It’s Tanner Morgan Time

Photo: Jesse Johnson – USA TODAY Sports

Tanner Morgan has been the Minnesota Gophers starting quarterback for the better part of three seasons and he’s become a rock that head coach, PJ Fleck, can always lean on. Morgan is ALWAYS the first player to take the podium at press conferences and a spitting image of his head coach, both in the way he talks and the way he looks.

During a memorable 2019 season, Tanner Morgan also looked like a future star. With Tyler Johnson and Rashod Bateman to throw to, he blew up, throwing for 3253 yards and 30 touchdowns, both school records.

But Tanner took a major step back on the football field last year, falling off of a statistical cliff. If anyone deserves a pass on 2020, though, it’s Morgan, who watched his dad battle brain cancer from afar all season. Ted Morgan passed away couple of months ago (July 12), just days before 2021 Big Ten Media Day. Tanner, of course, still made it to Chicago and sounded stoic while there. How? Because that’s what his dad would have wanted.

Ibrahim Injury

Fast forward a couple of months. The Gophers opened up a new season vs the #4 Ohio State Buckeyes on September 2, 2021. Huntington Bank Stadium sold out and the crowd was electric. Tanner Morgan had his moments that night, especially in the 2nd half. Some throws looked better than others but he wasn’t a major part of the game plan, entering the weekend.

Against OSU, PJ Fleck wanted to “shorten the game” by running All-Big Ten running back, Mohamed Ibrahim, a lot. And it worked… until Mo could run no mo. Ibrahim came up limp in the 3rd quarter and that spelled the end for Minnesota, who would blow their second half lead in an eventual 45-31 loss. We found out later in the week that Ibrahim was lost for the season.

The Minnesota Gophers still have plethora of capable running backs to hand the ball off to but none of them have near the experience nor clout that Mo had. Luckily, the Gopher offense still has the school’s single-season all-time leading passer on their team and healthy. And there’s no better time than now for the 4th year college senior, Tanner Morgan, to make a run at his NFL dreams..

The NFL is calling on all competent college QB’s

Tanner Morgan still has one season of eligibility remaining, thanks to the free season provided to college athletes during the pandemic. But why wait to make a run at the NFL, when your best opportunity could be now? Morgan is throwing behind one of the best and most experienced offensive lines in the country and they proved themselves vs a top Buckeye defensive line last week. Again, the time for Morgan to make his NFL move is now

The National Football League is begging for QB’s in every draft. Quarterbacks are always moving up draft boards and they’re always taken way earlier than they should be, for that reason. Most teams would give up their entire future if it meant a young promising QB in return. And following the show he put on in 2019, Tanner Morgan was at the top of everyone’s QB prospect list, including ESPN’s Mel Kiper.

With Ibrahim’s injury trying to pull the team down, it’s the perfect time for Tanner to show NFL scouts that he’s capable of lifting it back up. Without bona fide NFL receivers on each side of him and without the best running back in the Big Ten, can Morgan lead his team on the field like he does off of it?

We’re about to find out.

Miami (OH) is the perfect launching point

If there’s one game on the Minnesota schedule that could launch Morgan into another gear, it’s Saturday vs Miami (OH). The Redhawks hail from the MAC, where they’re hoping to compete for a conference championship this season. But when up against the #8 Cincinnati Bearcats last weekend, winning was the last thing on their mind.

The second play of the game was an 81-yard Cincinnati touchdown pass and the Bearcats didn’t slow down from there. Senior QB, Desmond Ridder, would go on to throw for over 200 yards and 2 touchdowns in the first half alone, as the Bearcats built a 35-0 halftime lead.

Miami (OH) struggled to stop anything Cincinnati did offensively last weekend, and I expect the same thing vs the Gophers on Saturday. The Redhawks, however, feel good about their defensive line and linebacker groups vs MAC opponents. They won’t say the same about their secondary, which is flimsy at best, even vs lesser competition.

That means a Big Ten veteran quarterback, like Tanner Morgan, should be able to stand in the pocket and pick it apart. Here’s what MACNation beat writer told GopherIllustrated.com earlier this week, regarding the Miami (OH) defense.

There’s plenty to like in the defensive line and linebacking corps. Miami presents significant depth on the edges at defensive end with seasoned pass rusher Kameron Butler leading the unit.

But there is plenty of reason for RedHawk faithful to be concerned about the secondary. It was no surprise Cincinnati launched a deep ball on its second offensive play from scrimmage, burning zone coverage en route to an 81-yard touchdown. Teams were easily able to exploit Miami’s secondary in 2020, resulting in the RedHawks finishing 110th in passing yards allowed per game. Even a ground-oriented team like Buffalo registered 353 passing yards and four touchdowns on just 17 completions when facing Miami.

MACNation beat writer Steve Helwick (GopherIllustrated.com Interview)

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan