The Big Ten Network was on campus. The Gophers were hosting their final practice that was open to the public. And the season opener was exactly two weeks away.
Seemed like Thursday might a good time to announce a starting quarterback. After all, Gophers coach P.J. Fleck did just that last year.
“Nah, it’s gonna be an annual tradition,’’ Fleck said, laughing. “I hope it’s not an annual tradition. I hope every year we’re not sitting here saying, ‘All right, we’ve got another quarterback without any experience.’ ’’
So, the competition between redshirt freshman Tanner Morgan and true freshman Zack Annexstad to emerge as the starter for the Aug. 30 season opener against New Mexico State goes on, with Fleck needing more time to decide.
“We’re getting closer [to a decision],’’ Fleck said. “Both of them have done a tremendous job, and I know both of them at some point are going to have to play. Sooner or later, you’d like to pick one and go from there. Just not ready yet.’’
Fleck got a good look at his QBs — and his entire team — during Tuesday’s scrimmage at TCF Bank Stadium. He came away more informed.
“They’re growing; I know that’s cliché-ish, but they are. They’re getting better,’’ Fleck said. “… These guys are playing not like freshmen, they’re playing like seniors. That’s a credit to [offensive coordinator] Kirk Ciarrocca. Now, we haven’t played a game yet, but that [scrimmage] was a close to a game that we’re gonna get.’’
Neither Morgan nor Annexstad has taken a collegiate snap, and the Gophers will enter the season in a similar situation as they were last year, when Conor Rhoda and Demry Croft were the co-starters will little experience. Fleck saw leadership from his young QBs in that scrimmage.
“I was really pleased with them,’’ he said. “They showed that they can demand the team, they can own the team, they can run the offense.’’
Senior running back Rodney Smith agreed.
“They’re both stepping in and making plays when they’re asked to,’’ he said. “They’re learning the offense and gelling with the receivers.’’
Two years ago, Emmit Carpenter was named Big Ten kicker of the year after converting 22 of 24 field goals as a sophomore. He wasn’t as accurate in 2017, going 14-for-20 on field goals, and Fleck expects a rebound season from the senior.
“We need him to be consistent,’’ the coach said. “We need him to step up as a senior and have his best year. … He takes his craft very serious, and I’m proud of the progress he’s made.’’
Fleck credited Carpenter’s off-field approach, too.
“Put it this way: I wouldn’t want anybody else missing a field goal on our football team than him,’’ he said. “That’s the best compliment that you can give somebody, because he’s going to be a heck of a businessperson and leader in the community.’’
Said Carpenter, “That’s a pretty huge compliment just because as a kicker, the only rep you can control is the one ahead of you. If you miss a kick in the first quarter, you can’t let that dictate what’s going to happen in the fourth quarter.’