It’s Time to Trust Tanner Morgan and Open Up the Gopher Passing Attack

Photo: University of Minnesota

The Minnesota Gophers football team has a lot of problems in 2020 and offense is the least of them. Over their first two games, they’ve tallied 68 total points. That lands them exactly where they were all of 2019 in the scoring category, at 34 per game.

Everyone knows how terrible this defense has been. I wrote about the depth of its problems earlier this week, when PJ Fleck gave defensive coordinator Joe Rossi a vote of confidence. Let’s leave that topic aside for now. Rossi won’t coach this week, after he tested positive for COVID-19, anyway.

Where is the passing game?

Minnesota might be scoring the same amount of points as they did last season… but how they are scoring and gaining yards is much different.

Per GameRush YdsRush TDYds/RushPass YdsPass TD

Tanner Morgan has struggled to find the consistency and rhythm that earned him 2nd Team All-Big Ten in 2019. The Minnesota Gophers are averaging 60 yards and almost 1.5 touchdowns less through the air, than they did last season.

Obviously, Tyler Johnson leaving for the NFL plays into the hardship but Chris Autman Bell has played extremely well and has made a few ridiculous catches, when called upon. So what’s the issue?

Well, part of it is opportunity. Minnesota was down throughout the whole Michigan game and Tanner Morgan had to drop back and sling it 31 times. He completed 18 of them for 197 yards. The pressure was in his grill all game, as the offensive line struggled to stop a juggernaut Michigan defensive line.

Tanner threw one TD, one INT and fumbled once in that game.

Tanner Morgan vs Maryland

Against Maryland, however, the game script was completely different and the coaching staff seemed to almost lose confidence in Tanner. They were running on downs they’d normally pass in and, during the final two drives, they seemed VERY cautious and it might have cost them the game.

Today, offensive coordinator Mike Sanford met with media and took partial blame for Minnesota’s lack of passing game through two weeks. He did like some things he saw out of the Gopher QB in week 2, vs week 1, and also vowed to get Morgan more opportunities at success this weekend.

He was able to focus in on a lot of different looks and be able to just cut it loose. I think that the 19.7 yards per completion was a good indication of that, but there was only 10 of them, so we got to give him more opportunities that’s obviously on me to get him more opportunities to get him to get into a better rhythm.

Illini Defense Much Better in Run Game

The Illinois Fighting Illini defense isn’t very good this season, but they’ve been much much much worse in the pass game, than they have vs the run. The Illini rank 13th (only ahead of Minnesota) in pass defense, giving up a total of 619 pass yards through two games.

According to sports reference, the Illinois defense allowed Jack Coan (Wisconsin) to complete 95.1% of his 21 passes in week one and then allowed Aidan O’Connell (Purdue) to throw for 371 yards and 2 TD’s on 82.9% passing in week two.

If there was ever a game for the Minnesota Gophers to get their passing attack back on track, it is this weekend vs the Illini. It’s time to open up this Mike Sanford offense so we can see what its made of.

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan