|Should we go with the guy who was bestowed with Tom Harmon's jersey, or the guy with zero career touchdowns?|
(image via 247Sports.com)
How about now? Devin Gardner has been the starting quarterback since 2012 for a reason. He is one of the best athletes in the country at his position, he has good (not great) arm strength, and he has the ability to put the team on his back for entire games (for example, last year against Notre Dame, Indiana, and Ohio State). He certainly has flaws - the interceptions, the fumbles, the ill-advised throws from his own endzone - but that's not the point. The question Brady Hoke should be asking himself on a weekly basis is this: Which quarterback gives this team the best chance to win right now? The answer to that question is Gardner. The switch to Morris should never have been made in the first place. Sometimes you have to tell fans and media to suck an egg, that you're going to stick with your guy. It's okay to be Grady Little once in a while. In another dimension, Pedro Martinez held onto the lead.
Michigan should have recruited a quarterback in 2012. This doesn't have much to do with this game in itself, but I just feel the need to point out that the Wolverines whiffed on a couple quarterbacks in the 2012 class and then said, "Eh, who cares? We've got Shane Morris in the pipeline." I care, and I said so at the time. I was appalled that Michigan didn't go after another signal caller, and that mistake is rearing its ugly head as the Wolverines are trying to field a competent starter and/or backup. This exact situation is evidence that a quarterback should be recruited in every class. They want to bench their fifth-year senior, the redshirt junior was terrible, the sophomore is in over his head, and the freshman is probably maizeing his pants in fear of playing behind Michigan's offensive line.
Coaching tip #1: Put your damn helmets on. In the fourth quarter, Shane Morris was knocked out of the game with one or more injuries (more on that later). Devin Gardner was inserted for a couple plays, upon which his helmet came off and he was forced to sit out one play. Third-string quarterback Russell Bellomy, caught totally unaware, had no clue where his helmet was. He tried on one that didn't fit, then another that didn't fit, then turned to all his friends and said, "No, guys, don't you remember Nebraska?!?!?!" Then everyone nodded and gently nudged the (allegedly) concussed guy out there for another play.
Coaching tip #2: You can't punt when you're down by 16 with four minutes left. I don't give a hoot if it's 4th-and-36 from your own 1-yard line. If you're down two scores with roughly four minutes remaining, you go for it, especially with only one timeout left. Minnesota is a ball control offense who can certainly run the ball and keep the clock running for the remainder of the game. And that's exactly what they did. That showed me that Brady Hoke didn't want to win the game, and it also showed that he didn't have faith in his team to make a game of it. He was trying to save face and prevent the team from giving up 37 points. If they don't get the first down, everyone in that locker room knows that the final seven points wouldn't really matter. There's no discernible difference between a 37-14 loss and a 30-14 loss. At least if you go for it, you show your team that you believe in them and will keep clawing for victory until the end.
Shane Morris may or may not have been concussed. I know there's a lot of hand wringing about concussions these days, and I know Morris took a nasty shot from Theiren Cockran (that should have resulted in an ejection, by the way). I have seen a fair number of concussions, and I have to say that Morris did not look concussed on the sideline. I know people saw him stumble and nearly collapse on the field, but I got the vibe that it was because of the obvious pain in his left ankle. The kid could barely put pressure on his left leg from the third quarter onward, and I'm sure the hit from Cockran was not pleasant. Morris's demeanor on the sideline afterward appeared to be that of a coherent young man who needed an ice bath, a massage, and some pictures to make him feel better. I could be wrong, and there's no way to play doctor from my seat on the couch, but that was my interpretation of what I saw. . .
[Note: Before anyone jumps on me for my thoughts on Morris, I should state that I am extremely cautious as a coach when it comes to concussions. Standard protocol is to remove a kid's helmet if there is any suspicion of a concussion, until such time as he is cleared to return. I have forced several kids out of practice/games for precautionary reasons when they complained of head pain, only to find out that it was dehydration, a blow to the nose, etc. At the very least, Morris should have been examined by a trainer.]
However, Morris should have been removed from the game permanently. On top of the fact that he never should have started the game in the first place, Morris twisted his ankle and/or knee early in the third quarter. He was limping noticeably. It seemed to affect his play negatively. He then took a couple more hits and came up limping even worse. In my years of sports experience, people who limp are generally worse at sports than those who are not limping. If that weren't the case, Verbal Kint would be in the Hall of Fame. Michigan fans can rest easy knowing that a sixth year of Brian Cleary eligibility is still a possibility.
What about Minnesota, though? They're not bad. They have a very good offensive line, they have some hard-running backs, they have a quarterback who fits their system, and they have a fundamentally sound defense. Other than running back David Cobb (32 carries, 183 yards), nobody wowed me. Cobb is just a guy who refuses to go down on first contact, and he has some burst that a guy like De'Veon Smith lacks. Tight end Maxx Williams might be able to squeeze into that category of "wow" guys, too, but he wasn't a game-changer in this one. When a guy - whether it's a star or a scrub - makes a diving, one-handed catch like he did down the sideline while being well covered by safety Jeremy Clark, you just have to tip your hat and acknowledge that there are other guys who can make plays, too.
Who starts at quarterback? It has to be Devin Gardner. Even if Shane Morris travels to Elysium and gets back in time for Extreme Makeover: Home Edition on a Sunday night in 2003, Gardner should be the starter. Always and forever. He's wearing the #98 jersey for a reason. (The reason is that Dave Brandon is a greedy bastard; I didn't say it was a good reason.) Unless he re-breaks his foot or tells everyone in the MUG to "f*** her right in the p****", Gardner should be the one fumbling Michigan's season away.
Who starts at head coach? I don't know. I think every coach hits a point where you say, "Yeah, this just isn't going to work out." For whatever reason, I think Rich Rodriguez's moment was "You Raise Me Up," even though his defenses sent up warning flags. This game may have been Hoke's moment. I'm not saying that I think he'll be fired on Monday (who would you promote to interim head coach?), and I'm not saying that a 9-3 finish (hey, it's possible) couldn't save Hoke. But the handling of Gardner, the handling of Morris, and curling up into the fetal position at the end of game is a potentially lethal combination. If Doug Nussmeier or Jeff Hecklinski is the head coach sometime soon, I will not be surprised.
We're totally going to beat Rutgers. This was all a ploy to sucker them in, like a McDonald's with free wi-fi. They step inside, check their e-mail, order a sweet tea, and BOOM! That's right. The cashier gave you herpes. Oh, and diabetes. You gotta watch out for that diabetes sneaking up on you like an, I dunno, Mitch Leidner bootleg. Wait, what was I talking about?
Rutgers has herpes.