PFF in Love with Gophers Offense, Tanner Morgan

AP Photo: Abbie Parr

The Minnesota Gophers’ 2022 season has been a disappointment, so far. Entering Big Ten play, PJ Fleck’s squad had the best chance of his 7-year tenure to win the Big Ten West. Instead, they stumbled out of the conference play starting gates and enter Saturday’s matchup vs Nebraska with a 2-3 record vs Big Ten foes.

A once-vaunted Gopher defense has struggled to find its footing vs worthy offensive opponents like Illinois and Penn State. But the biggest issues have come on offense, where Minnesota has struggled to move the ball through the air vs Big Ten teams not named Michigan State.

Counting conference games only, the Gophers rank 9th in the Big Ten in scoring, 8th in touchdowns and 8th in average YPG. The offensive struggles do not originate in the run game, however, where Mo Ibrahim & Co rank 4th in average rush YPG and TDs.

Gophers’ passing attack doesn’t attack.

The obvious problem with Minnesota’s offense is in the pass game. Through 5 conference contests so far this season, Tanner Morgan & Co rank 13th in the Big Ten for average pass yards per game (172.0) and 12th in touchdowns (4).

You read that right, the Gophers have played more conference games this season than they have thrown passing touchdowns. Those are the kind of numbers that drag down, not just an entire offense, but an entire program.

Don’t tell that to Pro Football Focus, though. Because, for whatever reason, PFF is bullish on the Minnesota Gophers in all facets, grading them a 94.9 overall. That’s good enough for the 3rd best grade in the entire country, behind only Ohio State and Michigan.

Minnesota’s defensive grade at PFF, a 90.2, is impressive. But the their overall grade is actually buoyed by its offense, which grades out at an incredible 94.0, also good for 3rd-best in the country. That offensive grade includes an 86.1 passing grade. The same air attack that ranks 13th (of 15) in the Big Ten passing yards per game, has an 86.1 PFF passing grade. How is that even possible?

PFF Loves Tanner Morgan

Well, it starts with Pro Football Focus’ apparent affinity for starting quarterback, Tanner Morgan, who has started four of the five conference games the maroon and gold have played this season. His overall offensive PFF grade so far this season? A 91.3; the best of his long career and good for 6th-best in the country among QBs.

I do not know exactly how PFF puts their quarterback grades together but Tanner Morgan, after seven games played this season, is ranked 11th in the Big Ten in passing yards per game. Again, PFF is portraying an entirely different Minnesota football team, especially through the air, than what we have seen with our own eyes, or even what the statistics and results show.

Wide Receiver struggle

Where everyone agrees the Gophers struggle, however, is at wide receiver. Clay Geary, who’s probably the 4th receiver on the depth chart, is the only active WR who grades out on PFF higher than a 67 overall.

This makes sense (finally) because it’s well known how poorly the receivers have played since Chris Autman-Bell went down with an injury. It’s been so bad that PJ Fleck has all but given up on stretching the field with deep passes.

Can you blame him? Minnesota’s best deep threat, Michael Brown-Stephens, has 7 receptions when targeted on deep routes this season. The defense has 5 interceptions in those situations.

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan