Freshman quarterback Shane Morris has progressed considerably since he first stepped on to the field for the Wolverines back in August, offensive coordinator Al Borges said during his weekly press conference.
News: With Devin Gardner still recovering from a turf toe injury he suffered against Ohio State Nov. 29, Shane Morris has been taking the first-team reps during bowl practices, and has improved in all facets of his game.
Borges: "This has kind of been a bad news-good news opportunity to develop Shane and Russell Bellomy, as well as Brian Cleary. That's the good part of it. That's been nice. They're all improving. Getting a few more reps than they'd normally get. They'd get more during bowl practices, but even more so.
"Shane understands the offense a lot better. With more time in bowl practices to prepare, that helps.
"When you first get here, it's overwhelming for a freshman quarterback, particularly if he wasn't in spring football. All that stuff is hitting him at one time, and it's tough. But now he's had 12 games, bowl practices, and he's catching up.
"It's probably more mental but still physical because the mental affects the physical. If you don't understand read progressions, footwork, timing, and all that, you get paralysis through analysis. So there is carryover."
Views: One area that Morris has improved greatly on is knowing when to put a little extra mustard on his throws and when to approach a pass more delicately.
"He's learned how to pace the ball better," Borges said. "The idea with the guys that have strong arms is you have to make it clear to them is it's a finesse art game - it's not a see-how-hard-and-far-I-can-throw-the-ball game, otherwise you should just go throw the javelin.
"Passing is a finesse art and it's an ability to put the ball from Point A to Point B in a manner that the guy who is catching it has a chance to run with it.
"When the ball has to be spun tight, with high RPMs between defenders, he can do that, but he's really getting a feel for when he needs to pace it and take a few RPMs off of it so the guy can see it and catch it. He's done a nice job of staying on top of things."
Morris didn't play nearly as much as expected when the season began. He didn't see a single down against Akron and Connecticut because the Wolverines found themselves in one-score games despite the fact that they were huge favorites. He appeared in four contests total, completing 5 of 9 attempts for 65 yards and an interception.
That he is now earning considerable reps with the first team should greatly aid his development heading into the offseason and a year in which he and Bellomy could both become competition for Gardner. And there is a part of this bowl preparation that isn't being talked about much - the fact that if Gardner does not recover quickly enough or reinjures the toe in the game, Morris would play.
In that respect, Borges is getting him ready.
"We're giving him what we can give," he said. "We're not sure how this thing is going to end up. We're giving him a normal game plan, just like any other week. If he has to play, we might [scale back] because you can always cut back. We're pouring it in there. You have a little time to evaluate. When it gets to be that time, you cut to the chase and make sure you know what he's capable of."
News: Michigan accumulated 603 yards of offense against Ohio State and scored 41 points, infusing life into a unit that had been averaging 251.8 yards and 16.8 points in its four previous November contests, going 1-3 in those games.
Borges: "We executed. It's that simple. In the areas we weren't executing. Third-down conversions. We ran the ball for 150 but we really ran for more than that because we had a couple fly sweeps that count as passes. What was Devin's percentage? We dropped 10 points in four games, I know that.
"We executed. I said last time we met -- there's a good offense there somewhere. When is it going to come out? I'm not sure. It hadn't for a while and all of a sudden we caught the ball when we threw it to us, made some big plays in the open field, made some nice runs. We executed. That's the difference. Not game plan. Not play-calling. We executed."
Views: Borges dismissed talk that he had a better game plan or that he called a better game, only admitting that the one thing that differed was that because of the Wolverines' early success, he got into a groove and was able to call just about anything he wanted to.
"We scored the first three times we got the ball. The play-calling gets easy. That's the difference," he said. "You're converting third downs or you're not needing a third down. It was a completely different dynamic from one week to the next week. One week you're using the third-down chart every time you turn around, and the next week, you're not.
"At one point in time, you feel like you can call anything. And then other games, you can't call anything. It's a strange deal. I've called over 50,000 plays. That's probably embellished, but every game has been a little different. There are days where you can shut your eyes and pick a play and it works. There are days where you really think you have a beat on them and you don't execute.
"You're never going to call a perfect game. Nobody does. Nobody ever will. What happens when you don't or when you call a good play and you don't execute - that all happens. Everybody is at fault when it doesn't work well. I will always own up to that because it's part of being a coordinator."
Borges does deserve credit for the Ohio State game, though, and at the same time, as he acknowledged, he's at fault for the fact that the offense didn't play well in other games. In this one, he seemed to call more screens, utilizing his ball carriers as receivers, and those short, easy throws led to big gains and boosted confidence, giving swagger to an offense short on it.
He also rolled his quarterback more, in an effort to assist the offensive line.
Maybe he had every intention of doing so against Iowa and Michigan State and Nebraska too, and it really was the lack of early execution that changed how he called the games, but it certainly seemed like Borges did a masterful job setting his offensive players up for success against OSU by playing to their strengths and game planning away from their weaknesses. Much more so than previous games.
News: Redshirt freshman Kyle Kalis started the Iowa and Ohio State games at right guard after being benched for the four previous contests.
Borges: "He just hung in there. We tried to make the offensive line as competitive as we possibly could and unfortunately it took more time than we wanted. But he practiced better, played better, and we just felt we got his attention, and he played better so we put him back in there.
"Everything we do is based on their merit. If they play and do what they're supposed to do, we don't have any agendas. The only agenda we have is to put the best 11 on the field to help us win. He was that. We felt that in the last couple of weeks so that's why he played."
Views: Kalis' re-emergence is huge for the Maize and Blue for the bowl game and going forward. In the immediate, the former five-star possesses strength, power and greater knowledge than his replacement, true freshman Kyle Bosch, and it's probably no coincidence that the line played a smidge better with the more experienced - and finally determined -- Kalis in the game against Ohio State.
Going into the offseason, Kalis could take a big leap forward in his progression, and if he does, and Bosch does also, then U-M could return a pair of guards with starting experience, along with another redshirt freshman guard, Erik Magnuson, with ample starts that can slide out to tackle. Essentially, the Wolverines could have four returning starters next season (including center Graham Glasgow). That doesn't guarantee they'll be more successful, but it at least gives Michigan a chance.
News: Rookie tailback De Veon Smith rushed for 98 yards on 15 carries (6.5-yard average) in November contests against Northwestern and Ohio State, and was mentioned by Brady Hoke earlier this week as someone making some strides in bowl practices.
Borges: "He's a pounder. He's a good inside runner, and he breaks some tackles. I think he has a really good future because he runs hard.
"What he's learning and getting better at every day is vision. This is not unusual with high school backs - they can run some over or outrun them. That doesn't require a ton of seeing the creases to do it. When De Veon first came here, that's kind of what he thought he was going to do. They all do. It's not news. He starts realizing now, 'I have to set blocks up. I have to see the holes. I have to be more patient.' He has really gotten better at that as the season has gone on. He's broken through there a few times because of that."
Views: Smith is one of the younger players to get legitimately excited about, and he should absolutely be a factor in the race to replace Fitz Toussaint after the season. But he can help now too because Smith has proven in limited opportunity that he moves forward, helping the Maize and Blue avoid the negative plays that are drive killers. For that reason, he should get plenty of run in the bowl game as U-M looks to capitalize off its offensive success against the Buckeyes and create the balance in the run-pass game it will need to beat Kansas State.