Gophers' P.J. Fleck sticking with struggling QB Tanner Morgan against Purdue

·4 min read

Sep. 28—P.J. Fleck is standing behind Tanner Morgan going into Saturday's game at Purdue.

The Gophers football coach believes everyone deserves a chance to respond from Saturday's shocking upset loss to Bowling Green, and that stance is especially true for his starting quarterback.

"One game doesn't destroy what he's done," Fleck told the Pioneer Press on Tuesday. "That has always been my stance on personnel. You pick your personnel for a reason, and again, any position, everything always gets evaluated."

This will not appease a contingent of Gophers fans calling for Morgan to be yanked after he completed 5 of 13 passes for 59 yards, no touchdowns, two interceptions, a fumble on a 18-yard rush and four sacks.

"I'm not just someone to throw somebody to the wolves because of a bad game," Fleck said on KFAN radio show. "Never done that and will never do that in my career at any position, no matter what."

Morgan said he doesn't check social media, and that's probably a good thing for him after the U lost as 31-point favorites to a MAC opponent on a 10-game FBS losing streak.

"I truly actually don't know that," he said Tuesday of online reaction to his performance. "But for me it's really where my identity's at. I think that's something I went back to after the game: Being the quarterback for the Minnesota Golden Gophers is something that I truly cherish, but at the end of the day that's not my identity. My identity is who I am as a child of God, and when you remember that, I think, it makes things a lot easier, personally.

"But people have a right to be angry, and that's part of college football."

Morgan has won two-thirds of his starts at Minnesota (20-10). That record includes 15-4 in 2018-19 with Kirk Ciarrocca as offensive coordinator and 5-6 in 2020-21 with Mike Sanford Jr. as OC.

In the Bowling Green game, the Gophers offensive line broke down, and after top receiver Chris Autman-Bell was injured on the first drive, the other U pass-catchers didn't assert themselves much. Fleck and Sanford have kept the reins on the passing game.

Slices of blame go to Fleck's conservative run-first ethos; Sanford's play designs and play-calling; Morgan's execution; the offensive line's calls and protection; and the inexperienced receiving corps routes and pass-catching. But after the Bowing Green debacle, it's difficult to determine who gets the biggest piece and where one slice crumbles into the next.

"If anything has to be changed," Fleck said Tuesday, "then it will change at some point when that time is ready, but we are not at that time."

Morgan had incredible success in 2019. He was fourth in the nation with a 178.7 efficiency rating, ranking right behind Joe Burrow, Jalen Hurts and Justin Fields.

That season Morgan completed 66 percent of his passes (15th in the country) and was able to throw to Tyler Johnson, Rashod Bateman and Chris Autman-Bell. The first two are in the NFL, with only Autman-Bell remaining, and he has been healthy for just one game (Colorado) and one additional play (Bowling Green) this season.

Sanford's first season in 2020 coincided with COVID-19 cutting off spring practice and interrupting and shortening fall camp. Morgan's efficiency rating fell 50 points to 128.15 and his completion percentage dropped to 58. The Gophers have called for a mulligan in their first year working together amid a pandemic.

Yet through four games this season, Morgan's efficiency rating is down five more points to 123.97 and his completion percentage is 53.

Morgan is now headed to Purdue, the site of his near-perfect game in 2019 when he competed 21 of 22 passes for 396 yards, four TDs and no INTs in a 38-31 victory. Against the Boilermakers, his efficiency rating was 306.7 and his completion percentage was a school-record 95.5 percent.

On Tuesday, Morgan swayed during his news conference, looking like someone champing at the bit to redeem himself come this weekend.

"I know what I did Saturday is completely unacceptable," he said. "So much room for opportunity and so much room for growth, and that's the exciting part."

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting