Chris Autman-Bell somehow got one foot inbounds to make a spectacular 20-yard touchdown catch and force overtime in the Gophers’ 38-35 win at Fresno State a week ago.
But someone had to toss that pass.
“A lot of people talk about Chris’ catch. Not enough people are talking about the throw,” Gophers coach P.J. Fleck said. “Tanner Morgan put that exactly where that needed to be with a guy in his face and getting hit.”
Offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca agreed, saying the great throw — on fourth-and-13 with 46 seconds to play — “had to be perfect, and it was perfect.”
Morgan minimized his role somewhat. The sophomore was more impressed with the coaching staff’s trust to call the gutsy play and the players’ confidence to enact it.
“There was no doubt in that huddle,” Morgan said. “And again, all I did was just give the chance to make a play.”
Morgan is only two games into his first full year as starting quarterback, and doubt seems to follow him. The sophomore has completed 70.7% of his passes (29 of 41) for 410 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. He has amassed 10 rushing yards and a touchdown as a mobile — but not a running — quarterback.
But he also made some mistakes at Fresno State: losing a fumble, dropping a snap, taking too long in the pocket, leaving himself vulnerable to a blindside sack. Ciarrocca, though, said Morgan keeps improving and hasn’t yet reached his ceiling.
“For the second week in a row, I thought he was very much in control out there in the game,” Ciarrocca said. “Did he do everything perfectly? No. But he did a lot of things well. Especially on third down, he was really good again.”
Fleck said the third-down stat is underappreciated for quarterbacks. The Gophers converted 60% of theirs last week.
“There’s a saying in our profession: Quarterbacks earn their scholarship on third down, to keep the sticks moving,” Fleck said. “He did. He found a way to be able to make us nine of 15, which, we don’t convert some of those third downs, we don’t win the football game.”