Tanner Morgan is not very fast. He could have been much more accurate on a couple of throws. There’s a lot he needs to improve.
Those are all his words, at least.
The Gophers sophomore quarterback is always quick to point out his faults after games, in midweek news conferences, probably in team meetings and in his head before he goes to bed each night, too. That he’s his own biggest critic isn’t a secret, and coach P.J. Fleck often has praised Morgan for his ability to own those mistakes and fix them instead of dwell on them.
“If you don’t know your limitations, you’re going to think you can do things you can’t. And that’s where you’re going to get in trouble.”
While Morgan had an incredible game at Purdue in the Big Ten opener, setting a conference record for missing just one of his 22 passes that game, he has also had down moments. In the next game against Illinois, he threw an interception and fumbled, with both ending in Illini touchdowns. This past Saturday at Rutgers, his accuracy was off and he finished 15 of 28.
Morgan said he needed to do a better job of moving and setting his platform so he doesn’t throw off his back foot as much. Anticipating and throwing the ball sooner would also help.
“If it’s overthrown or too far outside, inside, [the receiver’s] got no chance to make a play,” Morgan said. “If you give them a chance, with our guys, high percentage of the time, they’re going to make the play.”
That was clear at Rutgers. On one scoring attempt, Morgan overthrew Tyler Johnson on the first down and then threw the ball too far out of bounds on the second down to Rashod Bateman. But offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca gave him a redo, calling the same play on third down that Morgan hit perfectly that time for a touchdown.
Morgan’s receivers, though, do have a way of making him look really good. Bateman, for example, made his second one-handed grab of the season at Rutgers. He nearly executed another amazing catch with two defenders on him but dropped it — at least Fleck said it qualifies as a drop, according to the very high standards Bateman has.
“Tanner left it up in the air too long, but [Bateman] almost comes down with it,” Fleck said. “ … If it’s thrown to you, and it doesn’t matter where it is because that’s an opportunity. If it’s within your catch radius, our catch radius is very large. It’s like the Leonardo da Vinci [Vitruvian Man]. Our catch radius would be that plus then some.”
Despite some of those misfires, Morgan still has completed 101 of 152 passes for 1,623 yards, 16 tochdowns and just three interceptions. He’s also fifth in the FBS in passing efficiency at 186.90, behind four Heisman hopefuls: Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts, LSU’s Joe Burrow, Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa and Ohio State’s Justin Fields.
“Just because he doesn’t throw for 95 percent every single week doesn’t mean that he’s not improving. He’s improving a lot.”
Morgan said he doesn’t look at stats like that, only focusing on the report Ciarrocca gives him each week so he knows on what areas to focus. And Fleck said Morgan “recovers like a competitor” from both mistakes and triumphs.
“It’s one thing to be able to fix your accuracy and make a better read and those things, but to have that stick with you in your mind and [let] a play beat you numerous times, he doesn’t allow that to happen,” Fleck said. “… Just because he doesn’t throw for 95 percent every single week doesn’t mean that he’s not improving. He’s improving a lot.”
And when Morgan is so hard on himself, that’s actually something he feels is a necessary quality in a quarterback.
“If you don’t know your limitations, you’re going to think you can do things you can’t. And that’s where you’re going to get in trouble,” Morgan said. “… You can’t throw the ball a certain way on a go-ball? Then you just speed up your feet. Find ways to do the things that you can’t do. Tweak it, adjust it. How can I be better at this? How can I get the ball out sooner? … Being able to find ways to do things better and make your details and fundamentals even better.”
Basically, Morgan acknowledges his flaws until they’re not flaws anymore — they’re advantages.