For one game, the woes of the NC State offense seemed to be solved by a single player. Against Marshall, M.J. Morris stepped into the starting QB role and, despite a few miscues, the offense rolled to a 48-point outburst in an eventual victory over the Thundering Herd. Morris passed for 265 yards in that game and took a secondary role in the running game. Former starting QB Brennan Armstrong had led the Wolfpack in carries in each of the four previous games against FBS opponents. Clearly, the NC State offense is best suited for success when it can get the ball out of the hands of the QB - both in the air and on the ground.
Unfortunately, last weekend against Duke, Morris looked much more like what the Wolfpack had seen from Armstrong in the prior weeks, signaling what many had thought to be true all along: the QB isn’t the issue - or at least not the only issue. Poor offensive line play, bad routes, and dropped passes all combined with some questionable QB decision making to result in a low output on the scoreboard.
The coaching staff’s plan coming into the season was to play Armstrong, a seasoned player familiar with Robert Anae’s offensive system, while redshirting Morris, a relatively inexperienced player who needed time to learn said system. On the surface, it seemed like a great idea for both the short-term and long-term success of the program, as well as the development of Morris.
That redshirt option should still be on the table.
NC State currently sits at four wins on the season with winnable games remaining at Wake Forest and Virginia Tech in November. The Wolfpack will be underdogs in the other three contests, home games against Clemson, Miami, and UNC.
Even if State were to fulfill that underdog role and lose the next two games against Clemson and Miami, bowl eligibility is still attainable - although certainly not guaranteed - thanks to those Wake and VT games. The coaching staff, however, needs to use these next two weeks to make an honest assessment about whether the extra three (maybe four) games for Morris this year are worth giving up 12 or 13 down the road.
Yes, there’s always the chance that Morris transfers so you lose that future year you’re saving for. There’s always a chance an incoming player outplays him. The coaches still have to make decisions as if Morris will be in Raleigh for his entire collegiate career. They also have to do what’s best for him as an individual, and if going back to the redshirt plan is that best decision, then they owe it to him to go that route.
In games against FBS competition, Morris (56.9%, 229.0 yds/gm, 6.4 yds/att, 5.0 adj.yds/att, 4 TD, 4 INT, 117.6 QB rating) in his two games has outplayed Armstrong (52.3%, 176.8 yds/gm, 5.5 yds/att, 4.04 adj.yds/att, 4 TD, 6 INT, 99.7 QB rating) in his four. It’s not exactly fair to expect Morris to light the world on fire against the defenses of Clemson (SP+ 9th ranked defense) and Miami (19th), but it should give us a fair comparison versus what we saw from Armstrong against Notre Dame (5th) and Louisville (24th). Take one or both of the games against the Tigers and Hurricanes and the decision is easy: play Morris the rest of the way. Lose both and there’s a decision to be made.
If progress is there and the offense is taking steps forward, inspiring confidence that the team can and will beat both Wake and VT to become bowl eligible - and thereby gain the extra practice sessions and additional game - then Morris is your guy. Should the offense continue to sputter, then Morris should be put back on redshirt and Armstrong should play out the remainder of the year.