After wrapping up his 13th year as the Gopher’s starting quarterback, Tanner Morgan has moved on with his career and the Gopher offense will be led by someone new. In all seriousness, Morgan started 47 games over his six seasons with the Minnesota program and has his name etched in the Gopher record books as one of the best quarterbacks we have seen in a very long time.
But this is how it works in college football, you keep moving on with the next as eligibility expires. Up next is Athan Kaliakmanis, a redshirt sophomore who showed just enough in 2022 to have people very excited about what he brings to the Gophers in 2023. But with such little experience and following up a program great, will he be an upgrade?
Starter: Tanner Morgan
Depth: Athan Kaliakmanis, Cole Kramer
So a lot has been said about Tanner Morgan. And he really is one of the best quarterbacks to wear maroon and gold.
- 1st - career wins
- 1st - career completion %
- 2nd - career touchdowns thrown
- 2nd - career passing yards
- 3rd - TD : Interception ratio
- 4th - passing yards per game
And I left a handful of career marks off that list. In 2019 he led the team to an 11-2 record while earning 2nd Team All-Big Ten and setting a few single-season school records.
But this is specifically about 2022 when he started 8 of the team’s 13 games before injury forced him to give way to Kaliakmanis. For the season he set a school, single-season record for completion % while throwing for over 1,300 yards.
The key to the 2022 season was really the Gopher rushing attack behind Mohamed Ibrahim. This allowed the Gophers to use play-action to complete a lot of short passes throughout the season. Morgan looked really good in some games (@ Michigan State) and struggled in others (Purde, the following week). This lack of consistency frustrated many Gopher fans and when the switch to Kaliakmanis was made, many were excited to see where this would go.
It isn’t that Kaliakmanis lit the Big Ten on fire the moment he stepped under center, his initial games at Illinois and at Penn State were true baptisms by fire. Against those two very good defenses, he was a combined 11/28 throwing 3 picks and just 1 touchdown. But by the time he got to the Badger game at the end of the season, he not only looked more comfortable but his numbers were impressive.
The result was these two combining to lead the team to a 9-4 record on an offense that was one of the heaviest rushing teams in the country.
Starter: Athan Kaliakmanis
Depth: Cole Kramer, Drew Viotto, Max Shikenjanski
Now the team moves away from not only Morgan, but also the program’s all-time leading rusher. And with that, there appears to be a concerted effort to have a more balanced offense. Which means more passing. So, how do we feel about a redshirt sophomore with limited experience leading the Gopher offense?
Well, there is palpable excitement for Kaliakmanis. With great size, a strong arm and a much better runner than Morgan, he has the chance to be an elite Gopher quarterback. Athletic, 6’4”, an electric arm and potentially an upgraded receiving corp (spoiler allert). And the hope is that with 5 games of experience last year, plus an entire offseason of being the assumed starter that Kaliakmanis will also come into the season with more confidence and ability to be the leader of the offense.
Behind Kaliakmanis is Cole Kramer, the former Eden Prairie star who has spent his entire career as a backup in the program. But there have been flashes wher Kramer looks the part of being capable of being a quality starter for this program. He has primarily been used in wildcat situations where he is 8/11 passing with 2 passing touchdowns over the last two seasons. Kramer started the spring game looking very poised and ready to compete with Kaliakmanis for the starting job. I feel quite comfortable that if he is pressed into action, we should feel fairly comfortable with this experience and talent.
Next on the depth chart will be two true freshmen. Drew Viotto is coming to the program from Walled Lake Western in Michigan. And Max Shikenjanski, son of former Gopher basketball player Jim Shikenjanski, is a preferred walk-on from Stillwater. Ideally, both will be allowed to redshirt and develop this season.
I began writing this preview fully prepared to clearly call this a downgrade. I am fully on board with the excitement of the Kaliakmanis era. Really love this kid’s size and talent, he is going to be very good. But there are always the intangibles that matter so much with a quarterback. Can he read a defense, make the right decisions, is he a natural leader of the other 10 guys on offense? These all matter as well, and he is just going to be a redshirt sophomore.
On the other hand, Tanner Morgan entered the 2019 season as a redshirt sophomore with just a handful of game starts under his belt. He then went on to have arguably the best single-season by a quarter in the program’s history. So, you’re telling me there’s a chance?
There are some similarities under center between 2023 and 2019, but to use that as a reason to predict an upgrade would be silly. I have a ton of respect for what Tanner Morgan did over his career and I have tremendous excitement about what Kaliakmanis is going to do. There will be growing pains for Kaliakmanis in 2023 and there were some ugly games for Morgan in 2022.
Frankly, everybody LOVES Kaliakmanis right now. Until he shows that he’s going to make regular quarterback mistakes that they all make. He will miss open receivers, he will throw some picks and he may make some boneheaded decisions. But he also may make some incredible throws, he just may lead some critical drives to win games and he may be a fantastic leader.
So really, I see this year as being neutral with the possibility of it being an upgrade.
Upgrade or Downgrade for the Gophers at quarterbacK?
This poll is closed
UPGRADE - The Kaliakmanis era is going to be ELITE!
DOWNGRADE - You can’t make up for Morgan’s experience overnight.
NEUTRAL - There will be some good, some bad...kind of like Morgan’s 2022.