It’s Time for Tanner Morgan to Sink or Swim

Photo: Star Tribune

Have you ever woken up in a state of panic because of a horrible nightmare? There’s that “sigh-of-relief” moment you feel when reality sets in: “It was just a bad dream…”. Well, unfortunately for Minnesota Gophers fans, what we witnessed between the Minnesota Gophers and Bowling Green Falcons last Saturday afternoon was not “just a bad dream”.

The Gophers took to their home Huntington Bank Stadium turf and got smacked around by a ‘group of five’ team that hadn’t beaten a ‘power five’ school since 2019. The maroon and gold looked underprepared and shocked with the type of tenacity brought by the BGSU defense. But the ugliest part of last weekend’s nightmare happened whenever Tanner Morgan dropped back to throw the football.

Tanner Morgan’s No Good, Very Bad Day

Tanner doesn’t deserve all of the blame for his poor play. The veteran-laden offensive line that’s supposed to keep him cozy-warm in the pocket vs MAC opponents wouldn’t have stopped seven middle-schoolers last weekend. But guess what? If you can’t muster better than 5/13 for 59 YDS, 2 INT’s and a lost fumble, nobody is going to care about your o-line play.

Even as badly as the Gophers played on Saturday, Tanner Morgan still had the ball in his hands late in the 4th quarter, down just four points, with chances to lead his team down the field to victory. And to the very last possession, fans thought it would happen.

Why not? Morgan has proven more than capable in those situations, even when he and the rest of the team rode the struggle bus for three quarters. In 2019 vs SDSU, Georgia Southern and Fresno State, Tanner threw Minnesota to 4th quarter victories.

But vs Bowling Green a week ago, instead of a point-producing, game-winning drive, Tanner threw two ugly interceptions that sealed the loss. Both were thrown with under two and a half minutes to play.

Who lacks confidence?

I’m struggling to understand who lacked more confidence against Bowling Green; Tanner Morgan when he dropped back to throw OR Fleck and Sanford when they called plays? It’s clear that head coach, PJ Fleck and offensive coordinator, Mike Sanford, did not trust Morgan to throw them to victory. Even against a much lesser opponent.

Obviously, throwing just 13 times in a game where you trailed throughout, speaks volumes. But specific plays tell the story in more detail. Late in the 3rd quarter with the Gophers down 10-7, for example, the Minnesota offense had the ball at the BGSU 33 yard line. It was 3rd and 6 yards. Instead of trusting their senior QB to throw them a huge first down, Fleck and Sanford opted to run the ball. They were stuffed for a 1-yard loss. Matt Trickett missed the 52 yard field goal one play later.

It’s these types of calls that show an obvious lack of trust in Tanner Morgan and contribute to a day where he only threw the football 13 times.

Sink or Swim vs Purdue

So it’s time to take the training wheels off of Tanner Morgan, whether he’s ready or not. The coaching staff needs to show their confidence in him by putting more weight of the outcome on his shoulders. At this point, if you can’t trust Morgan then it’s time to turn to the next guy in line. Since losing OC Kirk Ciarrocca and wide receivers, Tyler Johnson and Rashod Bateman, the Kentucky kid’s failed to produce results worthy of a power 5 QB.

With your star running back, Mohamed Ibrahim, out and defenses keying to stop the run, trusting Tanner’s arm is a very logical offensive game plan. So PJ Fleck and Mike Sanford should scheme and call a game that is much more balanced vs what we witnessed last weekend.

Both guys have talked this week about doing exactly that, while still staying true to themselves. We’ll see if that actually happens. And if it does, we’ll indeed see whether or not Tanner Morgan is the right guy to lead the Minnesota Gophers going forward. I’ll be in the press box at West Lafayette when we find out. My first road game as a big j. Hopefully it’s a W.

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan

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