Ann Arbor – — Shane Morris is a hard-throwing left-handed quarterback, a sophomore at Michigan, who was highly recruited coming out of Warren De La Salle High.
And he just might be on the verge of making his first regular-season start for Michigan on Saturday when it opens Big Ten play against Minnesota at Michigan Stadium.
While fifth-year senior Devin Gardner has been the full-time starter since last season, the offense has struggled through four games, failing to reach the red zone in two losses. The Wolverines are minus-10 in turnover margin, and Gardner has six interceptions and a fumble.
Paul Verska, Morris' high school coach, says Morris, who started the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl in place of an injured Gardner, is certainly capable of moving into a starting role.
"Why wouldn't he be ready?" Verska asked before a long pause. "He's been there for two years waiting for his chance, working hard. If he gets game snaps, I think he'll do fine. He's a hard worker.
"It's a matter of opportunity. If he gets an opportunity he'll do fine. My opinion, give him a game and see what happens."
Michigan coach Brady Hoke has been quick to defend Gardner. After losing 31-0 to Notre Dame, Hoke said Gardner is the quarterback, that this is his team.
After the loss to Utah, however, Hoke said the situation would be assessed.
Still, he won't place all the woes on Gardner's shoulders.
"There are tipped balls (interceptions) in both games, the last two, one from the defensive perspective and one from the offensive perspective," Hoke said of Gardner's interceptions. "So maybe if we get two hands on it, it won't be tipped. There's different things — guys getting pushed back into him a little bit, and the ball hasn't come off right.
"Has he made perfect decisions? No, and he wants to and he will."
During Hoke's weekly interview on 97.1, he was asked why Gardner looks as though he's regressed.
"I don't know if that's all the way fair," Hoke said. "He's in a new system. It's a learning process. And when you're playing in the Big House and playing an opponent, they give you a couple different looks you might not be ready for because they haven't shown much of it, and that has set us back a little bit."
First-year offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier said consistency has been missing from the offense. Michigan will move the ball in stretches, then stall and have nothing to show.
He pulled Gardner from last week's loss to Utah to give him a chance to step back and view the game from the sideline and gain a new perspective on what the defense is showing and what he's seeing and not seeing.
"I've got to do a better job slowing the game down for him," Nussmeier said. "For Devin it's tying his feet and his eyes to being in the right place at the right time and making the right decisions."
So how would Nussmeier change the offense for Morris, who was 24-for-38 for 196 yards and had 43 yards rushing in one game as a starter?
"You do the things that play to Shane's strengths," he said. "Shane obviously is a very talented guy, a lot of arm strength. He's a young player, like a lot of our players, and learning. They both are similar, both can make plays with their feet, both have really good arms. We feel good about either one of those guys."
Morris has 'a cannon'
Verska is, as he said, undeniably biased toward Morris. They exchange weekly text messages, and Verska attended the Utah game. But because he's in the midst of his season, he doesn't have plans to make it to another game at Michigan Stadium this season.
"I can understand why (Hoke) went with Gardner — he has all the game experience," Verska said. "But at the same point you've got to win.
"I just think if you give (Morris) the opportunity, he'll be fine. ... You ask him to make a throw, there's nobody I'd rather have making it. I watched him in pregame last week, and he was throwing it 85 yards. He has a cannon. ... I know he'll make some mistakes like any young guy. That's part of the maturing process, but I think he'll do fine."
Verska also believes Morris would have no issue in terms of commanding the huddle.
"If you look at the guys who are there, he recruited half of them," Verska said. "They know him and they're friends with him."
The two exchanged text messages this week after the Utah game.
"I said, 'You looked poised and confident' and told him to work hard," Verska said. "He said, 'Coach, I'm working hard.'
"Being biased, I love the kid, and I'm pulling for him. I hope he gets a chance and I hope he does well. I'm a fan."
Minnesota at Michigan
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor
Line: Michigan by 12
Records: Minnesota 3-1, Michigan 2-2
Series: Michigan leads 73-24-3 (Michigan 42-13, Oct. 5, 2013)
Did you know? Michigan and Minnesota are playing for the Little Brown Jug, on the line since 1909. The Wolverines have won 22 of the last 23, including the last six.