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Minnesota Football: Spring Position Previews - Quarterback

Tanner Morgan has work to do this offseason

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 07 Minnesota at Illinois Photo by James Black/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With spring football practice at Minnesota kicking off on Monday, March 29, we’ll be breaking down each position group over the next several weeks.

2021 Quarterback Roster

Returning Starter(s): Tanner Morgan
Other Returners: Zack Annexstad, Jacob Clark, and Cole Kramer
Spring Enrollees: None
Fall Enrollees: Athan Kaliakmanis

2020 Season In Review

One year removed from a record-breaking season under center, Minnesota starting quarterback Tanner Morgan struggled to find the same success in a COVID-shortened season.

Tanner Morgan

2019 210 318 66% 3,253 30 7
2020 106 183 57.9% 1,374 7 5

He came into the season knowing he would be without All-Big Ten wide receiver Tyler Johnson, who accounted for 86 receptions, 1,318 receiving yards, and 13 touchdowns in 2019. This was also Morgan’s first season at Minnesota without offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Kirk Ciarrocca, who departed for Penn State and was replaced by Mike Sanford Jr. Unfortunately, Morgan was not afforded the luxury of an ordinary offseason to get acclimated.

The Gophers’ offensive line also struggled in pass protection to start the season, with starting right guard Curtis Dunlap Jr. out for the year due to injury and starting right tackle Daniel Faalele opting out of the season due to COVID concerns. Minnesota gave up 2.75 sacks per game through their first four games, but surrendered an average of 0.67 sacks in their final three contests.

Morgan’s accuracy was inconsistent from game to game, and at times even play to play. Against Maryland in Week 2, he made a perfect throw to Chris Autman-Bell on a 39-yard touchdown pass, dropping it into a window between the cornerback and the safety:

Then a week later against Illinois, Rashod Bateman has the cornerback beat deep down the field and Morgan, in a clean pocket, waits a second too long and throws it to where the cornerback is able to make a play on the ball for an interception:

Rock bottom was his performance against Iowa. Against the Hawkeyes, Morgan was 16-of-33 for 167 passing yards with one touchdown, two interceptions, and four sacks. His worst habits were on display, from not moving off his first read to making bad throws into coverage. The Iowa game was a particularly egregious example of the former, as Morgan keyed in on Bateman and the Hawkeyes’ defense took note. Here, Morgan stares down Bateman and the defensive tackle is able to read his eyes and gets his hand up for the deflection:

But more than that, the safety is able to make an easy read by watching Morgan’s eyes, so Bateman was likely to get blown up had that pass made it beyond the line of scrimmage.

This habit was also costly in the season finale against Wisconsin. On 2nd & Goal at the Wisconsin 12, Morgan locks in on Clay Geary and never seems to see the single high safety. He forces the throw and it is an easy interception in the end zone for the Badgers:

But I don’t want to dwell too much on the negatives. It was not a bad season for Morgan. It was inconsistent, more than anything. One week after one of the worst games of his career, Morgan took command of the offense with a stellar performance against Purdue. He was dropping dimes in the passing game, like this 42-yard completion to Autman-Bell:

Ultimately, I think Morgan needs to spend this offseason getting more comfortable with Sanford’s offense and building a rapport with the younger receivers on the roster.

Spring Watch List

  1. Spring is in the air for Sanford & Simon. The Gophers’ offensive co-coordinators were denied a traditional offseason last year to implement their offense. Now they’ll get their chance to spend a full spring with the offense, and they’ll even have an abbreviated season’s worth of game tape to build from. Time to work out the kinks, especially under center.
  2. Building connections in the passing game. Rashod Bateman is headed to the NFL, leaving a void at wide receiver. Morgan no longer has a safety valve in the passing game, though he has two candidates in Chris Autman-Bell and Daniel Jackson. The Gophers will have 10 true or redshirt freshmen wide receivers on the roster this spring, if you don’t count last year against the returning freshmen because of the NCAA’s extra year of eligibility. It’s time for Morgan to start developing some new connections.
  3. Will they stay or will they go? The quarterback room is starting to get crowded, with true freshman Athan Kaliakmanis arriving in the summer and South Dakota recruit Jacob Knuth already committed for next year. Zack Annexstad seems entrenched as the primary back-up behind Morgan, with Cole Kramer and Jacob Clark not far behind. In a day and age when quarterbacks are the first to try their luck in the transfer portal as soon as playing time isn’t immediately available, it’ll be interesting to watch the competition here and see if anyone decides to depart in search of greener pastures.