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Minnesota Football: Revisiting Tanner Morgan vs. 2018 Wisconsin

Re-appraising the Gopher quarterback’s performance against the Badgers

NCAA Football: Minnesota at Wisconsin Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Every Gopher fan remembers the 2018 Wisconsin game. But for how many of them does Tanner Morgan come to mind when they think back to that game? Very few, I imagine. And I can’t say I blame them. Looking at the box score, Morgan’s performance — 9-of-16 for 124 passing yards and no touchdowns — seems like nothing to write home about.

But at the urging of KFAN’s Justin Gaard, I decided to give it a closer look. I don’t know that anyone could have watched that game and predicted Morgan would follow it up with a record-setting redshirt sophomore season, but there were certainly flashes of what was to come.

On the Gophers’ first scoring drive of the game, Morgan opened things up with a 16-yard gain on a slant to Chris Autman-Bell. Minnesota was lined up in a trips formation, with a cornerback in press man coverage against Rashod Bateman on the outside and a safety rushing in to cover up Tyler Johnson on the screen. Autman-Bell is all alone in a gap and Morgan is able to drop it in there.

Minnesota quarterback Tanner Morgan completes a pass to Chris Autman-Bell for 16 yards against Wisconsin

Three plays later, Morgan is able to find Johnson on the slant for a first down, but with a blitzing linebacker closing in on him. The pass is a little high, but no one but Johnson has a shot at it.

Minnesota quarterback Tanner Morgan completes a pass to Tyler Johnson for 12 yards against Wisconsin

On the very next play, the Gophers line up with four wide receivers, and Bateman is on an island with a Badger cornerback on the short side of the field. There is never any doubt for Morgan where that ball is going, and Bateman rewards his faith on the slant.

Minnesota quarterback Tanner Morgan completes a pass to Rashod Bateman for 17 yards against Wisconsin

That drive ended in a field goal, giving Minnesota a 3-0 lead in the first quarter. Those three passes accounted for 45 yards of that 65-yard drive, giving the Gophers a first down each time.

Minnesota would not score their first touchdown until the second quarter, on a drive that saw Morgan kick things off with a pass to Johnson to set the Gophers up inside Wisconsin territory.

On this play, Morgan has a bit of a case of happy feet, but the Badgers are rushing seven defenders, with a pair of linebackers pinning their ears back on a delayed blitz. I too would be feeling the pressure. But Morgan retreats back far enough to buy himself enough time to find Johnson with an opening near the sideline for a gain of 28 yards.

Minnesota quarterback Tanner Morgan completes a pass to Tyler Johnson for 28 yards against Wisconsin

Ibrahim capped that drive with a touchdown run to extend the lead to 10-0.

Minnesota had a pair of field goal drives in the third quarter, and I’m highlighting one pass play from the second drive solely because of how much I love tunnel screens to Autman-Bell:

Minnesota quarterback Tanner Morgan completes a pass to Chris Autman-Bell for 8 yards against Wisconsin

But perhaps two of Morgan’s biggest passes against Wisconsin in 2018 came on a drive that would seem meaningless on paper. It was the 15-play, 55-yard drive to start the fourth quarter that consumed nearly 10 minutes of the game clock, yet ended with a missed field goal. The Gophers converted three third downs to keep that drive alive, and Morgan was responsible for two of them.

The first third down conversion came on 3rd and 4 at the Minnesota 41, with Bateman and Johnson lined up together on the left side. Johnson, on the inside, runs a quick slant but has a safety on his back and two linebackers sitting in front of him. The only open option is Bateman, who creates separation at the top of his route. Morgan throws the ball right where it needs to be, before the linebacker can get there, and Bateman does the rest.

Minnesota quarterback Tanner Morgan completes a third down pass to Rashod Bateman against Wisconsin

The second third down conversion was on 3rd and 6 at the Wisconsin 39. Johnson is lined up in the slot on the wide side of the field, and he is going to run a post. Morgan has to thread the needle on this pass, out of the reach of the outstretched arms of the linebacker in front of Johnson.

Minnesota quarterback Tanner Morgan completes a third down pass to Tyler Johnson against Wisconsin

Here is another angle:

Replay of third down pass to Tyler Johnson

So while much of the credit for snapping the streak against Wisconsin belongs to Mohamed Ibrahim, Bryce Williams, and the Minnesota Movers for their work in the ground game, don’t overlook the impact Tanner Morgan had in that game. He wasn’t asked to do a lot, but when called upon, he delivered, quietly giving us a glimpse of what he could do.