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December 27, 2013

News and Views: Hoke on Morris, running backs and more

Michigan head coach Brady Hoke praised his team's "tremendous practices" in advance of Saturday night's Buffalo Wild Wings contest with Kansas State, acknowledging redshirt junior Devin Gardner wouldn't play. Here's our take on Hoke's comments.

News: Freshman Shane Morris will start in place of Gardner.

Hoke: "He's had really good preparation. We tried to see if Devin could go, and it just wasn't possible. Obviously, we were trying to figure out if Devin was going to be able to go. Snap‑wise, Shane has taken a lot of the snaps between him and [redshirt sophomore] Russell Bellomy. He's done a tremendous job. I know his teammates have supported him. So we're excited about that.

"You start off with a pretty good package, but then you also want to emphasize and do things that your kids can be successful with. We've scaled some things back. But there's a lot of offense in there still.

Views: Hoke added he was pleased with Morris' development.

"I think his poise, his fundamentals with his feet, the play‑action game with ball fakes and all that. He's always had a pretty good arm," he said. "Accuracy has been very good.

"He's very athletic. He's a guy that can move around well in the pocket, can move up in the pocket. He's a guy who has a very strong arm. He can make all the throws. Obviously we recruited him at Michigan to be the quarterback at Michigan. This is a great opportunity. We have a lot of faith in how he goes about his business getting ready to play."

Yet several believe he's still a good year away from really being ready to play at a high level. We haven't seen enough of him to know either way, but defenses were throwing the kitchen sink at Devin Gardner given U-M's difficulties up front, and too often with negative results for Michigan. It's hard to think Morris is going to be able to rise to the occasion and give the Wolverines a great shot this game. For all the criticism Gardner took this year, he was the reason the Wolverines had a chance in many of their games.

News: Gardner's injury is more than just 'turf toe.'

Hoke: "I think he's improving. That's just the way it has to heal up. He should be ready when we get to spring, but I'm not a doctor. We'll find out … they're worried about the slight fractures, that kind of stuff. They've x‑rayed it a couple different times. They MRIed it. It's probably just a little more than just the turf toe."

Views: Unfortunately, this is a fitting way for the season to end. Gardner took more of a beating this year than any Michigan quarterback since perhaps Steve Smith in the early 1980s, and Smith was an option guy who used to have to gobble bottles of aspirin to get the swelling in his hand down so he could throw.

Gardner had his confidence shaken this year, and he's an extremely confident guy. That's because his offensive line simply wasn't up to par. Next year needs to improve if the team is going to reach its potential, but when you lose two, fifth-year tackles … well, we'll see.

News: Bellomy will be the second guy in should Morris falter.

Hoke: "Russell Bellomy, who was our second quarterback a year ago when Devin took over is cleared to play, hurt his knee in spring, got rehabbed back together. He'll be the second guy in."

Views: Ideally, Bellomy won't need to play. Here's a guy who hasn't thrown a meaningful pass in a game since last year, and he wasn't ready for what he faced at Nebraska.

We're not ready to write Bellomy off, but it starts with regaining confidence. The pounding he took, both physically and mentally, took a toll.

News: Kansas State went 7-5, but played a number of good teams tough.

Hoke: "When you look at Kansas State from an offensive perspective, they have a lot of good weapons. They have guys who, when they get the ball in their hands, they're very good. There are some similarities to Ohio, our last game, when you look at some of the spread things they do. I think the two‑quarterback system they'll use at times is similar to Northwestern in some ways.

"There are some differences. There are a few different plays they'll run that we haven't seen as much of. But from the concept itself, we've seen it about three or four times in our league."

Views: Michigan did a good job against the Wildcats, not so good against Ohio State. This team is probably closer to Northwestern in terms of talent, though it has an explosive receiver in Tyler Lockett.

"We have great respect for Tyler Lockett," Hoke said. "He's a guy who gets behind people in a lot of cases. Runs good routes. The comebacks they like, does a nice job of that. The timing between the quarterbacks and him, you can tell there's been a lot of work in it is off‑season done.

"They've been a dominant fourth‑quarter team the last six football games. That's something that we've talked about. Our players understand that we need to do a better job of finishing football games. Also educating them about the success that Kansas State has had in the fourth quarter. They've scored 72 points and given up 31 in those last six games."

Michigan, meanwhile, has not finished.

"This football team is 11 points away from being 11‑1," Hoke said. "We haven't finished games and executed the way we needed to at the end of the games."

They've also squeaked out three games by the skin of their teeth. It works both ways. "You are what your record says you are" applies in this case. The Wolverines just aren't a very good football team right now.

News: Hoke set the running back rotation Thursday.

Hoke: "De'Veon Smith, Derrick Green, then Fitz Toussaint. There's a good place in there for him, also."

Views: Smith isn't a blazer, but he seems to be the best of the three right now. He breaks tackles, runs with passion and will be a good one down the road, especially when he gets better blocking.

Toussaint will see plenty of action, though. He's playing in his last game, and it would be nice to see him catch a few out of the backfield, too, if the Wildcats get aggressive on defense against the freshman Morris.




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