurry if we don't want to experience another decade worse than the last.
Which brings me to my final questions from this season. First, what do I want for Michigan football? I'm a realist, at least sometimes, and understand that we're not going to win every game, but I want us to be competitive in every game. I want to think we have a chance of winning just about every game. How does that happen? In my 43 years of watching Michigan football, the answer is not having a modern offense that can outscore the other guys, it's having a shutdown defense that can keep you in the game when your offense is struggling either due to turnovers or your QB having a bad day accuracy-wise. Can Borges construct an offense to score enough points? Frankly, I don't think that's the right question. Rather, can Mattison build a dominant defense? He has before. I think he will be able to again. It just takes time. We've got to have safeties he can trust, lock down cover corners, the Man in the middle, size up front, and a healthy JMFR wreaking havoc from the wings. Can we get there in 2014? Time will tell...
It’s been over a day now and I’m still really freaking out about Michigan’s WR situation since Darboh went down. I mean, I can’t even get any work done anymore. How has Michigan been so unlucky this offseason with injuries, position switches, everything? I mean, the coaches are still switching people’s positions two weeks before the season! Gah! Anyway, I’ve looked over the WR core again and again on mgoblue and I just didn’t see anyone that could be that big bodied WR like Darboh could. I mean, I know Darboh probably wasn’t going to be Braylon this year, but he was primed to help take Michigan’s passing attack to the next level.
But then I got to looking, and I couldn’t believe no one had brought it up yet. Scanning over the entire rosters, there is one person that can be a similar, probably even better WR than Darboh would have been this year: Devin Gardner. Gardner showed great flashes of being a capable WR in high school and early last season. That sort of playmaker would garner huge success for this offense IMO. The obvious solution is to put DG at WR.
Why not just throw Morris into the fire. Morris has a high ceiling and a really strong arm. He’s a lot like a freshman level Chad Henne. It worked great back then with him and Braylon, and I’d expect similar results this time around. Morris to Gardner, I think that’s the answer. So, fellow MGoBloggers and Michigan football crazies, what do you think of moving DG back to WR and throwing Morris into the fire?
Matt Barkley, Giant Jimmy Clausen and Shane Morris
Up until late last season, most Michigan fans were preparing for the possibility of starting this season in the hands of a true freshman quarterback. Prior to last season’s Nebraska game, this season was shaping up to feature a quality quarterback competition. Devin Gardner was the former five star dual threat quarterback. He had looked shaky in his brief appearances and during the Spring Game. At the time, some were wondering if his current stop over at wide receiver could be a more permanent move. Russell Bellomy was the last minute addition to Michigan’s first recruiting class under Brady Hoke. His physical tools were limited but he had put up a solid showing in the previous spring. Bellomy and Gardner were still largely unknowns as college quarterbacks at the time, but what was known didn’t lead many to think there was a strong option on campus. For many, the hope for the 2013 quarterback position rested in five star commitment Shane Morris.
Everything changed at the Nebraska game. Denard Robinson was injured and with Devin Gardner largely at wide receiver, Russell Bellomy got his shot. Bellomy struggled mightily, Gardner was permanently moved back to quarterback and produced a fantastic closing stretch. Meanwhile, high school senior Shane Morris came down with a case of mono and saw his stock slide back with a limited senior year.
Now the picture is much clearer. Devin Gardner has locked down the starting spot, Russell Bellomy tore his ACL, and Shane Morris likely will miss out on a redshirt season, but will be able to spend some time learning from the sideline before being thrown into live action. MCalibur did a great job looking at what Devin’s season could look like. But what would the world look like if Shane Morris was in a position to take over just months after his Senior Prom.*
*This fulfills my professional obligation to reference Senior Prom in any article about true freshmen.
The Short History of Success
The answers aren’t pretty so there isn’t any point in sugar coating. I looked at true freshmen quarterbacks since the 2003 season that played at least 10 games and averaged at least 20 plays (passes+rushes). During that time only eight qualifying quarterbacks have had a positive PAN (Points Above Normal, Opponent Adjusted). Only three have been greater than +1. For reference, last year there were 58 quarterbacks who had positive PAN with at 20 plays per game. There obviously aren’t a ton of true freshman playing most of the snaps in a given year, but eight players in eleven seasons to be above average is a tiny number.
Four of the eight were from BCS programs and of those Robert Griffin, Tyrod Taylor and Terrelle Pryor all had a rushing portion of their game that really helped them. That leaves one pro style true freshman BCS quarterback in the last 11 seasons who had a positive PAN. That player was Matt Barkley in 2009. It should also be noted that the 2009 USC offense was the most highly ranked offensive unit in terms of recruiting profile in the internet era of recruiting. And it’s not that close. Surrounded by all of that talent a true freshman Matt Barkley had a PAN of +1.1. For a 2012 comparison, +1.1 is right between David Ash of Texas and Tevin Washington of Georgia Tech. Over 11 years, that is the best case scenario for a player in Shane Morris’ situation. And although the pipeline is beginning to fill up, the 2012 Michigan offense probably isn’t quite as loaded as Barkley had in 2009.
If you include the dual threat quarterbacks, the best BCS season was Terrelle Pryor’s first
professional season at +2.7. At nearly 3 points above average per game, Pryor’s value moved him into Top 30 range, along the lines of Matt McGloin at Penn State last season. Here is the full list of eight who managed positive territory.
|Terrelle Pryor||Ohio St||2008||+2.7|
|Tyrod Taylor||Virginia Tech||2007||+0.4|
|Nate Davis||Ball St||2006||+0.3|
|Spencer Keith||Kent St||2009||+0.2|
The Long History of Failure
With only eight players passing the average mark, that leaves the rest to fall below. The average season for all other true freshmen quarterbacks was nearly –3. The worst was Jimmy Clausen’s 2007 season at –8. The average performance is on par with Zach Mettenberger’s performance at LSU and if you watched a good LSU team at all last year, you knew none of their success was due to him. Clausen’s awful 2007 would have barely edged out Sean Schroeder of Hawaii to escape being the worst quarterback performance of the season.
The lack of success of true freshman isn’t necessarily indicative of future failure. Even Jimmy Clausen made an All-American list and got drafted in the second round. Teddy Bridgewater, Braxton Miller, Chad Henne, Matthew Stafford, Brady Quinn and Josh Freeman all turned below average true freshmen seasons into great college careers and/or high draft selections.
What it Means for Michigan
Thank goodness for Devin Gardner’s breakout performances. No matter how good a true freshmen quarterback is and how good their supporting cast is, the first season they are going to be a limiting reagent for the offense. In the coming weeks I am hoping to get a look at quarterback career progression to see if there is any sort of an optimal career path where some experience can avoid some of the struggles noted above but still provide the opportunity to get elite talent like Shane Morris on the field as much as possible. Chances are Michigan’s current quarterback timeline should fit nicely into a high value historical path. A year or two to develop behind Devin Gardner combined with Morris’ strong recruiting profile mean that he should be in an excellent position to succeed when his time has come. Luckily for us, that doesn’t have to be this year.
On various message boards, I've seen two widely divergent strategies for how to use Shane Morris in 2013.
One school of thought is that his potential fifth year has far more value than occasional spot duty as a freshman. Therefore, it would be better to hold him out of action unless they're forced to play him — i.e., Gardner is out with the game on the line, and Brian Cleary can't get it done.
The other school of thought, is that as starting QBs seldom make it through a full season without being knocked out of a game (or games), the coaches ought to assume that'll happen, and therefore get Morris into the action as soon as possible. This strategy assumes that Cleary could never play acceptably against a serious opponent, and that a prepared Morris is bound to be better.
For example, suppose Michigan is up on Central Michigan 34-6 after 3 quarters. If they're pursuing the first strategy, the coaches would play Brian Cleary for the 4th. If they're pursuing the second, they'd play Morris, or perhaps a mixture of the two.
Devin Gardner is the textbook example of what can happen when you burn a promising QB's redshirt. He saw only meaningless action as a true freshman, but fortunately was able to get that year of eligibility back, due to a back injury. Of course, Michigan had Tate Forcier that year, so they never really had to use Gardner; burning his redshirt was elective.
The real question, then, is whether you think of burning Morris's redshirt as inevitable (therefore, you might as well burn it immediately), or possibly avoidable (therefore, you should avoid it as long as you can).