MINNEAPOLIS — The status of quarterback Tanner Morgan is uncertain for 11th-ranked Minnesota’s game at Northwestern after back-to-back sacks in the last game put the sophomore in the concussion protocol.
Coach P.J. Fleck said Tuesday that Morgan has made progress this week, but the Big Ten’s leading passer has not been cleared. The Gophers (9-1, 6-1) play Saturday against the Wildcats (2-8, 0-7), with a one-game lead in the West Division on Wisconsin. They finish the regular season Nov. 30 against the Badgers.
Morgan could be a game-time decision. If he doesn’t play, either Jacob Clark or Cole Kramer would start. They’re both true freshmen that Fleck would prefer to keep at the four-game limit to preserve their redshirt status.
“Whoever plays better in practice this week, if it comes down to it. It’s a competition between Jacob and Cole, and they’re both getting better. They’re both working really hard. They’ve both made a ton of progress. They both had a lot thrown at them,” Fleck said.
Clark is from Rockwall, Texas. Kramer is a Minnesota native from Eden Prairie, about 20 miles southwest of the university. Zack Annexstad would have been the backup, but he injured his foot in the first week of preseason practice. Annexstad started the first six games of the 2018 season as a true freshman, before injuries and related struggles paved the way for Morgan to claim the job.
Though the Gophers went 4-2 after he took over last year, Morgan truly hit his stride this season. He’s first in the conference with an average of 246.8 passing yards per game and fifth in the FBS with an average of 10.8 yards per attempt. Selected as one of 16 semifinalists for the Davey O’Brien Award, given annually to the nation’s best quarterbacks, Morgan has a 64.3 completion percentage that’s the best in program history among passers with a minimum of 300 attempts.
Morgan was not allowed to finish the most recent game at Iowa, a 23-19 defeat that spoiled the Gophers’ perfect record. After they took possession with 1:52 left, Morgan’s head hit the ground hard when he was sacked by Joe Evans. A.J. Epenesa sacked him on the next play, and Morgan stayed on the ground before the medical staff came to check him out.
Morgan was required to be removed from the game for one play because of the clock stoppage for injury, and Clark replaced him. Morgan lobbied on the sideline to return, but Fleck said no, and then Clark’s deep throw on fourth down was intercepted by the Hawkeyes to seal their victory. Fleck said afterward that Morgan appeared woozy.
“He’s a competitor,” Fleck said. “That’s why it’s completely up to the medical staff, because he is such a competitor. He wants to get back out there, but the medical team’s got him, and they’ll make the decisions for him.”