things go poorly
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).
Not much to go on, but I did find it interesting FSU was the first to admit him as a mid-term student. Plus looks like he is FOR SURE enrolling early, so we should know by Friday where he's going.
Leon McQuay said he might only have 3 hats on the table when he announces. Wouldn't say who though. #UAgame #FSU #Vandy#USC #UM #DucksLeon McQuay says he plans on enrolling early, only #FSU has admitted him as a mid-term student so far. He is working on the others #UAGameLogan Tulley-Tillman, now that's a Michigan man.Shane Morris practicing his Hoke impression
Without numerous mentions of UMich (past, present, and future ... no kidding) this would probably be too "OT" for the board:
Opinions expressed in the article (such as the one about Gardner) are not necessarily those of the OP.
At first he discusses the possibility of Max Browne taking the #1 spot from Robert Nkemdiche. (I think that is highly unlikely)
This leads me to another quarterback who will arguably be the subject of the most controversial discussion we need to have when it comes time for our next rankings in early December. Of course, I'm talking about Warren (Mich.) De La Salle's Shane Morris.
The lefty was awarded his fifth star following summer appearances at numerous camps as well as The Opening and Elite 11. However, after completing just over 50 percent of his passes as a junior, Morris started off this year 40-of-83 for 456 yards with three touchdowns and three picks. Then he was diagnosed with mononucleosis and could be out for the rest of the season, which makes it unclear if he'll be ready to play in the Under Armour All-American Game in January.
So, was the poor start due to mono or was it more of the up-and-down play from last season that held him back from his fifth star? Mono is unlikely to affect him long term when it comes to his college career, although it could delay his immediate impact depending on how long it takes to recover and gain back weight. His senior year playing sample will certainly lead to some detailed discussion.
More than likely he will lose his 5th star (whoopty doo) and hopefully he will still be able to play with a lot of his teammates in the All-American game.