Fleck Shows Faith in Tanner Morgan and Gets Paid Off vs Indiana

Photo: @GopherFootball – Twitter

The Minnesota Gophers have had a rollercoaster 2021 season and their most recent dip (back-to-back losses vs Illinois and Iowa) can be attributed to PJ Fleck’s distrust in his quarterback, Tanner Morgan. The head coach made it clear in both losses that he trusted his 4th and 5th string freshmen running backs way more than he did his 5th-year starting QB.

Unless PJ Fleck was willing to change his best offensively, the Gophers’ Big Ten West hopes were as good as dead. So fans were begging to see something change on Saturday afternoon in Bloomington, Indiana against the Hoosiers.

Well, it took a quarter and a half but, finally late in the 2nd quarter, PJ put the ball in Morgan’s right hand and gave him the opportunity to win or lose the game. And guess what happened? Tanner Morgan played some of the best football we’ve seen from him since 2019.

Gophers take control

With the game tied 7-7 late in the 2nd quarter, Minnesota’s defense forced an Indiana punt that left 3:50 for the Gopher offense to work before halftime. When Morgan ran out onto the field for that drive, he was 4/9 for 37 yards so far on the day. By the time it ended, the score was 14-7 and Tanner was up to 6/11 for 93 yards.

Then, instead of playing it safe and milking out the rest of first half clock, Indiana went to the air and threw an interception that left 23 seconds for the Gophers, who would start the drive at Indiana’s 31-yard-line. Last week’s PJ Fleck would have run the football a couple times and gladly accepted the free field goal handed to him by the Hoosiers.

But not today. In contrast to what we’ve come to expect from the Minnesota Gophers head coach, Fleck put the ball in Morgan’s right hand (again) and trusted his QB and wide receivers to make plays. And make plays they did. Tanner went 3/3 on the drive and it ended with yet another ridiculous Chris Autman-Bell jump ball TD.

Early aggressiveness pays dividends

Just like that, the Gophers were up 21-7 entering halftime and Morgan was 9/14 for 124 yards and 1 TD. Oh, and the game was over. The (2-9) Indiana Hoosiers don’t have the offensive fire power to comeback from a two-touchdown lead against a defense like Minnesota’s.

After a few more nice throws by Morgan found Dylan Wright, Brevyn Spann-Ford and Chris Autman-Bell (for another TD) in the 3rd quarter, Fleck was able to run, run and run some more late in the second half, just the way he likes to close games. But the Gophers were in that position (up 28-7) because PJ allowed Tanner Morgan to win him the game in the 2nd and 3rd quarters. Being aggressive early paid dividends later.

When the final dust settled in Bloomington, the Gophers climbed onto the bus with their Big Ten West dreams still alive and celebrating a 35-14 thumping of the Hoosiers. While his final passing stats (14/20, 194 YDS, 2 TD) won’t show it, the maroon and gold won this game thanks to Tanner Morgan.

Same formula vs Wisconsin

We’ve never begged for this Minnesota Gophers squad to throw the ball 40-50 times per game. We just want Fleck to trust Morgan when needed. Today, that’s what happened and it paid off.

The formula needs to be the same if the (7-3) Gophers are going to beat Wisconsin next week, to close out the regular season at Huntington Bank Stadium. If they can upset the Badgers and Iowa trips up vs Nebraska, Minnesota will represent the West in the Big Ten Championship game.

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan