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B1G 2021, Minnesota Potluck #2: Is Tanner Morgan a game-changer or game-manager?

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With RB Mo Ibrahim, it should be hard to screw this up...but does Minnesota have the QB—to say nothing of the coordinator or wide receivers—to overcome any slip-ups?

NCAA Football: Minnesota at Nebraska Dylan Widger-USA TODAY Sports

Alright, that’s three articles on PJ Fleck.

Now let’s talk about the less important topic: the actual players Minnesota’s putting on the field!

Today we’ve got a deep-dive on the Minnesota Golden Gophers offense—I made THREE TABLES for you!—including a look at whether Tanner Morgan is just an early 2000s wisconsin quarterback with a better publicist, asking how Mike Sanford Jr. got here, and

Football: A QB and an RB...but more questions than answers?

While Zach Annexstad started the 2018 season for the Gophers, he got injured in a shootout loss to Nebraska on October 20.

Enter Tanner Morgan.

NCAA Football: Minnesota at Nebraska
Call him “Tanner Minnesota”, I guess.
Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

While he couldn’t drag the Gophers over the finish line in a 53-28 drubbing in Lincoln, Morgan guided the SS Fleck through a soft back-half of the Minnesota schedule, leading the Gophers to a shootout win over Indiana, performing creditably in a loss to Illinois that cost DC Robb Smith his job, leading Minnesota to its first win over wisconsin since I was knee-high on a grasshopper, and game-managing the Gophers over Georgia Tech in a laugher of a bowl win. (He still lost to Northwestern, of course.)

Save one “open competition” between the two before the 2019 season, the job has been Morgan’s ever since. And he’s been...good?

Tanner Morgan Yearly Passing Stats

Season G Cmp Att Pct Yds Y/A AY/A TD Int Rate
Season G Cmp Att Pct Yds Y/A AY/A TD Int Rate
2018 9 89 152 58.55% 1401 9.2 8.6 9 6 147.6
2019 13 210 318 66.04% 3253 10.2 11.1 30 7 178.7
2020 7 106 183 57.92% 1374 7.5 7.0 7 5 129.2

An interesting trend emerged late in 2018, though, that’s carried through into 2021: if Morgan throws more than* 30 passes, it’s not going to end well for Minnesota. To wit:

Tanner Morgan >30 Attempts

Date Opponent W/L Score Cmp Att Pct TD INT
Date Opponent W/L Score Cmp Att Pct TD INT
11/17/18 N'western L 14-24 19 32 59.38% 1 2
9/14/19 GA Southern W 35-32 19 31 61.29% 3 1
11/16/19 @Iowa L 19-23 25 36 69.44% 1 0
11/30/19 wisconsin L 17-38 20 37 54.05% 2 1
10/24/20 Michigan L 24-49 18 31 58.06% 1 1
11/13/20 Iowa L 7-35 16 33 48.48% 1 2

*He threw exactly 30 in a win over Nebraska last year. You and I know how this works, so let’s all agree it’s a talker and move on, hmm?

There were, of course, a lot of factors working against Morgan in 2020: RG Curtis Dunlap, Jr., missed the whole year due to injury, while behemoth RT Daniel Faalele opted out due to COVID. OC/QBC Kirk Ciarrocca left Minnesota for Penn State before the season, and Tyler Johnson fucked around, entered the 2020 NFL Draft, and won a damn Super Bowl.

In their absences, even with future first-round pick Rashod Bateman, Morgan struggled in 2020.

The Daily Gopher’s Blake Ruane had an excellent deep-dive into Morgan’s struggles—and successes—last year, and notes that in the wake of Johnson and Bateman, we’ll see how Morgan does building rapport with WRs Chris Autman-Bell and Daniel Jackson, plus “11 true or redshirt freshman wide receivers on the roster this spring.”

I can already hear PJ Fleck making excuses, can’t you?

The Gophers won’t have the excuse, though, at running back—Mo Ibrahim returns for another go-round, bringing back 1076 yards and 15 TDs (from 2020 alone!!! that’s 7 games!!!). But there’s a need for a backup RB to emerge. They seem set at tight end, but, uh...mostly those hogs are there to block, apparently.

All told, writers, we could be looking at a Minnesota that, if something happens to Ibrahim, is right back to square one. And with second-year OC Mike Sanford, Jr., uh...

Mike Sanford Jr.: OC, HC Offense Rankings

Year Rk Role Team OFEI Efficiency EffRk Adjusted Adj Rk TD Rt TD Rt Rk 1stDown 1stD Rk Yds Avail Yds Av Rk Explosive Explos Rk BustDrive BustDrv Rk TO Rate TO Rt Rk
Year Rk Role Team OFEI Efficiency EffRk Adjusted Adj Rk TD Rt TD Rt Rk 1stDown 1stD Rk Yds Avail Yds Av Rk Explosive Explos Rk BustDrive BustDrv Rk TO Rate TO Rt Rk
2014 21 OC Boise State 0.63 0.63 17 0 65 0.364 17 0.767 23 0.525 24 0.199 16 0.091 24 0.114 49
2015 8 OC Notre Dame 1.05 0.78 10 0.27 4 0.366 14 0.782 20 0.572 11 0.246 5 0.106 49 0.127 76
2016 44 OC Notre Dame 0.33 0.29 38 0.04 49 0.314 38 0.701 79 0.485 53 0.174 34 0.153 114 0.102 44
2017 93 HC Western KY -0.32 0.01 60 -0.33 129 0.273 59 0.741 46 0.475 54 0.108 85 0.137 96 0.144 106
2018 116 HC Western KY -0.68 -0.38 104 -0.3 127 0.208 106 0.696 84 0.432 84 0.08 120 0.128 79 0.088 24
2019 96 OC Utah State -0.32 -0.27 98 -0.05 83 0.21 96 0.699 85 0.44 91 0.105 94 0.077 16 0.14 103
2020 40 OC Minnesota 0.44 0.68 25 n/a n/a 0.358 25 0.761 32 0.537 33 n/a n/a 0.06 8 0.075 18

Do with all that what you will, though...uh...there’s a drop-off after the salad days of “inherit really good players at Boise State or Notre Dame.”

So tell us, writers:
(1) Is Tanner Morgan really, as Land Grant Holy Land and a Cleveland.com writer suggest, the best non-Ohio State quarterback in the conference? Give us your pick, and...

(2) Tell us how the Gophers offense fares in Year Two of Mike Sanford, or is it Year One, or Year Five—no, wait, Year Four. Is it the Mo Ibrahim Show, and that determines Minnesota’s fate, or can Morgan and Autman-Bell lead the Gophers to a few wins?

(3) Tell us a failson who made his way through your program.

MNW: I just want it on the record that I was originally going to title this article “Is Tanner Morgan the next Adam Weber or the next Mitch Leidner?” but then 10am is a little early to start drinking.

WSR: What if Tanner Morgan is the best non-tOSU QB in the conference and is also overrated?

In 2019 he went out there and played perfectly within himself in the system: Make the right read, hit your target. It’s always nice to have a pair of NFL receivers and an elite B1G RB making your job easier, but how many times have we seen a B1G QB suck ass despite having at least one of those things? If he was 5” taller, he’d be the perfect NFL QB before they started pulling their heads out of their asses and let QBs be creative. Instead he’s just the best Gophers QB since Adam Weber, but with an actual coaching staff helping him out.

And in regards to Mike Sanford...ummm...yeah. Wasn’t a fan when he was hired, still not a fan now. Let’s see what he can do this year.

Thankfully, Peejus hasn’t been afraid to throw coordinators out of the plane mid-flight in the past when things aren’t working out.

HWAHSQB: I think random OSU QB is the second best quarterback in the conference. The best QB is obviously whoever is on the field against the Illinois defense.

If Minnesota doesn’t saddle up Mo and ride him to a Pinstripe Bowl, they should fire the OC.

Failsons at Illinois? The last 25 years has been pretty much all failure.

RockyMtnBlue: No. No he is not. Tanner Morgan is a perfectly cromulent college QB, but his big numbers in 2019 were the product of a reasonably competent quarterback playing in an excellent system with two NFL WRs.

Last year we saw what DCs could do with an offseason to study film and Kirk Ciarrocca wasn’t around to counter-punch. This year they lose the other premium WR. Autman-Bell is a ball player, but he’s not on the level with Bateman and Johnson.

I don’t think it’s real clear who the #2 guy is in the Big Ten, but I think you have to point at Michael Penix until someone proves otherwise.

This year Minnesota’s offense will be...fine? They have seven words everyone LOVES to say about their team: “Five returning starters on the offensive line”. That and a third-year starting QB is a really good start. Add in Big Ten running back of the year Mo Ibrahim and that’s a nice recipe to take on 2 mac schools, a Colorado team that doesn’t play defense, and the defenses that Nebraska, Purdue, and Illinois are likely to field. Against real defenses like OSU and Wiscy, though, they’re going to struggle to be two-dimensional, and so they’ll struggle period.

Failsons at Michigan? What are you talking about? Michigan has never had a player fail to live up to expectations! Vincent Grey will be a starter at CB for Michigan this year. Again. He’s a willing player, but he doesn’t begin to have the speed to play CB in the Big Ten.

MNW: WSR hit the nail on the head—and it’s mostly because there’s really no one else I’d put up as vaguely competent in the way Jim Sorgi or Brooks Bollinger was competent. Adrian Martinez is a proven mediocre commodity, I’ve seen enough wounded Penix ducks to know he’s one stretch away from eliciting nothing but shrugs, and as for Graham Mertz, well...

But sure, Minnesota’s QB room can be second-best behind Ohio State.

In other words, Gophers, hope Mo Ibrahim stays healthy or that some other running back is ready to pound that rock.

RU in VA: Tanner Morgan isn’t even the best QB in his own state. Give me a break. Give me Connor Leavens all day: https://hamlineathletics.com/sports/football/roster/connor-leavens/7386

2. Hasn’t Minnesota had the same gameplan for all of the 2000s? Starting with Marion Barber III on, the theme is to get some talent who shouldn’t have committed there in the first place and just run them 35 times a game and cross your fingers? This is the same school in Minnesota, right?

3. Yeah. Every kid Chris Ash convinced to come there.

Zuzu: Nah. Penix. I don't have an answer to 2 because as I said in yesterday's Potluck I've paid attention to all teams at the highest 0%. Minnesota maybe -1%.

My answer to 3 is Savon Huggins. He was like a super high star recruit I think, but was... mediocre. Also Art Sitkowski. Great kid. Awful QB.

Beez: It dawned on me that Tanner Morgan is 100% Minnesota’s version of “Well any Wisconsin RB could get 1,500 yards behind those lines.” It’s pretty easy to look like good-to-great QB when you’ve got those receivers to thrown to! And that RB to hand off to! Really, though, it seems like Morgan excels at what he’s asked to do, which is “throw to the right guy.” And when you have great skill players, why does the question need to be any more complicated than that? But no, he’s not the best non-OSU QB. That’s Penix.

I expect this to be Minnesota’s worst offense of Morgan’s 3 years, solely because of the loss of the great WRs he’s had. If the defense isn’t much better than last year, Ibrahim won’t be enough by himself to play catchup, which means we’ve got Morgan throwing to guys who maybe aren’t all 1st round NFL draft picks.

Kind of...: I am very much of the opinion that 2020 didn’t tell us much that was useful about most teams. I expect to see a LOT of regression. That said, Minnesota’s 2019 is not some reasonable baseline, so I expect Morgan to be in-between those two seasons.

If you want to call him the best non-OSU QB rights now, have at it. I won’t argue. But I would put a fair amount of money down that not many people will be saying that in November. That will be Mertz (see below).

As for the Gopher offense, I’m with RockyMtnBlue. At the end of the year, Minnesota’s offensive numbers will look decent. But the game-by-game breakdown will show a lot of variance.

Failson is too harsh for UW OC Joe Rudolph, but Chryst took the playcalling duties back for this year and nobody thought that was a bad idea, least of all (probably), Mertz (see above).

Candystripes: When healthy, I fully believe Mike Penix is at worst the second-best QB in the conference. The problem, of course, is that he hasn’t managed to finish a full season in his college career, and while that was kind of expected in Year 1 (the season-ending injury then just confirmed it), it’s a little bit worrying that we’re going into his 4th year (after redshirting that first one) and that’s still true.

Could Tanner Morgan be the second best? Sure, but at this point that’s basically saying, “OK, we assume whoever tOSU has is #1, and then throw a dart at everyone else.” Damming with faint praise, that is.

Stew:

  1. Uh, maybe? Damning with feint praise here, though. There isn’t a single other QB really in the running, is there? Penix gets some hype around these parts but he was hardly good. Morgans made good, quick reads in 2019, was overall pretty awful in 2020. But that may still be enough to be the 2nd best QB in the conference.
  2. Ibrahim better be the engine of the MN offense. He’s excellent and a ton of fun to watch, and in 2020 he did all that damage behind a horrid OL. He could go for 2000 this year with even a mild threat in the passing game. Which....I mean, Autman-Bell is pretty decent, but he’s definitely not Tyler Johnson or Rashod Bateman, and there’s not another one in the wings, at least yet.
  3. Ahh, man, come on!

Poll

How does the Gopher offense fare in 2021?

This poll is closed

  • 27%
    A big step forward with the continuity of Morgan and Ibrahim, plus an offseason with Sanford.
    (30 votes)
  • 43%
    Pretty much a proven, mid-table commodity that can’t afford any injuries.
    (48 votes)
  • 25%
    The boat springs a leak and Peejus spends all year plugging holes.
    (28 votes)
  • 3%
    We’re talking Rutgers-levels of bad.
    (4 votes)
110 votes total Vote Now

Food: Stranded in BWCA with no paddle and food poisoning?

A twinned set of classically Minnesota experiences: a trip through the Boundary Waters Canoe and a good walleye shore lunch.

David Paul Schmit, photo used by Outdoor News

There’s a lot of skill and attention that goes into preparing the meal at that link—not least among them the ability to catch a walleye—but also the ability to manage a campfire, bone and bread the fish, and cook it just right.

As WSR puts it: “Undercooked? Too fishy. Overcooked? Might as well be eating a tire. Also, depending on how good the person filleting is you could end up with half of a ribcage in your throat.”

With some butter, potato, and onion cooked up in foil, though (that recipe includes bacon, but it’s funny how you’re supposed to bring so much into the woods with you in the recipe), along with fresh-caught fish, you’re golden.

The problem is that there’s a lot that needs to go right, it’s a lot of work, and...well, you might also start a massive forest fire just trying to cook the fucking thing.

So tell us, writers:
(1) Have you done the Boundary Waters (or a similarly wilderness-type adventure)?

(2) Walleye’s the best kind of freshwater fish: Explain why.

(3) Have a foil recipe of your own? Want to set the record straight on campfire cooking? Here’s your opportunity.

WSR: 1) Yup. I’ve spent a few weeks plopped down in the middle of nowhere having brought with the bare minimum of supplies. It was a lot easier to do in my early 20’s when I had less responsibility and my body didn’t really care what I did to it. I should try it for a weekend now and see just how miserable it makes me.

2) Because pretty much every other freshwater fish is trash.

3) All you really need is salt, pepper, cayenne, and saltine crackers. Keep the tin foil to protect the fish from a) falling apart and b) getting burnt to a crisp because the person cooking can’t figure out how to get the grill the right distance from the fire. And then you need to practice and practice and practice some more.

That little line about the ribcage? That’s because I wasn’t allowed to fillet for decades because my step-grandfather is outstanding at it and loves to do it himself. In the 30 years I’ve been fishing and eating with him I’ve only seen someone find a bone once, and the look on his face was one of a person considering seppuku. So either find yourself somebody as good as him, or get practicing yourself because fish is much better without the ribs.

HWAHSQB: I haven’t done the boundary waters, but I did do a lot of camping before I was fat and old. I had planned to kayak from Davenport to St. Louis with my son when he was 14, but stupid cancer ruined that trip.

I love fish. I grew up eating all kinds of fish and enjoying them all for their different qualities. I do mean all by the way. You can get a fried carp sandwich at a couple places in my hometown and I’m not even embarrassed to say I’ve eaten my fair share of them.

That being said, walleye is my favorite. Even my southern wife, who was a catfish is the only freshwater fish to eat person, tried walleye once and is now hooked. I only recently learned that when cleaning walleye, I was leaving some of the best cuts behind. Click that link if you haven’t ever eaten walleye cheeks and wings. You’ll thank me.

When it comes to campfire cooking, the simpler the better. Salt, pepper, and a little drizzle of oil. If you want to cook a gourmet meal, put the fish on ice and cook it at home.

MNW: When I was a simple, poor graduate student—as opposed to the simple, poor PhD I am now—I camped for a number for my research trips, though never in something Boundary Waters-adjacent: by the Missouri River in Pierre, by the Red River in Grand Forks, nothing special. I can set up a tent, start a fire, and cook some simple food, but you don’t want me (1) responsible for fishing, or (2) cleaning your fish.

My favorite stop was Lundar Beach in Manitoba, after I went walkabout following the Grand Forks trip and took a relatively impromptu three-day trip to Canada to watch a Winnipeg Blue Bombers game, then find a random campground. Wound up on the shores of Lake Manitoba, eating very little while drinking whiskey and reading books about Midwestern history well into the 10pm hour:

That said, a steak on a skillet over a fire is top-notch. Butter, salt, pepper, yum. Maybe a potato if I’m feeling peckish.

Walleye is obviously the best freshwater fish—that was an easy question.

RockyMtnBlue: All the other men in my family are fishing fanatics. They, like the rest of you, are insane.

RU in VA: 1. Not in America, but I spent like three weeks near the top of a mountain in Iraq. Sucked balls. And whatever we were looking for, never happened. You know how they give you food and water out there? In a bodybag that’s slung from a helicopter and dropped “near” you. Also, no fish.

2. Eating fish is murder.

3. Campfire cooking sucks. I could do a good pie-iron though. Buttered bread, some pesto, sharp cheddar shoved into a fire? Sure.

BRT: I do like camping (headed to the Sandhills for some tomorrow), though I’m rapidly getting to an age where I like to make it as comfortable as possible. Like, left to my own devices (and I have camped solo before, including in Colorado last summer), I’ll bring an actual air mattress and a little Coleman stove. I also recently obtained (for free!) a tiny vintage tin can camper that is in need of a frame-up rebuild. I expect to learn a lot from this and also to question my sanity roundly for this decision. I already think it’s in the top three dumbest things I’ve ever done, but the others were all guy-related, so I’m going to consider this personal growth.

I’ve never fished, at least not since I was a child, and so have no real opinion about freshwater fish. You’ll have to ask any man on a dating app all about fish, because apparently, all of them fish and would like to show me their fish (not a euphemism, just an apparently universal and misguided photography instinct).

As for campfire cooking, I stick to brats and s’mores. Why mess with perfection?

Zuzu: Never done any type of canoeing sadly, but I've done Paddle Boarding in cool places.

Never had Walleye and don't really care for Freshwater fish. They all taste like swamp to me.

No foil food, but instead of answering the question I'll tell you a really funny (to me) camping cooking story. So my program had a new student camping field trip. For bonding. For one of our dinners we had potatoes and steak and we were gonna foil cook it. One of my cohort members thought it wise to cook it in beer... for flavor. I told them not to because it won't burn off the way it would when you cook it properly a kitchen and that they are gonna eat soggy beer drenched meat and potatoes. I remember them getting an attitude with me, so I said fine whatever. Anyway precisely what I predicted would come to pass and they knew I knew, so because of their pride proceeded to eat what was probably one of the nastiest meals on the planet.

Beez: (1) I have camped before, yes, one time even where there wasn’t a bathroom nearby.

(2) Fried catfish, maybe?

(3) I don’t have a foil recipe of my own, sadly. But salt, pepper, oil of some kind on whatever you’re making will go a long way. If you can pack some garlic, crack a couple cloves in half and put ‘em in there. The foil should help steam the garlic and let it cry a little onto your food. If you’ve got room for a lemon and are cooking that freshwater fish you caught, bring one, slice it thin, and lay it on the fish before you wrap it.

Kind of...: 1) Did the Boundary Waters thing a long time ago. Hated it for the first 24 hours, then decided it was pretty cool, actually.

2) and 3). I am not going to pretend that I can distinguish among certain freshwater fish, mostly because my consumption is limited to the occasional Friday fish fry (which usually means blue gill or perch). Thus, any foil recipe I would have to offer is for salt water fish. I will save my preferences for other topics.

Stew:

  1. Did some wilderness camping in western Colorado 15ish years ago. That was a lot of fun. Just make sure to string up your food on the opposite side of the site as the designated bathroom area.
  2. Walleye is the best lake fish, sure, but trout are the superior fish. And trout are way easier to prepare, too. Gut, cut off tail and head, throw on grill with salt, pepper, and garlic. Smoked trout is also amazing.
  3. I do some foil potatoes every once in a while that are pretty good. Cut up some potatoes, season as desired (I do lawry’s, pepper, paprika, and garlic powder), add some bacon and some shredded cheese (colby jack, pepper jack, mozzerella). Throw it on the grill for 30ish minutes.