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Opposing QB Primer: Tanner Morgan is the consistent cornerstone of the Minnesota offense

The Gopher receivers get the attention, but Morgan is what makes the offense work.

NCAA Football: Illinois at Minnesota Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

No team ends the season ranked in the top 10 because of one or two players alone, but there was no secret as to what fueled Minnesota last season. The All-Big Ten first team allocates two spots for wide receivers, and both were filled by Gophers in 2019. Tyler Johnson and Rashod Bateman were absolutely deserving of the accolades, and both players ranked in the top 20 in the country in both yards and touchdowns.

As impressive as both of these receivers were, however, their quarterback should receive plenty of credit. Tanner Morgan was a second-team All-Big Ten selection in his own right, and the redshirt junior quarterback comes back with a full year of experience and plenty of ability to put on an encore performance. The return of Bateman will be extremely beneficial, especially with Johnson now in the NFL, but Morgan is more than just a game manager who narrows in on his main target.

Penn State Quarterback Stats

Player Completion % Passing Yards Passing TDs Interceptions Rushing TDs
Player Completion % Passing Yards Passing TDs Interceptions Rushing TDs
Sean Clifford 57.2 1,070 11 8 1
Will Levis 57.4 325 0 0 0

Looking to run it back

A former three-star prospect, Morgan entered 2019 without much hype, but by the end of the season he had boosted himself into the spotlight. The stats more or less speak for themselves: top-25 marks nationally in yards (3,253), touchdowns (30), and QBR (84.2). He is pretty clearly the second-best quarterback in the Big Ten heading into 2020, and even a slight dip in production would leave him with a solid stat line.

Losing Johnson will certainly be a factor, but Bateman is capable of picking up a good chunk of the lost workload. Regardless of who gets the targets, Morgan has proven to be an accurate passer who can put his weapons in places to succeed. He looks extremely poised in the pocket and consistently fires the ball right where it needs to go. He shows good touch on the shorter passes, and he repeatedly took advantage of his All-Conference receivers last year down the field. Morgan is not a huge threat on the ground, but he has decent mobility when it comes to avoiding pressure.

In Minnesota’s two losses last year, it is hard to put the blame on the quarterback. Though Morgan did not have many touchdowns in those games, he put up 368 yards against Iowa and 296 yards against Wisconsin with just one total interception. He is the heartbeat of this team, even if he is not the flashiest member of the offense.

What to watch against Michigan

No story line is bigger heading into Week 1 than Bateman vs. the Michigan secondary. Morgan is a veteran quarterback and is going to take advantage of any mismatches that he can find with his primary weapon. Don Brown must make sure he has a plan for keeping the stud receiver in check, whether that means safety support or Dax Hill playing some corner or whatever other creative solutions he can devise.

The Gophers will score some points on Saturday — that is a given. The determining factor may be if the Wolverines can get stops late in the game when they need them. Morgan is a classic upperclassman quarterback and should have the advantage against inexperienced corners. He may not make a ton of mistakes, but if Michigan can simply avoid the big plays on defense, Joe Milton and company will have a chance to win the game with the offense.