With Kirk Ciarrocca Back, Tanner Morgan Looks Like a Star Once Again
A 2019 coming out party for Tanner Morgan rewrote the football record books at the University of Minnesota in both yards (3,253) and touchdowns (30). That season helped launch NFL careers for Tyler Johnson, Rashod Bateman and others. But then, offensive coordinator, Kirk Ciarrocca, left for Penn State.
Kirk’s replacement, Mike Sanford, had a track record for ruining quarterbacks before he arrived. And he lived up to his reputation with Tanner Morgan, who never surpassed 2,100 yards or 10 TD’s in either season under Sanford. Given the offense’s tentative nature in 2020 and 2021, it’s clear PJ Fleck never trusted Sanford either.
Picking up where they left off
But after falling on his face at PSU and eating a lot of humble pie on his way down, Kirk Ciarrocca was hired back as Minnesota Gophers offensive coordinator for the 2022 season; Tanner Morgan’s 6th and final year of eligibility. And while it’s true that the Gophers are yet to face any real competition, the difference already in Morgan’s confidence and comfortability isn’t just noticeable. It’s palpable.
There were hints of improvement last week vs New Mexico State. But, the Fighting Jerry Kills kept two safeties deep for most of the game, which invited PJ Fleck to embrace his favorite part of football. Running the ball and controlling the clock. So, he took advantage.
In week two, however, their FCS opponent — Western Illinois — wanted to make the Gophers beat them through the air. And in a stunning change of fate, Fleck, Ciarrocca and Morgan were happy to oblige. After just 2 quarters of play, Tanner had already collected 223 yards, on 11/15 passes. He finished 14-18 for 287 yards and one TD.
It was 2019 all over again, maybe better. The slant game is ABSOLUTELY back and so are the big plays. But what has changed, is Morgan’s awareness and movement in the pocket. He looks calm, cool and collected. He’s looking off defensive backs and strategically maneuvering to areas that allow clean step-up windows on deeper throws.
Different Tanner Morgan
Right after Ciarrocca left the program and Mike Sanford was hired, Big Ten football was shut down in 2020, before eventually starting back up again. Worse yet, Tanner’s dad (Ted) was battling cancer. A battle he would eventually lose in 2021. It’s been a tough couple of years for many, but Tanner Morgan had a lot on his plate.
So far, 2022 has been a better year. Morgan got married in the offseason and, on the football field, he has his old offense back. We’ll see if his confidence and poise continues to grow as a new season with Kirk Ciarrocca moves forward. If so, there isn’t a team in the Big Ten West that can hang with the Minnesota Gophers.
Western Illinois probably wanted to drop their football program by the time this 62-10 shellacking was over.
Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan