Friedlander: MJ Morris' decision is a shocker, but maybe we should have seen it coming
RALEIGH — Some call it Murphy’s Law, which is appropriate since the football building located behind the South end zone at Carter-Finley Stadium is named the Murphy Center.
Others know it as the Law of the Wolf, easily identified on social media by the hashtag #NCState$#!t.
It’s the widely-held belief that Wolfpack fans can’t have nice things.
Whether it’s an injury, a bad bounce, a kicker doinking a chip shot field goal to lose a game or some other, sometimes inexplicable circumstance – such as the COVID-19 outbreak that sent State’s baseball team home from the College World Series instead of playing for the national championship – the cruel hand of fate always seems to step in and spoil the fun anytime it looks as though things are finally going the Wolfpack’s way.
And it’s happened again.
With Wolfpack Nation still aglow from the back-to-back victories against Clemson and Miami that turned around the season and ensured bowl eligibility, the air was suddenly let out of the balloon on Tuesday when sophomore quarterback MJ Morris announced he is opting to redshirt the remainder of the season to preserve the year of eligibility.
A source close to the situation suggests that the decision was Morris’ plan all along and that he and his family simply kept their intentions close to the vest to keep all options open. He’s the 2nd offensive starter to go the redshirt route this season, joining senior running back Jordan Houston, who stepped aside in late September.
It’s a stunning turn of events that appears to have taken even coach Dave Doeren by surprise.
On Monday, Morris was still listed as QB1 on State’s depth chart for Saturday’s game at Wake Forest. Doeren, during his regular weekly media availability, praised him for being tough, comfortable and throwing a catchable ball.
“He’s 3-1 as a starter,” the coach said. “He’s really worked hard. I know he’ll continue to grow and get better.”
"The more you play it, the better you get. He's 3-1 as a starter. He's really worked hard. I know he'll continue to grow and get better." — Dave Doeren on MJ Morris' play
— Pack Pride (@PackPride) November 7, 2023
The question now becomes whether that expected improvement will benefit the Wolfpack or somebody else by way of the transfer portal.
It was generally assumed when Morris’ decision to redshirt first hit the internet that it meant he would be looking for another place to play in 2024. But the quarterback’s father Eddie Morris has since told Brian Murphy of Raleigh’s WRALSportsFan.com that his son isn’t going anywhere, citing that if he was was going to leave, he’d have done it before the season started.
“He had plenty of options,” Morris Sr. told Murphy.
The younger Morris has been widely praised for his handling of State’s decision to bring in graduate transfer Brennan Armstrong to play quarterback this season following the departure of incumbent starter Devin Leary to Kentucky.
But there have been signs that he hasn’t exactly been happy with the situation, especially after Doeren – in announcing Armstrong as the starter last summer – said that he and new offensive coordinator Robert Anae weren’t “picking the best guy, we’re picking the most experienced guy.”
Dave Doeren confirmed NC State's current starting quarterback with https://t.co/JkGDWU44hM Tuesday morning.
Here's part of an exclusive interview with the Wolfpack head coach, which includes high praise for both Brennan Armstrong and MJ Morris.https://t.co/rGR99sTAr5
— The Wolfpacker (@TheWolfpacker) June 6, 2023
Still, Morris played the good soldier while Armstrong struggled over the first 5 weeks of the season. He finally got his chance against Marshall on Oct. 7 after it became obvious that Armstrong wasn’t going to recreate the same magic he had in 2021, when he led the ACC in passing yardage in Anae’s offense at Virginia.
Although his numbers aren’t much different from those Armstrong recorded – 55.8% completions, 179.8 passing yards per game, 7 touchdowns, 5 interceptions and a quarterback efficiency rating of 120.8 – the biggest difference has been in the win column.
So why stop now, just as the team has secured bowl eligibility with winnable games still left on the remaining regular season schedule?
There are several possible answers, depending on your perspective.
If you’re a cynic, you can say that Morris’ decision to back away is a leverage move designed to garner a better name, image and likeness deal from State or somewhere else. Or a way of saving the year of eligibility just in case Doeren decides to bring in another transfer this summer.
His dad never specifically said he’s staying, after all.
If you believe he’s still all-in with the Wolfpack, you can say that he did what he could for the team to salvage this season. And now that he’s helped it get bowl eligibility, he’s doing what’s best for himself by taking himself out of harm’s way until Doeren can replenish an offensive line that hasn’t done much blocking for either quarterback and add some receivers who can actually get open every now and then.
Better to let Armstrong play out the string in a Dick-and-Jane offense designed almost as much to not turn the ball over as it is to score. Who knows, maybe he has 1 or 2 more moments of glory left in his career and he can give State fans something positive to remember him by.
While Morris’ decision to sit out the rest of the season is a blow to his team’s short-term prospects, it could turn out to be a positive in the long term if he’s true to his father’s words and stays beyond this season.
That is unless the Law of the Wolf decides to rear its ugly head yet again.