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Change at Quarterback Won’t Change Michigan’s Fortunes

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Michigan's problems extend well beyond its starting quarterback.

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier this week, Brady Hoke announced that he wasn't going to name his starting quarterback prior to Saturday's game against Minnesota. Secrecy aside, the expectation is that Shane Morris will replace the embattled Devin Gardner under center for the Wolverines. But whether it happens this week or not, it's become apparent that Hoke will turn to Morris at some point this season. For those who have been waiting for this day - believing that Morris is the key to Michigan getting its season back on track - prepare to be disappointed.  This is not a slam against Morris or a plea to retain Gardner, but rather the realization that Michigan's problems extend well beyond its starting quarterback.

Heading into the season, Michigan's offensive line was thought to be the key to the Wolverines' success, and for good reason. Coming off a season in which it could neither generate a running attack nor protect the quarterback, improvement at the point of attack was essential for Michigan to improve on last season's play. With Michigan's offense not just failing to reach the end zone against Notre Dame and Utah, but failing to reach the red zone as well, you would be forgiven for assuming that the offensive line was again to blame. But that hasn't been the case. While Michigan's offensive line play hasn't been great this season - too often yielding to defensive pressure directed at its quarterback - it's been better than last season. And while Michigan hasn't exactly gashed opposing defenses on the ground - at least not FBS or non-MAC defenses - it has yielded positive results more often than not and has even given tailback Derrick Green running room - something it didn't do a lot of last season.

Devin Gardner has received more than his share of blame for Michigan's start, and his play has certainly been far from what was expected of him, but he alone hasn't been reason for Michigan's offensive struggles, either. Much has been made of his six interceptions, but Michigan was down 21-0 to Notre Dame before Gardner threw his first interception and 20-10 to Utah with Gardner throwing just one pick.  So while turnovers may have derailed potential comebacks, they didn't contribute greatly to either hole in which the Wolverines found themselves.

The reason that Michigan has struggled so mightily - and the reason why a turnaround like those in 1988, 1998 and 2007 that are being cited by coaches and former players alike is unlikely - is the simple fact that Michigan is short on playmakers.

Prior to the Notre Dame game, Brian Kelly said that he only worried about Gardner and Devin Funchess. Four weeks into the season, Kelly's words still ring true, as Funchess has proven to be the only true difference maker at Gardner's disposal. Derrick Green and De'Veon Smith have played well at times, but are not game breakers.  Receivers Amara Darboh, Jehu Chesson and Da'Mario Jones have not differentiated themselves, Jake Butt and Dennis Norfleet have shown enticing glimpses, but have not been fully incorporated into the offense, and despite all the off-season accolades, neither Freddy Canteen nor Drake Johnson has had much of an impact.

Simply put, Gardner hasn't had much with which to work, something Morris will soon find out, perhaps as early as this weekend. And with a dearth of playmakers at the skill positions and a far-from-dominant run game, whoever plays quarterback will struggle and inevitably find himself in a position in which he tries to do too much, ultimately making it another long season for both Michigan and whoever ends up under center.