Gophers making waves in historic season

Gophers top tier offensive talent has given the team a lift.

John Miller

Win, or go home and wait to be placed in a bowl game.

That’s what’s at stake for the Gophers as they return home to face their No. 13 Big Ten West rival Wisconsin Badgers.

Minnesota comes into the game ranked No. 9 in the country. They’re looking to not only hold onto Paul Bunyan’s Axe for the second year, but win the the Big Ten West division. If they do, they’ll have a chance to play No. 2 Ohio State in Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship.

Tanner Morgan is a star

Morgan isn’t the kind of guy who cares about stats, but most people do when looking at quarterbacks. When analyzing Morgan, you can see that he has become one of the better quarterbacks in the country and one of the best quarterbacks Minnesota has ever had.

Last week against Northwestern, Morgan set the single single passing touchdown record for the University of Minnesota with 26, surpassing Adam Weber’s record of 24.

Morgan continues to be one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the country. Only behind some of the biggest names out there, Morgan currently sits at No. 6 in passing efficiency with a rating of 187.2. Being efficient means the redshirt sophomore quarterback is completing a lot of passes. Dropping down a bit of late, however, Morgan is No. 14 in the country in completion percentage, completing 67.9% of his passes.

“There’s been a lot of great quarterbacks, a lot of great teams come through this University,” Morgan said about breaking the single season passing touchdown record. “That’s not just a Tanner Morgan thing, that’s a coach Ciarrocca, that’s an offensive line, receivers, running backs, it’s not just an individual thing at all.” 

Hello, NFL? Look out for a pair of Gophers pass catchers

The Gopher passing attack has been steady all season. Having Tanner Morgan entrench himself as the quarterback of the future of the program is nice, but he also has a bevy of weapons to throw to. Star wide receivers Tyler Johnson and Rashod Bateman have come into their own as one of the best receiving combinations in the country.

Last week against Northwestern, both receivers eclipsed the 1,000 yard receiving mark for the first time ever in school history. 

Coming back for his senior season instead of opting for the draft, Johnson has been everything the Gophers have hoped for this season. On the year, Johnson has 1,025 receiving yards, 15th most in the country.

Bateman isn’t far behind. Just a sophomore, Bateman has made a name for himself on the national level. Bateman ranks No.16 in the country with 1,023 yards receiving.

 “In my opinion I think he’s the best receiver in the country,” Fleck said. “I think 1B would be Tyler Johnson. 1A, 1B they’re together. We have two 1,000 yard receivers and they both complement each other.” 

Rodney Smith eclipses 1,000 yards … again

Running back Rodney Smith has been around the program since 2014. Overcoming injuries in the last few years, the patience Smith has had waiting to be fully healthy has paid off.

Smith has passed the 1,000 yard rushing mark for the first time since 2016. He was close in 2017 with 977. Returning for his sixth year, Smith has provided consistency in the running game, going over 100 yards rushing in five games this season and averaging 5.3 yards per carry.

Smith sits as the Gophers No. 2 all-time leading rusher and is No. 1 in total yards in school history.

“Again it comes down to you’ve got to be able to run the football,” said Fleck after the Northwestern game. “We ran for 212 yards and no coincidence it opened up our pass game and our RPO game.”

The Gophers will have their hands full this week against Wisconsin’s terrific run defense which is No. 9 in the country, only giving up 98.5 rushing yards per game.