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Morgan flourishing as the Gophers' starting QB

The redshirt sophomore became just the second FBS quarterback in 20 years to post a 90-percent completion percentage multiple times in a season.
Credit: AP
Minnesota quarterback Tanner Morgan (2) throws against Purdue during the first half of an NCAA college football game in West Lafayette, Ind., Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota quarterback Tanner Morgan and offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca noticed something early on the Gophers' first offensive drive on Saturday.

The two recognized a blitz that would leave Penn State vulnerable to a deep throw, so Morgan did what he needed to do.

"We went with the check there," Morgan said during a press conference Tuesday. "The receivers got it, we went with it, and it hit."

It's about as brief of a description for a 66-yard touchdown pass as there can be, but in reality, Morgan needed to do much more than change the play at the line of scrimmage. The redshirt sophomore delivered a strike across the field to receiver Rashad Bateman along the right sideline that resulted in the game's first score.

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It set the tone for what would be one of the more historic afternoons in the program's history. Minnesota upset No. 4 Penn State 31-26 and gave the Gophers their first 9-0 start since 1904.

"That's a moment you dream of," Morgan said following Saturday's victory.

And for Morgan, it's a dream that may not have presented itself had it not been for an injury to fellow quarterback Zack Annexstad, who was locked in a tight battle with Morgan to be the team's starting QB.

RELATED: Minnesota QB Annexstad out indefinitely with foot injury

Annexstad injured his foot during fall camp, allowing Morgan a chance to prove he would have been the right choice to start, regardless of Annexstad's injury.

Like many of his teammates, Morgan was slow out of the blocks to start the year. The Kentucky-native went 29-for-41 for 410 yards, three touchdowns, one pick and six sacks.

His numbers weren't egregious, but they came against an FCS team in South Dakota State and a Fresno State team that has won just four games this season.

But in a Week 4 tilt on the road against Purdue, Morgan showed he belonged.

Morgan connected on 21 of his 22 passes for 396 yards and four touchdowns — earning his first Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week honors of the season.

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Morgan was nearly flawless in the Gophers' win over the Boilermakers, but his second Big Ten Player of the Week nod may be even more impressive.

Morgan went 18 of 20 for 339 yards and three touchdowns. He became just the second FBS quarterback in the past 20 years to have multiple games with a 90-percent completion percentage or higher in the same season.

"We were really prepared," said Morgan, who was named Big Ten Co-Offensive Player of the Week on Monday. "Coach Ciarrocca did a great job helping us get prepared — to see what Penn State does and how we're going to attack it."

The Gophers are ranked No. 7 in both the Associated Press and Coaches' Poll but their schedule doesn't get much easier as they play two ranked teams in the final three weeks, including a regular-season finale with Wisconsin that could determine who represents the Big Ten West in the conference championship.

"Just seeing the change of our team from year zero (2017) to now ... it's really cool to see the different dynamic of our team and how our team embodies the 'Row The Boat' culture," said Morgan, who is 13-2 as a starter. "It's been really cool for me to see."

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