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Posts Tagged ‘Quarterback’

Predicting Michigan: The quarterbacks

Monday, June 9th, 2014


Predicting Michigan- Quarterbacks Gardner

In the first season of the post-Denard Robinson era, Michigan quarterbacks suffered from many of the mistakes that made “Shoelace” so inconsistent. Turnovers and mental errors led to Al Borges’s firing in favor of Alabama’s Doug Nussmeier, who will look to construct a more concrete identity for the Wolverines. Nussmeier has plenty of quarterback options to choose from, as Michigan returns its top two candidates from 2013 and adds a talented recruit to the mix.

The Starter

Despite speculation and fan frustration that call for the senior to lose his starting position in 2014, Devin Gardner will certainly be under center for Michigan at the start of the season.

Devin Gardner

Of the 11 games in 2013 in which a Big Ten quarterback totaled at least 350 yards and three touchdowns, Gardner did it five times. No other quarterback did it more than once (Andrew Weber, USA Today Sports)

Gardner took a small step back early in his first full year as the starting quarterback, throwing 10 interceptions in his first six games. The veteran was reluctant to take a sack and threw passes into coverage instead of protecting the ball. A costly interception in his own end zone nearly cost the Wolverines the game against Notre Dame, and similar plays put Michigan behind against Akron and Connecticut.

But Gardner matured during the second half of the season, taking better care of the football and throwing just one interception in six games. Despite playing behind an offensive line that surrendered 34 sacks in 2013, Gardner managed to throw for 954 combined yards against Indiana and Ohio State, showcasing his potential for the 2014 season.

The top priority for Gardner during the offseason was rehabbing a foot injury that sidelined him for the 2013 Buffalo Wild Wing’s Bowl in Arizona. Gardner battled through the injury in a heroic effort against Ohio State, but it ultimately brought a disappointing season to an early close.

Spring competition will benefit the athletic redshirt senior after he coasted through camp as the consensus starter in 2013. A healthy Gardner makes the Michigan offense more dynamic, as he features both an electric arm and quickness in the scrambling game.

Gardner will have to regroup from the loss of his favorite target Jeremy Gallon and mesh with a new-look receiving core. Freddy Canteen has emerged as one of the top targets for Gardner, who demonstrated the tendency to take shots downfield in 2013. Gardner has excellent arm strength, and Brady Hoke has surrounded him with athletic receivers that can beat defenders deep.

Michigan’s starting quarterback also features a unique type of rushing ability, which allows him to extend plays and find teammates downfield. Unlike typical dual-threat quarterbacks, Gardner prefers to stay behind the line of scrimmage and buy time for his receivers to break open. Though this habit often lead to sacks last season, if Gardner can minimize his movement behind the line and avoid defenders near the pocket, he will take advantage of a deeper and more athletic wide receiver unit.

Improvement along the offensive line will offer Gardner more time to throw in 2014, so expect the fifth-year senior to take advantage of an improved overall offense and resemble the quarterback that dominated the Big Ten during the end of the 2012 season. Gardner holds all of the physical tools to be a dominant quarterback and is poised for a bounce back season in 2014.

Projected Stats
Passing Yds Pass TD INT Comp % Rush Yds Rush TD
2,700 23 9 62% 375 8
Career Stats
2012 2,960 21 11 60.3% 483 11
2012 1,219 11 5 59.5% 101 7
2011 176 1 1 47.8% 53 1
2010 85 1 0 70.0% 21 1
Totals 4,440 34 17 59.7% 658 20

Veteran depth

Shane Morris showed plenty of potential in Michigan's BWW Bowl loss to Kansas State (Christian Peterson, Getty Images)

Shane Morris showed plenty of potential in Michigan’s BWW Bowl loss to Kansas State (Christian Peterson, Getty Images)

Michigan returns two quarterbacks behind Gardner that have taken snaps during their Wolverine careers. Russell Bellomy returns to the lineup after tearing his ACL in spring practice and missing the entire 2013 season. Bellomy most notably took the reins for Michigan against Nebraska in 2012, throwing as many interceptions (three) as completions in 16 attempts.

Bellomy’s struggles ultimately forced Hoke to return Gardner to his original position of quarterback after he started as a wide receiver for the first eight games of the season. Bellomy represents the fourth quarterback option for the Wolverines heading into the season.

The more intriguing option behind Gardner is sophomore Shane Morris, who made a splash during his start in the bowl game last December. Though he failed to record a touchdown, the youngster demonstrated elite arm strength and completed 24-of-38 passing attempts.

Borges featured the former five-star recruit with a diverse selection of passing plays, and Morris looked comfortable running the offense as a freshman. Though Morris is a popular choice to compete with Gardner for the starting position, the electric sophomore is likely to hold the backup spot when Michigan takes the field on August 30.

Projected Stats – Morris
Passing Yds Pass TD INT Comp % Rush Yds Rush TD
700 7 2 63% 59 0
Career Stats
2013 261 0 2 61.7% 40 0
Totals 261 0 2 61.7% 40 0
Projected Stats – Bellomy
Passing Yds Pass TD INT Comp % Rush Yds Rush TD
70 0 0 55% 5 0
Career Stats
2013 0 0 0 0 0 0
2012 46 0 4 19.0% 16 0
2011 0 0 0 0 0 0
Totals 46 0 4 19.0% 16 0

Newcomers

Michigan added one quarterback in this season’s recruiting class: 6’6″, 230-pound Wilton Speight. Speight showcased his accurate arm during the Elite 11 camp in San Francisco last season, and figures to compete with Morris for the starting job in the coming years. The freshman is a prototypical pro-style quarterback, and threw for 63 yards as the starter for Team Nitro in the Under Armour All-American Game.

Speight has flown under the radar leading up to the 2014 season, but provides the closest resemblance to the type of quarterback that Nussmeier coached at Alabama. This freshman made dramatic improvements during his final season in prep school and will play a huge role for Michigan in the near future.

2014 Big Ten football position rankings: Quarterbacks (part two)

Friday, June 6th, 2014


Big Ten position rankings header_edited-1

Yesterday, we introduced Maize and Go Blue’s series that will rank the best Big Ten football players at each position in 2014. One position will be previewed each week in preparation for Michigan’s season opener in late August. These position previews will be thorough and in-depth, so the preview for each position will be split into two parts. Part One of the Big Ten’s best quarterbacks was the first post of the series. It ranked the quarterbacks whom I believe are No. 6 through No. 10 at their position in the Big Ten. If you have not read it yet, I recommend that you do so before continuing below. On that note, let’s find out who are the five best quarterbacks in the Big Ten. Here is Part Two:

5. C.J. Brown, Maryland | 6th-Yr Senior – 6’3″, 210 lbs
Passing Yds Pass TDs INTs Comp % Rush Yds Rush TD
2013 2,242 13 7 58.9 576 12
2011 842 7 6 49.4 574 5
2010 0 0 0 NA 12 0
Career Totals 3,084 20 13 55.4 1,162 17
(Jeff Vest, Icon SMI)

(Jeff Vest, Icon SMI)

After spending his first five seasons in the ACC, C.J. Brown will play his sixth and final season in the Big Ten. Not very often do we have sixth-year seniors in college athletics, but this is what happens when you have the injury misfortune that Brown has had. As a redshirt freshman, Brown suffered a fracture in his right shoulder that forced him to sit out the last 11 games of the season. Then, two years later, he tore his ACL in a non-contact drill in the preseason and missed the entire 2012 season. Because of the nature of his injuries and number of games missed, Brown petitioned that he receive a medical redshirt for a sixth year of eligibility. The NCAA granted his petition, allowing Brown to remain a Terrapin as Maryland relocates from the ACC into the Big Ten.

Brown is a dual-threat quarterback who can be a handful for defenses when healthy. Do not let the fact that his name was not as prevalent in the press as other ACC quarterbacks like Jameis Winston or Tahj Boyd fool you into thinking any differently. In 2013, Brown played 11 games, missing only two contests with a concussion. In those 11 games, Brown completed 58.9 percent of his passes for 2,242 yards, 13 touchdowns, and seven picks. He accumulated these numbers efficiently. He averaged eight yards per attempt—the highest by a Maryland quarterback since 2007—and maintained one of the lowest interception rates in the ACC (2.48 percent).

Yet, Brown causes more damage with his feet than his arm. Although he threw for only 13 touchdowns, which is relatively low, he compensated by add 12 rushing touchdowns to the scoreboard. His 12 rushing scores were tied for the fourth-most among all ACC players last season, including the running backs. Further, Brown’s rushing touchdowns did not result solely from quarterback sneaks and draws inside the ten-yard line. He actually is quite dangerous in the open field. Four of his rushing touchdowns were longer than 20 yards; the longest was a 49-yarder. Maryland provides Brown plenty of opportunities to break one, too. He earned almost 13 carries per game en route to 576 rushing yards and 4.1 yards per carry. If Brown finds open lanes, it can be a long day for the opposing defense.

There is a red flag, though, but it may relate to Brown’s injuries. There is a concerning disparity in Brown’s numbers in games against non-conference and conference foes last year. In five non-conference contests, he eviscerated the competition. He averaged 248.7 passing yards per game, completed 65 percent of his passes, averaged 10.1 yards per attempt, and threw nine touchdowns to two picks. On the other hand, in six conference contests, Brown averaged only 167 passing yards per game, completed 54.1 percent of this tosses, averaged 6.3 yards per attempt, and threw more picks than scores. Plus, his rushing yards per carry dropped from five to 3.4 against conference foes. The question is whether this decline should be attributed to improved competition accustomed to Brown’s tendencies or the concussion he suffered in the heart of ACC play. It is most likely the latter, but this is something on which to keep an eye. All in all, Brown likely will join Tre Roberson, Devin Gardner, and Braxton Miller as the most dynamic Big Ten quarterbacks. Brown just needs to remain healthy to do it.

4. Christian Hackenberg, Penn State | Sophomore – 6’4″, 220 lbs
Passing Yds Pass TDs INTs Comp % Rush Yds Rush TD
2013 2,955 20 10 58.9 -68 4
Career Totals 2,955 20 10 58.9 -68 4
(Evan Habeeb, USA Today Sports)

(Evan Habeeb, USA Today Sports)

In terms of pure NFL talent and potential, there is no better quarterback in the Big Ten than Christian Hackenberg. In fact, other than Jameis Winston, there may be no better NFL quarterback prospect in the nation than Hackenberg. He oozes NFL potential. At six-foot-four and 220 pounds, Hackenberg has the size and build that NFL executives desire in their franchise quarterback. He also has a big arm and clean release that allows him to complete deep outs without needing to put extra oomph into his them. He possesses all of the tools needed to have a long professional career. He exhibited them last season, putting together one of the best seasons a true freshman can have. Hackenberg completed 58.9 percent of his passes for 2,955 yards, 20 touchdowns, and 10 picks, and annihilated several school freshman records in the process. NFL personnel are giddy to see how Hackenberg nurtures and grows his professional potential during his sophomore season.

However, the point of this exercise to preview the Big Ten’s best players for 2014, not for the NFL Draft years down the road. Hackenberg certainly has the ability to be the best quarterback in this conference, but he may be headed for a sophomore slump instead. Hackenberg lost his superstar safety blanket in Allen Robinson, who arguably just had the best two-year stretch by any wide receiver in Penn State history. Last season, Robinson led the Big Ten with 97 catches and 1,432 receiving yards, accounting for 46 percent of his team’s production. With Robinson’s departure, it is unclear how Penn State will fill the void. The Nittany Lions’ three returning wideouts combined for only 35 catches and 398 receiving yards in 2013, and none of the four wideouts Penn State landed in its 2014 recruiting class are expected to make an instant impact. There is no sure candidate to move into the featured role on the perimeter. Penn State may be loaded at tight end, which will help alleviate the problem, but Hackenberg’s performance very well may dip next season unless a wide receiver or two elevates their game.

The problems do not end there for Hackenberg. He also must worry about a shaky, inexperienced offensive line. Penn State returns only two starting offensive linemen from last season, but that was before one of them—Miles Dieffenbach—tore his ACL in spring practice. With only one healthy returning starter on the offensive line, albeit his left tackle, Hackenberg may not have the time and protection he needs to make the throws he wants. And this is all happening while he tries to learn a new offensive system after head coach and quarterback guru Bill O’Brien left Penn State in the offseason for the Houston Texans. Hackenberg has all the talent in the world—possibly the most of any quarterback in the Big Ten—but circumstances out of his control may cause him to slump in 2014.

3. Connor Cook, Michigan State | RS Junior – 6’4″, 219 lbs
Passing Yds Pass TDs INTs Comp % Rush Yds Rush TD
2013 2,755 22 6 58.7 76 1
2012 94 1 1 52.9 -3 0
Career Totals 2,849 23 7 58.4 73 1
(AP)

(AP)

Early last season, Michigan State’s quarterback situation appeared to be in shambles. In the preseason, four candidates vied to be tabbed the starter—Andrew Maxwell, Connor Cook, Tyler O’Connor, and then-true freshman Damion Terry. Yet, when the season opener arrived, none had separated themselves from the pack. Maxwell was the named the starter for Week 1, but it was only a formality. Multiple quarterbacks saw live game action the first few games as the competition spilled over into the season. It was not until Week 3 when Cook finally wrestled away the job and became the starter.

There will be no such mess this year. After leading Michigan State to its best season in over two decades, Cook is the clear-cut starter. Initially, there was not much about him that stood out. He was nothing more than a game manager. In his 10 regular-season starts, Cook averaged only 204.5 passing yards per game, and his completion rate exceeded 60 percent only four times. If there was one thing that did stand out, it was his ball security. Only four of his 277 pass attempts during those 10 starts resulted in picks, equating to a stellar interception rate of 1.44 percent. Cook’s dearth of costly errors allowed Michigan State’s emerging rushing attack and elite defense to win games comfortably.

Then, in the postseason, Cook demonstrated that he could be much more than a game manager when his team needed him to be. Facing top-five foes Ohio State and Stanford in the Big Ten Championship Game and Rose Bowl, respectively, the Spartans needed him to be the best quarterback on the field. Cook delivered. He averaged 318 passing yards per game, 8.4 yards per attempt, and threw five touchdowns while completing 60.5 percent of his passes. It was the first time all season that Cook threw for more than 300 yards, and he accomplished the feat in back-to-back games against the toughest teams he had seen all year. It was the sign of a quarterback who can produce on the biggest of stages.

Now, the question is whether Cook can repeat his postseason display week after week this season. It seems possible. Michigan State returns its star running back Jeremy Langford, who rushed for 1,422 yards and 18 touchdowns, and a solid corps of wide receivers. The biggest concern is the Spartans’ offensive line. Last season, Cook was so calm and poised in the pocket because his jersey remained fresh from grass stains. The Spartans’ offensive line allowed only 1.21 sacks per game—tied for the 14th-best in the nation. However, Michigan State lost three starters there. If the Spartans cannot reload at the position, Cook may be pressured into making the mistakes he did not make in 2013. Nonetheless, Cook is a safe bet to be one of the better quarterbacks in the Big Ten. However, the offense likely will rely more on pounding the rock with Langford than airing it out with Cook, which is why Cook falls behind the next two quarterbacks on this list.

2. Devin Gardner, Michigan | 5th-Yr Senior – 6’4″, 218 lbs
Passing Yds Pass TDs INTs Comp % Rush Yds Rush TD
2013 2,960 21 11 60.3 483 11
2012 1,219 11 5 59.5 101 7
2011 176 1 1 47.8 53 1
2010 85 1 0 70.0 21 1
Career Totals 4,440 34 17 59.7 658 20
(Gregory Shamus, Getty Images)

(Gregory Shamus, Getty Images)

To the surprise of many, Michigan head coach Brady Hoke repeatedly claimed throughout the spring that Devin Gardner was in a quarterback competition with Shane Morris. After the Michigan spring “game,” during which Gardner struggled, Hoke stated the battle between Gardner and Morris was close and would continue into the summer and preseason camp. This news left media and fans speculating as to whether Morris could actually pass Gardner on the depth chart before August 30th.

In a word: no. Unless Gardner injures himself in fall camp, he will be the starter in Week 1 and for all of 2014. It is foolish to bench a fifth-year senior quarterback who just had one of the best statistical seasons in school history. Gardner totaled 3,443 yards and 32 touchdowns in 2013—both figures are the second-most by a Michigan quarterback in a single season. His 2,960 passing yards were the second-most ever by a Wolverine, too. They were also the second-most in the Big Ten last season.

Gardner did this efficiently, too. His 8.6 yards per attempt were the highest in the Big Ten—this number actually improved to 8.8 in conference play—and he maintained his place in the Michigan record books as the quarterback with the highest career efficiency rating.

Gardner showed off his legs as well, becoming one of only two Big Ten quarterbacks to rush for double-digit touchdowns (11) last year. And he did all of this without any sort of assistance from the ground game and behind arguably the worst Michigan offensive line ever. Gardner is a playmaker that can go off for 350 total yards and three touchdowns amid total and utter chaos on any given Saturday. Heck, he did it five times in 12 starts last year. This is how one of the Big Ten’s best quarterbacks plays, not someone wearing a headset on the sideline or shifting out to wide receiver.

This does not mean Gardner is without faults. It is quite evident that Gardner has trouble with his decision-making and taking care of the football. Last season, with the entire weight of the offense on his shoulders, he understandably tried to force too many plays and locked onto his No. 1 receiver too often. This led to 11 interceptions. Although only three of those were in his final eight starts, there were too many other passes that should have been intercepted that were dropped (see: Northwestern). It does not help that Gardner also has a tendency to hold the ball like a loaf of bread when he scrambles. Consequently, he fumbled the ball 11 times, losing six of them—both of which were the worst in the nation. At this point of his career, it seems unlikely that Gardner will remedy this problem.

There are question marks around Gardner, too. How will an offensive line that allowed the most tackles-for-loss in the nation last season hold up after losing two tackles in Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield to the NFL? Will a running back finally emerge to take some of the load off of Gardner? Who will step up at wide receiver behind Devin Funchess? How quickly will Gardner learn and execute new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier’s system? They are all valid questions, but Gardner has already proven that he can be one of the most productive quarterbacks even when everything else is breaking down around him, including his own body. So, if these questions are answered in a positive light and Gardner is not forced to take a beating on every single play, well, that is a terrifying thought for the rest of the Big Ten.

1. Braxton Miller, Ohio State | Senior – 6’2″, 215 lbs
Passing Yds Pass TDs INTs Comp % Rush Yds Rush TD
2013 2,094 24 7 63.5 1,068 12
2012 2,039 15 6 58.3 1,271 13
2011 1,159 13 4 54.1 715 7
Career Totals 5,292 52 17 59.3 3,054 32
(Andrew Weber, USA Today Sports)

(Andrew Weber, USA Today Sports)

Although the placement of the previous nine quarterbacks on this list can be argued to no end, there is no debate at the top. Braxton Miller is the clear choice as the Big Ten’s best quarterback. Miller has terrorized defenses the past two years in Urban Meyer’s spread offense and undoubtedly will do it one last time as a senior in 2014. He does this because he is the most explosive quarterback in the Big Ten. He was the only one the conference to throw for more than 2,000 yards (2,090) and rush for more than 1,000 yards (1,068) in 2013. His 8.2 yards per pass attempt were the second-best in the Big Ten; his 6.3 yards per carry were by far the best among Big Ten quarterbacks.

In addition to yards, Miller has quite the knack for putting points on the scoreboard. His 36 total touchdowns—24 passing, 12 rushing—were a league best, and he did not even play a full season. Miller will never be the quarterback who can stand in the pocket and make all of the throws, even though he has improved his accuracy each season. But it does not matter. His playmaking ability is the reason why he is the two-time Big Ten Player of the Year.

Miller is not superhuman, though. He is fairly durable given his smaller stature, but he is very vulnerable to being on the wrong end of some vicious hits because Ohio State runs him so frequently. Accordingly, Miller has been knocked out of several games throughout his career, although the injuries usually are minor. However, a knee injury he suffered early against San Diego State not only kept him on the sidelines for the remainder of that contest, but also for the following two games. Miller missed enough time that backup Kenny Guiton attempted 109 passes last season. With Guiton gone, the Buckeyes no longer have the luxury of a rock-solid backup in case Miller goes down for a substantial period of time once again. Miller needs to have his healthiest season yet, but he likely will miss snaps at some point. The question is just how many.

Miller also must cope with personnel changes. Miller may not have the same protection he had last season as Ohio State replaces four starters on the offensive line. Generally, the Buckeyes reload at all positions, but their offensive line recruiting has been somewhat spotty in terms of maintaining depth. If the replacements struggle to perform to expectations, Miller may not have the same number of opportunities to make big plays like he did in 2013. Additionally, Miller’s rushing numbers may dip with the departure of bulldozing running back Carlos Hyde to the NFL.

Hyde, who topped 1,000 rushing yards last year, opened up holes for Miller because defenses had to pick their poison when Ohio State ran the read-option. Until one of Ohio State’s young, talented running backs proves he is worthy of such attention, defenses will focus on containing Miller. Nonetheless, even with these changes, it would be a surprise if Miller did not have another season with 3,000 total yards and 30 touchdowns. This is why he is the Big Ten’s best quarterback, the favorite to win his third straight Big Ten Player of the Year Award, and a Heisman Trophy contender.

Do you agree with our list of the best Big Ten quarterbacks in 2014? Where did we go wrong? Please let us know in the comments below. With the Big Ten’s quarterbacks ranked and previewed, we next will take a look at their teammates in the backfield: the running backs. Keep checking in to Maize and Go Blue as we continue to preview the 2014 football season each day until August 30th arrives.

2014 Big Ten football position rankings: Quarterbacks (part one)

Thursday, June 5th, 2014


Big Ten position rankings header_edited-1

The dog days of summer are upon us, which means we are just a few short months away from the start of a brand new college football season. Although summer is the time for vacations and fun in the sun, it is also the time to learn in advance what you will see on the football field each and every Saturday this fall. Therefore, it is time to rank the best Big Ten players at each position for the 2014 season.

This is the first time Maize and Go Blue has previewed the Big Ten position by position. We are introducing these lists because we are striving to provide you the most comprehensive Michigan and Big Ten football preview in the Michigan blogosphere. To accomplish this, one position will be previewed weekly until Michigan’s first game week. The preview for each position will be very thorough and broken into two parts. The first will rank the Big Ten players I believe are No. 6 through No. 10 at their respective position; the second part will list the top five Big Ten players at their respective position. The criteria for these rankings are past performance as well as potential for the upcoming season only. Ultimately, the purpose of this series is to preview the most impactful Big Ten players in 2014, not recap the best returning players from last season.

It is important to note that not every single Big Ten player will be ranked in this series. Only the best 10 players at each position in the Big Ten will be listed and previewed, not all of them. There is no doubt that some valuable veterans will be excluded from these lists. And I am sure a few freshmen will burst onto the scene from out of nowhere, too. Nonetheless, by the time this series is completed, you will know which Big Ten players you should be paying the most attention to this fall.

With that said, let’s begin with the most important position in football: the quarterbacks.

10. Jake Rudock, Iowa | RS Junior – 6’3″, 208 lbs
Passing Yds Pass TDs INTs Comp % Rush Yds Rush TD
2013 2,383 18 13 59.0 218 5
Career Totals 2,383 18 13 59.0 218 5
(Charlie Litchfield, The Register)

(Charlie Litchfield, The Register)

The list of the Big Ten’s best quarterbacks starts with somewhat of a surprise. Although no one considers Jake Rudock to be an elite Big Ten quarterback, many believe he is closer to the top than the bottom. It is not difficult to understand why. Rudock exceeded all expectations in his first season as starter in 2013, greatly improving upon Iowa’s putrid passing attack in 2012. He completed 59 percent of his passes for 2,383 yards and 18 touchdowns, throwing 11 more touchdown tosses than Iowa did the previous season.

Rudock also broke Iowa’s prototypical mold for a quarterback. Most Iowa quarterbacks are statue pocket-passers, but not Rudock. He scrambled for 218 yards and five touchdowns. This may not seem like much in the age of the dual threat, but he was the first Hawkeye quarterback to exceed 100 rushing yards since 2006. Then, to add a cherry on top, Rudock led Iowa to an overachieving 8-5 record. This success, in addition to a strong offensive line and the return of No. 1 receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley, has raised fans’ expectations for Rudock this fall.

However, these expectations must be tempered. There are red flags that cannot be ignored. One is Iowa’s offensive scheme. Offensive coordinator Greg Davis tends to call passing plays with receiver routes that break off before the first-down marker. This prevents Rudock from picking up big chunks of yards through the air frequently. He becomes more of a game manager than a playmaker. This is why Rudock posted only 6.9 yards per attempt in 2013—the worst among all Big Ten quarterbacks who averaged at least 15 attempts per game. Unless Davis installs new packages or becomes more aggressive with his calls, Rudock’s arm will be constrained, and Iowa’s aerial attack will become stagnant.

Rudock can mitigate this if he is secure with the football, but this leads to another red flag: decision-making. He led the Big Ten with 13 interceptions last year; his interception rate was 3.76 percent—the fourth-worst among Big Ten passers with no less than 100 attempts. Not only is Rudock careless with his throws, he does it at the most critical moments. Six of his 13 interceptions were in the fourth quarter. No other Big Ten quarterback was picked more than three times in the final frame. It is possible that Rudock’s poor decisions could be attributed inexperience and first-year jitters, and he could overcome them next season with the help of the pieces around him. But this combination of red flags should make the public wary about touting a leap into the upper echelon of Big Ten quarterbacks for Rudock.

9. Trevor Siemian, Northwestern | 5th-yr Senior – 6’3″, 210 lbs
Passing Yds Pass TDs INTs Comp % Rush Yds Rush TD
2013 2,149 11 9 59.7 33 0
2012 1,312 6 3 58.7 48 1
2011 256 3 1 61.5 19 0
Career Totals 3,717 20 13 59.4 100 1
(Jose Carlos Fajardo, McClatchy-Tribune)

(Jose Carlos Fajardo, McClatchy-Tribune)

While some may be surprised that Rudock is so low on this list, some will be just as shocked to see Trevor Siemian in the top 10. Siemian did not produce eye-popping numbers last season. He completed 177 of his 296 attempts (59.8 percent) for 2,149 yards, 11 touchdowns, and nine interceptions. He also was not a threat with his feet nor will he ever be.

This is no surprise, though. Siemian’s performance suffered for various reasons that were not in his control. This is not to say that he is completely faultless. It is to say that he could do only so much. Siemian could not control the countless injuries to his teammates, especially the ones at running back. The Wildcats’ two most explosive ground threats, Venric Mark and Kain Colter, were plagued with ailments all year. Northwestern’s offense was forced to be more one-dimensional, and the passing game struggled against the added defensive attention. Siemian could not control his playing time either. He was mired in a two-quarterback system used by head coach Pat Fitzgerald to utilize Colter’s legs. While the system gave more touches to a dangerous threat in Colter, it threw Siemian out of his rhythm and caused him to constantly look over his shoulder. There was nothing Siemian could do to change it.

It will all be different for Siemian in 2014. For the first time in his career, he will have the reins to the Northwestern offense all to himself. There will be no more rotating series. There will be no more looking over his shoulder. Siemian will thrive in this new capacity. He has shown glimpses of this in the past. He threw for 259 yards and three touchdowns against Syracuse, 245 yards and two touchdowns against Ohio State, and a monster 414 yards and four scores against Illinois last season. Further, Mark has recovered from his injuries and will be healthy in the backfield. The energy defenses must expend to contain Mark will open up the passing attack for Siemian. Expect Siemian to post some solid numbers this year as he tries to lead Northwestern back to a bowl game after a disappointing 2013 season.

8. Joel Stave, Wisconsin | RS Junior – 6’5″, 225 lbs
Passing Yds Pass TDs INTs Comp % Rush Yds Rush TD
2013 2,494 22 13 61.9 -22 0
2012 1,104 6 3 58.8 -51 0
Career Totals 3,598 28 16 61.1 -73 0
(Badger Nation)

(Badger Nation)

Joel Stave has never been accustomed to job security. In 2012, he was entrenched in a three-way battle with Danny O’Brien and Curt Phillips to be Russell Wilson’s successor. Stave lost initially as O’Brien was tabbed as the Week 1 starter. But Wisconsin’s offense sputtered with O’Brien, tallying only 23 points combined in its second and third games of the season. So the Badgers made the switch to Stave in Week 4, and he proved it was the correct move. Wisconsin never scored less than 27 points and won four games in his first five starts.

Stave did not need to be a superstar. He just needed to keep defenses honest and prevent them from stacking the box against Wisconsin’s thunderous three-headed rushing attack of Montee Ball, James White, and Melvin Gordon. He did not disappoint, averaging 9.3 yards per attempt while throwing only three interceptions. The job was his.

Yet, in his sixth start of 2012, Stave suffered an injury to his left shoulder that caused him to miss the rest of the season with the exception of one attempted pass in the bowl game. It also caused Stave to lose his grip on the quarterback job. Entering the 2013 season, Stave once again found himself in a quarterback battle. This time, it was just he and Phillips duking it out. Stave won the job and was named the Week 1 starter. It was a solid, albeit not superb, campaign for Stave. He started all 13 games and completed 61.9 percent of his passes for 2,494 yards, 22 touchdowns, and a league-high 13 picks. His completion rate was near the Big Ten ceiling, while his 7.4 yards per attempts were in the middle of the pack. It was a season off of which Stave could build for 2014.

But, for the third straight year, Stave finds himself in another quarterback controversy. In the Capital One Bowl last season, Stave suffered an injury to his other shoulder. The injury was sufficiently serious to keep him sidelined for a portion of spring camp. This was not optimal for a quarterback who wants to correct his mistakes and better understand second-year head coach Gary Andersen’s offense. Plus, Stave’s absence meant more practice reps for Tanner McEvoy—a dual-threat quarterback who better fits the offense Anderson implemented at his previous stop at Utah State. Andersen still claims that the job is Stave’s to lose, and Stave likely will hold onto it. Nonetheless, Gordon will be the star of the Badgers’ offense, not the quarterback. Therefore, even if Stave wins the job, he likely will not have as productive of a season as the seven quarterbacks above him on this list.

7. Nate Sudfeld, Indiana | Junior – 6’5″, 232 lbs
Passing Yds Pass TDs INTs Comp % Rush Yds Rush TD
2013 2,523 21 9 60.2 -34 1
Career Totals 2,523 21 9 60.2 -34 1
(Jay LaPrete, AP)

(Jay LaPrete, AP)

Wisconsin is not the only Big Ten school with a quarterback competition for 2014. Another is Indiana. However, the loser of Indiana’s competition will not hold the clipboard all year like the loser in Wisconsin will. Last season, the Hoosiers deployed a two-quarterback system. Contrary to the widely-accepted philosophy that a team with two quarterbacks has zero quarterbacks, Indiana’s two-quarterback system sprouted one of the most lethal offenses in the nation, let alone the Big Ten. Indiana was the only Big Ten school to average over 300 passing yards per game; its average of 7.8 yards per attempt was the second-best in the conference. It would be a surprise if head coach Kevin Wilson deviated from this approach in 2014 because both featured quarterbacks return.

One is Nate Sudfeld. Sudfeld assumes the role of the traditional, drop-back passer in Indiana’s two-quarterback system. The Hoosiers relied upon Sudfeld the most last season as he received the majority of the snaps under center. At first glance, it appears Sudfeld is one of the best quarterbacks in the Big Ten. He completed 60.2 percent of his passes for 2,523 yards, 21 touchdowns, and nine interceptions last season; his 7.8 yards per attempt were the third-best among Big Ten quarterbacks that averaged no less than 15 tosses per game. Not too shabby for a quarterback who rotated series during the year.

However, a deeper dive into Sudfeld’s numbers reveals that he wilts against talented competition. Last season, Sudfeld was absolutely superb against unranked opponents. He completed 65.8 percent of his passes, averaged 229.3 passing yards per game, and threw 18 touchdowns to only five picks against unranked foes. His astounding average of 9.7 yards per attempt against unranked teams was by far the best in the conference. Sudfeld picked these inferior teams apart.

This was not the case against superior competition. In four games against ranked opponents, Sudfeld completed only 52.3 percent of his passes, averaged 172.3 passing yards per game, and threw four picks to three touchdowns. The yards he averaged per attempt almost halved to a hideous 5.2. Although not all ranked teams have talented defenses, quarterbacks usually find themselves in spots that require riskier decisions to beat ranked opponents. Given the risk, it is no surprise when these decisions flop, and subsequently, the quarterback has a worse stat line. But no other Big Ten quarterback had a statistical decline this steep when facing ranked competition. It indicates that this is more about Sudfeld than an overall talent disparity between Indiana and upper-level Big Ten teams. There is a flaw or a weakness in his game that becomes exposed when competing against ranked teams. Unless Sudfeld fixes it this season, he may find himself losing snaps to the next quarterback on this list.

6. Tre Roberson, Indiana | RS Junior – 6’0″, 203 lbs
Passing Yds Pass TDs INTs Comp % Rush Yds Rush TD
2013 1,128 15 4 60.1 423 5
2012 368 2 1 66.0 133 3
2011 937 3 6 57.0 426 2
Career Totals 2,433 20 11 59.7 982 10
(Alan Petersime, AP)

(Alan Petersime, AP)

Tre Roberson is the other Hoosier competing to be Indiana’s starting quarterback. Whereas Nate Sudfeld is the statue in the pocket, Roberson is the speedy dual-threat quarterback with the arm to back up his legs. Although Sudfeld took more snaps last season, Roberson has the potential to take an already-potent offense to the next level this fall. In 2013, Indiana head coach Kevin Wilson limited Roberson’s touches. Roberson had less than 15 touches—carries or passes attempted—in half of Indiana’s 12 games. Wilson did not seem to have the trust in Roberson he had in Sudfeld.

Yet, when Roberson did receive more touches and developed a rhythm, not only was he a playmaker, he was efficient, too. He completed 60.1 percent of his passes for 1,128 yards, 15 touchdowns, and only four interceptions. Roberson’s completion rate was essentially identical to Sudfeld’s. His passing touchdown rate was significantly higher than Sudfeld’s—10.87 percent to 6.52 percent, respectively. His yards per attempt were also higher than Sudfeld’s. His interception rate was only a tad worse than Sudfeld’s. But Roberson made up for any minor difference between he and Sudfeld’s passing stats by averaging 4.98 yards per carry en route to 423 rushing yards and five rushing scores.

Although Sudfeld is a more-than-competent Big Ten quarterback, Roberson is a game-changer. His ability to run the read-option out of Wilson’s pistol formation opens running lanes and passing windows for the Hoosiers. Just look at the only two games this season in which he had more than 30 touches. Roberson turned 34 total touches into 338 total yards and four touchdowns against Michigan. In the season finale against Purdue, he had a career-high 58 touches and posted 427 total yards and six touchdowns. It is hard to give full credit to any performance against poor Purdue, but it showcased the talent and potential Roberson possesses. He needs to see more snaps this season, especially in Indiana’s bigger contests. But it seems Wilson will use the two-quarterback system and defer more to Sudfeld once again. This is why Roberson, who could be a dark horse Big Ten Player of the Year, is only at No. 6 and not listed in tomorrow’s Part Two.

Tomorrow, Part Two of Maize and Go Blue’s preview of the best Big Ten quarterbacks in 2014 will be posted, revealing the five top quarterbacks in the conference. Which quarterback do you think will be No. 1? Do you agree or disagree with the ranks of the five quarterbacks listed in Part One? Or was there someone left off the list that should be there? Let us know in the comments below.

 

New in Blue: Quarterback Alex Malzone

Monday, May 12th, 2014


Malzone

Alex Malzone – QB | 6-2, 200| Bloomfield Hills, Mich. | Brother Rice
ESPN: 3-star, NR Rivals: 3-star, #16 QB 247: 3-star, #13 QB Scout: 4-star, #15 QB
Other top offers: Pittsburgh, Wake Forest, Miami (OH)

Just days after three Michigan players were selected in the NFL Draft Brady Hoke received a commitment from quarterback Alex Malzone. The Bloomfield Hills, Mich. native pledged his commitment to the Wolverines on Monday during a visit to campus and announced it via Twitter.

Malzone is rated a three-star by Rivals, 247 Sports, and ESPN and four-star by Scout. Rivals ranks him as the 16th-best pro-style quarterback in the class of 2015, while 247 has him 13th, and Scout 15th.  There has been a lot of discussion in recent weeks as to when the Michigan coaching staff would extend Malzone an offer. He was named the quarterback MVP of the Detroit Rivals camp in April. New offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Doug Nussmeier saw him throw on April 28 and subsequently extended an offer. Nussmeier Tweeted his excitement upon receiving Malzone’s commitment.


During the 2013 season for Brother Rice High School, Malzone went 190-of-281 for 2,794 yards, 25 touchdowns, and just nine interceptions, leading the Warriors to a perfect 14-0 record and a state championship. He was the Michigan Mr. Football runner-up to Ithaca quarterback Travis Smith, who is heading to Toledo this fall. Malzone was the only junior among the final four for the award.

Scout lists his strengths as accuracy/consistency, arm strength, and mental toughness, while saying his biggest area for improvement is his size. He’s listed as 6’2″ and 200 pounds. For what it’s worth, 247 lists him an inch taller and ESPN an inch shorter.

In his scouting report, Scout’s Allen Trieu states, “Has the arm to make all the throws. Mechanics can still use polishing, but he has good velocity on his passes, shows excellent timing and is very accurate. Shows the ability to make tough throws into coverage and has great touch down the field. Shows calm under pressure and lead several late game winning drives and has been in big game situations. May not have ideal dropback QB height, but is a gamer and a winner.”

Malzone reports offers from Akron, Bowling Green, Central Michigan, Miami (OH), Ohio, Old Dominion, Pittsburgh, Toledo, Wake Forest, and Western Michigan, though Stanford and Tennessee expressed interest after his standout performance at the Detroit Rivals camp. He visited both unofficially back in February.

Michigan now has six commitments in its 2015 class. Malzone joins defensive backs Shaun Crawford, Tyree Kinnel, and Garrett Taylor, kicker Andrew David, and offensive lineman Jon Runyan Jr.

Predicting Michigan: The quarterbacks

Monday, July 22nd, 2013


With less than six weeks remaining before Michigan opens its season against Central Michigan, we are kicking off a preview series of position breakdowns and predictions. Naturally, we’re starting with the quarterbacks, and the newest member of our team, Derick, dives into what we can expect from the position this season.

Looking Back

The Denard Robinson era is officially over. While the flashy 5’11″ quarterback that Michigan fans so affectionately referred to as ‘Shoelace’ basically passed the baton to Devin Gardner midway through the 2012 season, his days in the Maize and Blue have officially come to an end. Robinson often drove fans crazy by forcing throws and tucking the ball too quickly to run during his tenure as starting quarterback, but the last couple of years could have been very ugly for Michigan without his unconventional play that kept defenses guessing to the tune of a Sugar Bowl victory and a streak-snapping win over the hated Buckeyes.

Denard was a once-in-a-lifetime player. His ability to turn any play into a big gain made the last two seasons exciting for the Michigan faithful who had little hope following three difficult seasons under former Head Coach Rich Rodriguez. Now the best rushing quarterback in college football history has moved on to the Jacksonville Jaguars, so it’s time to see what the future will hold for the Wolverines.

The Savior: Devin Gardner

Robinson’s elbow injury on October 27 against Nebraska left a terrifying question mark for the rest of the 2012 season: Who will lead the offense? Gardner’s transition to wide receiver left redshirt freshman Russell Bellomy as the only backup option, and his struggles in the second half of the Nebraska game left the Michigan faithful panicking.

Gardner started the final five games last season

Brady Hoke had no choice but to move Gardner back to his original position against Minnesota the following week, and the former Elite 11 quarterback did not disappoint. Gardner, who was recruited as a top-5 quarterback, led the Michigan offense with explosive running and accurate passing, finishing the game with three touchdowns and a 12-of-18 completion rate.

Gardner continued to look comfortable at home, completing a miracle pass to Roy Roundtree with seconds left en route to forcing overtime against Northwestern, and then scoring six touchdowns on Senior Day against Iowa. Robinson’s injury that had initially created questions about Michigan’s short-term plans quickly turned into an outline for the future.

Thanks to Gardner’s late-season play, Michigan enters the 2013 season without even a hint of the dreaded “quarterback controversy.” The redshirt junior will lead an offense that promises to look more like that of the old Michigan teams before the Rich Rod era. Gardner has the ability to stand in the pocket and hit receivers downfield, an option that has been noticeably absent from the offense in recent years. He developed a strong connection with speedy receiver Jeremy Gallon in 2012, and the duo promises to frustrate defenses in the coming months. Expect Gardner to throw for a higher completion rate than Denard, even with his willingness to throw the ball away when there are no better options.

While Devin should improve the Michigan pocket-passing attack, when plays break down he can also improvise with his feet. Unlike other recent Michigan quarterbacks, Chad Henne and John Navarre, Gardner is more than capable of breaking a big run with his legs. Even more importantly, he extends plays by keeping his eyes downfield rather than breaking for the line of scrimmage as soon as pressure comes. This keeps options open and gives the offense flexibility.

Devin’s dual-threat ability gives him multiple weapons on a play-by-play basis. He is a complete quarterback that brings intangibles to an offense transitioning back to a more physical style of play. He showed the ability to create free plays for the offense by using the hard count and pulling the defense offside in 2012, a move that demonstrates how comfortable his is in his natural position. The temporary move to wide receiver will likely help Devin in the big picture. It taught him another side of the offensive game and gave him a more complete understanding of his receivers. In the end, he belongs in the backfield behind the center, as he will be in 2013.

Projected Stats
Passing Yds Pass TD INT Comp % Rush Yds Rush TD
3,100 25 9 62% 550 8
Career Stats
2012 1,219 11 5 59.5% 101 7
2011 176 1 1 47.8% 53 1
2010 85 1 0 70.0% 21 1
Totals 1,480 13 6 58.5% 175 9

The New Kid: Shane Morris

Morris may not be afforded a redshirt this season

If it is possible to be a fan favorite before stepping foot on campus, Shane Morris has accomplished just that. The local quarterback made his loyalty to the University of Michigan clear when he signed before his senior year of high school. In the months that followed, Morris was very public about his attempts to recruit fellow highly-ranked recruits to join him at Michigan. The result was a top ten class and a fresh wave of excitement around Brady Hoke and the new staff.

Shane’s role in the 2013 season is still unclear. After missing much of his senior season with mononucleosis and coming in behind Gardner, many believe the lefty will redshirt. The move, however, is far from certain. Morris has shown through his recruiting and public support of Michigan that he is destined to be a leader in the future. Hoke may decide he would rather use the energetic freshman on the field at times to groom him for a leadership role in the near future.

On the field, expect Morris to be solid. He is athletic and, like Gardner, has the ability to extend plays and keep his eyes downfield. Listed at 6’3″, Morris is not afraid to be physical while running the ball, and his toughness should keep him on the field. Barring a redshirt, Shane will likely win the backup spot and potentially see time early in the year against teams like Akron and Central Michigan.

Projected Stats
Passing Yds Pass TD INT Comp %
300 2 2 55%

The Injury Bug: Russell Bellomy

Russell Bellomy tore his ACL in spring ball

The second half of the Nebraska game was a nightmare for Bellomy, as he completed the same number of passes to Cornhuskers defenders (three) as he did to his own team, finishing the game 3-of-16 for 38 yards, no touchdowns and three interceptions. While this game definitely left fans frustrated, understand that Bellomy was thrust into a difficult situation and this game was far from career-defining.

There was a chance, if Shane Morris had received a redshirt, that Bellomy could have played a major role in the upcoming season. The backup quarterback spot is always important on a team that has a dual-threat starter with rushing ability. That was before Bellomy suffered a torn ACL in April during a practice, however, and now it is likely that the former three-star recruit will miss the entire 2013 season.

Projected Stats
Passing Yds Pass TD INT Comp % INT Comp %
None in 2013
Career Stats
2012 46 0 4 19% 16 0
Totals 46 0 4 19% 16 0

This Year’s Bellomy: Brian Cleary

Redshirt freshman Brian Cleary has a chance to see some game action during the 2013 season. The Michigan native out of Detroit Jesuit would seemingly serve as the backup to Devin Gardner if Shane Morris receives a redshirt. Hoke may decide to keep Morris off the field as long as possible this season to keep the option of a redshirt open, and the result might be some clean-up time for Cleary in games like Akron that are destined to be blowouts by halftime. At this point, he does not seem to be in line for meaningful minutes during the 2013 season.

Projected Stats
Passing Yds Pass TD INT Comp %
150 1 1 50%

The Odd Man Out: Alex Swieca

Many fans may have never heard of Alex Swieca. The walk-on has yet to take a snap at Michigan, and it is highly unlikely that will change during the upcoming season. Swieca didn’t play any football in high school, but did play overseas in the Israel Football League for a year before enrolling at Michigan. Swieca’s love of the game makes for a cool story, as he continues to attend practices and workouts despite not seeing even a second of playing time, but there doesn’t seem to be much of a chance that he sees the field this year.

Projected Stats
Passing Yds Pass TD INT Comp %
None in 2013

Wrapping Up

Al Borges has to like what he’s working with at quarterback this season. The Michigan offense is in good hands when Gardner is on the field, which should be every meaningful snap. His athletic body and intelligence will help him avoid injury, something that the Maize and Blue faithful have had to worry about too often the last few years.

If something unexpected does keep Gardner off the field for an extended period of time, expect Hoke to call on Morris without hesitation. While the coaching staff would love to save Morris a year of eligibility to develop and learn the offense, the injury to Bellomy gives them no other option. Morris is highly regarded coming into his freshman year and would at least help Michigan remain competitive in most games. Obviously a drop-off from Gardner would be inevitable.

After Morris, there are nothing but question marks. Even the deepest teams in the country would be hard-pressed to win games with their fourth or fifth options at quarterback. In a conference like the Big Ten, Michigan will need a big year from Gardner to compete for their first championship since 2004. Thankfully for Michigan fans, as showcased last season, the dual-threat junior definitely has it in him.

MMQ doesn’t want to hear talk of a quarterback controversy

Monday, November 5th, 2012


Let me guess. Denard goes down with an injury and it’s announced during pre-game warm-ups that he is out of the game. In comes the 2011 backup quarterback, Devin Gardner, in place of 2012 second string quarterback Russell Bellomy. Gardner puts up numbers that look like the following: 12-of-18 for 234 yards, two touchdowns, an interception, 10 carries for 21 yards and a rushing touchdown. Not only that, but on a day when the offensive line sometimes looked like swiss cheese against arguably one of the worst defensive lines in the Big Ten, Gardner ran around avoiding sacks and making plays until he found the open receiver.

I bet you think he should be the starting quarterback, right? Why shouldn’t he? If he can play like that and throw the ball like he did, he should be the guy behind center on Saturdays! Well, you’re wrong.

Devin Gardner excelled at filling in for Denard (AP photo)

First of all, and most importantly, Denard Robinson is the heart and soul of this team. He is the undisputed leader of the ball club. The guy who has been there, working his butt off day in and day out to become a better player, all so he could try and lead this team to a championship. Denard was the guy who came to Michigan as Rich Rod’s dream quarterback. He stuck with the program through all of the losses and heartache, when Michigan football lost its identity because a coach was hired who didn’t understand what Michigan football was all about. You can’t replace leadership like Denard brings and no coach who wanted to keep their job would bench a player who represents everything that Michigan is at this time.

But look how well Gardner played, you say? Okay, let’s take a look at that. It’s not like Denard has never had a game like Gardner did against Minnesota. See Air Force and UMass this year. And Notre Dame and Nebraska last season. Speaking of last season, here’s Denard’s stat line for last year’s game: 15-fo-19 for 169 yards, two touchdowns, six carries for 51 yards and a touchdown. Eerily similar to Gardner’s. And that was against a Minnesota defense which had seven of the top eight back on the defensive line, their top six linebackers returning, and two of four starters back in the secondary. Devin Gardner didn’t do anything that Denard Robinson isn’t capable of. He simply stepped up when his team needed someone to fill in for Denard while he gets his elbow healed up. Speaking of stepping up, Michigan’s wide receiver corps had its best game of the season on Saturday. They did a great job of aiding Gardner in his efforts by making some big catches when it mattered.

Look, Gardner is an outstanding athlete who needs to be on the field. I thought the coaches were wise when, over the offseason, they started working Gardner in at receiver. Early in the season, it looked as if Michigan was going to be thin at the receiver position. I don’t think that’s necessarily the case at this point in the season, but that doesn’t change the fact that Gardner still needed to have a place on the field – alongside Denard, not instead of Denard. The coaches experimented with the two-quarterback system last year and it failed, so that wasn’t an option. A spot at receiver for Gardner was the answer.

Denard is the heart and soul of the team and the QB spot is still his (AP photo)

If anything, what this situation has made clear is that Michigan’s offense has potential following Denard’s departure after this season.  The second half of the Nebraska game had everyone worrying about whether or not Michigan could even be in contention in the Big Ten next season without Denard. Bellomy certainly wasn’t giving anyone any confidence. The next option might have been incoming freshman Shane Morris, a five-star, and the No. 2 rated quarterback in the nation, according to Rivals. But true freshmen QBs have growing pains too, even when they enter college as highly-touted prep stars. So even with Morris behind center, the Wolverines were looking at one, maybe two, years of a so-so offense behind a true freshman QB and an offensive which still needs work.

I submit that Gardner’s performance on Saturday did not answer the question ‘What does Michigan do at QB for the rest of this season?’ Instead, it answered, ‘What does Michigan do at QB next season?’ Gardner will be a senior next year, which means that Brady Hoke and Al Borges will be able to redshirt Morris. This means one year of practice to get up to speed with the complexity of the college game as compared to high school. It also means that Morris will have four more years of eligibility, making him even more valuable to the Michigan offense. And if Hoke can continue to bring in top recruiting classes, the pieces will be in the place for both Gardner next season and Morris in the future, especially if he can add LaQuan Treadwell, the nation’s top rated receiver.

Denard is statistically one of the best quarterbacks in Michigan football history. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, Denard may not have the career passing numbers of a Chad Henne or a John Navarre. Nor does he have the win-loss record of some of Michigan’s best from the past. But he is the guy who stuck with the program through all of the ups and downs through the Rich Rod era and the guy who Michigan fans, and college football fans for that matter, have come to know as the face of Michigan football. He was a reason to be excited about Michigan football through these lean years because he gave Michigan a chance to win every Saturday. He is the undisputed starting quarterback for this football team as long as he’s healthy enough to play.