Smart People: Gophers Starting QB Job is Annexstad’s to Lose

Photo: GopherSports.com

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Zack Annexstad‘s talent, size, arm strength, and athleticism took me by surprise at the 2018 Gophers Spring Game over a year ago. He was the true Freshman, compared to Tanner Morgan; who I knew was a bit undersized, but had the redshirt and a year of practice experience under his belt, not to mention a major D1 NCAA college football diet plan..

But even with the extra year for Morgan, the difference in size and arm-strength stuck out immediately.

Zack won the job out of Fall camp (like I predicted) and went into the season as the starter, before poor play and injuries lost him the QB1 title. He showed to be innaccurate at times and liked to throw the ball up into coverage, even when those first or second reads weren’t available, especially when his ankle took a turn for the worse and mobility became a major problem.

Tanner got his shot and he took advantage, leading us to big victories over Wisconsin, Purdue, and Georgia Tech in a bowl game to finish the season. But now, we’re looking forward to 2019-20 and we’re in the same place…

Who will be the starting QB; Zack Annexstad or Tanner Morgan?

I wrote about it after I attended the Spring Game a couple of months ago but my pick, just like last year, is Zack Annexstad… for the same reasons. And just like last year, I’m not the only one. Our friend Ryan Burns, with GopherIllustrated.com, has people on the inside and follows the team much closer than I do. He projected the starters at every position earlier this weekend (it’s a must-read) and guess who his QB1 was? I love when smart people make me look smart.

Here’s Ryan’s analysis (again, you should subscribe to GI and read the whole thing):

Throughout the spring, I held the opinion that Annexstad is slightly ahead of Morgan going into the summer, and I’ll still stand by that opinion being accurate today.

Sources indicate that Zack and Tanner improved on their biggest weaknesses, as Tanner became more consistent from rep to rep this spring, and Zack got “smarter” within Ciarrocca’s offense. Both improved with going through their reads, but I will say that sources are in agreement with me that the ceiling between the two quarterbacks is higher with Annexstad. His physical attributes with his arm and aggressive mindset being the separator. Bottom line is Minnesota’s offense will be designed around whichever wins the job. Again, by no means is this race settled, as it’ll go into fall camp, but I do believe Annexstad to be ahead right now.

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There’s one major factor behind the success of Annexstad (and the Gophers as a team) this upcoming season and it has nothing to do with him or the offense. It’s Joe Rossi’s defense. I would’ve loved to have seen a healthy Zack at QB, with Rossi’s defense playing beside him. He was put into a lot of situations last year, with the defense giving up a bazillion points, where Fleck and Ciarrocca had to rely on him to get the ball down the field. I had forgotten how bad the defense was for awhile, before Rossi took over. Gross.

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But the defense certainly wasn’t Annexstad’s only or biggest downfall. As Burns mentions, he needs to get smarter with his decisions and better at going through his reads. He has two of the best receivers in the Big Ten and he’ll be able to lean on them a lot. But, throwing “500” balls into double or triple coverage because you’re feeling the rush, isn’t the way to utilize their ability.

If Zack improves in those areas, he’ll walk away with this QB battle and never look back. If he doesn’t, the Gophers won’t hit their ceiling this year and he’ll go back and forth with Morgan again all season, while we wait and hope for Jacob Clark and Cole Kramer to be ready to take the job in 2020.

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan

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