As a middle school quarterback in Green Bay, James Morgan wore No. 4 and with a rocket right arm, he naturally drew comparisons to Brett Favre’s gunslinger style of play.
But now wearing No. 12, FIU fans hope that his play continues to resemble a current Packer quarterback whose number he shares.
Morgan was rated as a top-20 quarterback in the nation and a four-star recruit coming out of Ashwaubenon High School by most major recruiting services.
When he signed with Bowling Green, he was viewed as the prize recruit of then Falcons head coach Dino Babers’ 2015 recruiting class.
However, as is the case with many college athletes, the coach who recruited Morgan wasn’t the one who he ended up playing for. Babers would leave after Morgan’s redshirt freshman season to take the Syracuse job.
Bowling Green looked to keep an emphasis on the passing game and hired then Texas Tech assistant head coach Mike Jinks as their head man.
Morgan’s tenure as a Falcon starting quarterback would be described as enigmatic at best. James Knapke spent two years (2015-2016) as his teammate at Bowling Green.
“You know that’s part of college football and coaching changes. The coaching staff that brought myself in was different than the one that I ended with and the same thing with James. Different styles recruit different quarterbacks, so I think to say that probably wasn’t that the best fit for JaMo (Morgan) and I,” said Knapke.
Knapke came to Bowling Green under then-head coach Dave Clawson and led Babers’ BGSU team to a MAC title game appearance. Morgan would replace Knapke as the starting signal-caller under Jinks in 2016, but the two remained close.
To understand what resulted in James Morgan transferring, one has to understand the subtle differences between two of college football’s most popular offenses.
Morgan was recruited to play in the Baylor style spread offense that was popularized by former Bears head coach Art Briles.
When Babers left for Syracuse, the spread left as well.
Jinks employed the “air raid” style offense which despite the high-scoring similarities to fans, are very much two different offenses for quarterbacks to run.
“There are two ways of looking at it. The Baylor spread offense depending on who’s calling the plays, has more of a mix of run-pass (similar to FIU’s offense). So we had a lot more up-tempo runs in the Baylor spread offense than we did in the air raid offense with Coach Jinks,” said Knapke.
“The next thing is in an air raid offense, the quarterback is the only one who looks over to the sideline for the call. There’s a lot more work that goes into orchestrating that offense and making sure that everyone’s on the same page. It’s more reading coverages and just getting the ball to the guy that gonna be open based on what they’re doing. The receivers routes are set in stone and there’s not a lot of power to change that,” he added.
Former college quarterback Steven Hamner works with college quarterbacks on combine training and breaking down their film.
“I played in similar air raid style in college. One of the things it does is involve a lot of deep shots and pre-determined throws. As a quarterback in that system you almost know what you’re doing before the snap,” said Hamner.
Morgan has talked about how much autonomy and freedom the quarterback has in FIU’s offense under coordinator Rich Skrosky.
“There’s merits to both offenses but I really like this one under Coach Skrosky. With this one there’s a lot that goes through the quarterback and there’s more aspects to it, more that you can study and I think that really suits me,” said Morgan.
Morgan played in 18 games with 13 starts as a Falcon. When watching him during his time at Bowling Green his arm talent and pocket presence were evident. What was just as evident was his inconsistent play and too many turnovers.
He ended his career in the MAC with 25 touchdowns but along with those came 22 interceptions and only three games where he completed north of 60 percent of his passes.
“If the surrounding talent is below average in the air raid, you’re looking at a lot of three and outs. The low percentage throws and no threat of run game make it hard to sustain drives. I think that could have played a factor in his numbers at BGSU,” said Hamner.
“I think the situation with James that first, and then even that second year, was there was a big learning curve and a lot of young guys around him and so that’s kind of a tough situation to be in for everybody,” said Knapke.
How Morgan would make the transition to FIU was unknown outside of the fact that he would have to compete with Christian Alexander for the starting job.
What was known was that Butch Davis would be getting a high-character player who’s well-regarded by his teammates.
“He’s a great kid, comes from a great family, and so he’s been doing what he needed to do to have success,” said Knapke.
Bowling Green thought highly enough of Morgan they allowed him to use their facilities to train before making the transition to FIU.
“Both James and Christian worked their tails off in the Summer. James did everything he could come in and hit the ground running to pick up this offense,” said Davis.
For all intents and purposes, Morgan won the starting job out of Fall camp.
What’s followed since an opening week loss to Indiana has been the eighth highest-rated passer in all of FBS football.
In the last five contests, he’s thrown for 13 touchdowns to three interceptions with a completion percentage of 64.4.
Of most importance to Morgan, he’s led FIU to a 4-2 start and first place in Conference USA’s East division.
“I think he’s gotten progressively better with each ball-game he’s played. He’s doing a great job of getting us out of bad plays and into good ones. He’s definitely becoming more comfortable with the scheme,” said Davis.
“I really like the offense and feel comfortable, but it’s about getting better everyday, going back and watching the film and it helps when you have great playmakers around you,” said Morgan.
For his former backup quarterback in Knapke, watching Morgan begin to actualize the potential he had coming out of high school has been fun.
“The two years that I was with James, we had a very close quarterback room. When he took over I tried to give him with every bit of knowledge that I had. And we still talk to this day. It’s been fun to watch him kinda come through the other side. I always check the box scores on Saturday and see how he’s doing. And FIU’s had a couple come from behind wins which have been fun to watch. And it’s awesome to see him succeed,” said Knapke.