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Minnesota Football: Spring Position Previews - Quarterback

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Can Kirk Ciarrocca resurrect the Gophers’ passing game?

Wisconsin v Minnesota Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

With spring football practice underway at Minnesota, we’ll be breaking down each position group in the lead-up to the spring game at 1 p.m. on Saturday, April 30.

2022 Quarterback Roster

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

Out the Door: Zack Annexstad and Jacob Clark

Spring Quarterback Preview

Whether you like it or not, Tanner Morgan will be back under center for the Gophers this fall after opting to return for a sixth and final season with the program.

But the good news for Morgan (and Gopher fans) is that offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mike Sanford Jr. will not be back. Head coach P.J. Fleck parted ways with Sanford at the conclusion of the regular season last year. The passing game had bottomed out in two seasons under Sanford, ranking 92nd nationally in passing offense in 2020 (199.1 passing yards per game) and 118th in 2021 (162 passing yards per game).

In his press conference at the start of spring practice, Fleck did not mince words when it came to the offense’s performance last season, but he put the blame on himself.

“I failed as a coach last year. I did,” Fleck said. “So we won nine games. That’s the fourth time in the history of our school we won nine games. And I’m up here telling you I failed as a head coach, I did not do well enough, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Just were too inconsistent. We had way too many three and outs, and it just didn’t flow together. And that starts with me.”

In the search for more consistency on offense, Fleck has turned to his former offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Kirk Ciarrocca, who left Minnesota after 2019 to take the same position at Penn State. He was fired after one season with the Nittany Lions and spent last year as an analyst at West Virginia before reuniting with Fleck. Ciarrocca would seem the logical choice to help Morgan regain his 2019 form, when the Gophers’ starting quarterback broke single-season program records for passing yards (3,253) and passing touchdowns (30).

But while Ciarrocca said he is spending spring practice reconnecting with Morgan and making sure the two are on the same page in terms of his strengths and weaknesses, he believes that improving Minnesota’s passing game is about more than the quarterback position.

“I talk about music, right? And it’s like the orchestra,” Ciarrocca explained during media availability this spring. “Everybody’s got to play on time and when in tune, it’s a beautiful thing to listen to. When somebody is out of tune, it looks ugly. So we just gotta get everything back in tune there.”

Behind Morgan, you have redshirt junior Cole Kramer and redshirt freshman Athan Kaliakmanis. The former spelled Morgan much of last season, serving primarily as wildcat quarterback. He carried the ball 36 times for 165 rushing yards and two touchdowns. When called upon to throw the ball, Kramer was 3-for-3 for 62 passing yards and two touchdowns.

With all due respect to Cole Kramer, if you’re looking for the heir apparent to Morgan, my money is on Athan Kaliakmanis. Everyone who has seen him in practice raves about his arm strength and the downfield throws that he makes look effortless. Consistency is the biggest thing holding him back at this point, but he has the physical tools to be a Big Ten quarterback.