Tanner Morgan to make second start at Illinois

Morgan was named Big Ten Co-Freshman of the Week for his efforts in the win over Indiana Friday.

Quarterback Tanner Morgan prepares to pass the ball on Friday, Oct. 26 at TCF Bank Stadium.

Tony Saunders

Quarterback Tanner Morgan prepares to pass the ball on Friday, Oct. 26 at TCF Bank Stadium.

Jack Warrick

Tanner Morgan didn’t let it get to him when true freshman walk on Zack Annexstad was named as the starting quarterback over him.

He has looked like the answer to the Gophers’ losing woes since helping them to their first Big Ten victory in his first start against Indiana last week. He was named the Big Ten Co-Freshman of the Week for completing 17-24 passes for 302 yards, three touchdowns, and an interception, in the 38-31 victory.

“Zack is still banged up a little bit, and I think Tanner being healthy, and he’s earning opportunities — he’s earned the right to play,” said head coach P.J. Fleck.

Fleck announced on Monday that Morgan will start against Illinois (3-5, 1-4 Big Ten). He said Annexstad is still recovering from ankle and internal injuries, and Morgan has shown he can play.

He said that it is a possibility that the team goes back to a two-quarterback system, like the Gophers had last year in Conor Rhoda and Demry Croft.

“Me and Zack are great friends, we’re teammates. We’re competing with each other.” Morgan said. “Me and Zack are trying to help each other out every rep in how we see things differently.”

Morgan played the entire second half of the Nebraska game after Annexstad suffered an internal injury near the end of the first half, and needed to go to the hospital. 

The team, under Morgan, couldn’t finish however, and Minnesota lost its fourth Big Ten game in a row to Nebraska 53-28.

But Morgan finished out the Indiana game, even after the Hoosiers tied it up 31-31 with 3:57 left on the clock. Morgan threw a 67-yard touchdown to receiver Rashod Bateman with under two minutes to play, and the Gophers won 38-31.

“Anybody could have called that play,” said offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca. “I mean the execution was superb. Give the credit, it goes to the players. The kids executed, and truth be told we didn’t practice that play last week.”

Morgan was Fleck’s first quarterback recruit to come to Minnesota. He was originally committed to Western Michigan, when Fleck was head coach there, but changed his commitment to Minnesota to follow Fleck.

Fleck said on Tuesday he wants to recruit a quarterback in every class.

“Throughout the year, no matter what, every position, you got to prepare like you’re going to play,” Morgan said. “Whether you’re the starter, or there’s zero percent chance you’re going to be in the game.”

Briefly:

-Fleck said running back Shannon Brooks will not play this week. He suffered an injury in his first game back playing. He suffered an injury in the spring, and he was arrested for allegedly fighting his male roommate on Oct. 14. His situation on the team is still evolving, said Fleck.

-Gophers running back Mohamed Ibrahim, who was named Big Ten Freshman of the Week on Oct. 15., is expected to play Saturday after missing the Indiana game with an injury. He is the leading rusher for the Gophers, and is listed as the co-starter with fellow freshman Bryce Williams on the depth chart.

-Receiver Tyler Johnson, who didn’t play much of the second half due to an injury, is expected to play against Illinois. Johnson said he felt fine at the availability.

“There’s been a lot of treatment going on, and things like that, getting back to 100 percent,” Johnson said. “I’m feeling good though, and excited to go out there with my brothers.”

-Defensive lineman O.J. Smith has been out for three weeks due to a head injury, the Star Tribune reported. Defensive back Antonio Shenault didn’t play against Indiana because of a head injury, too.