An epidemic has swept through football, wiping out some of the best quarterbacks in the land.
First, it befell the Dallas Cowboys’ Dak Prescott, his violent hip convulsions exposed on camera ahead of the “Sunday Night Football” broadcast this past weekend. His pregame exercise, where he plants his feet and twists his torso to loosen his hips, made Twitter, predictably, explode.
Fans posted videos with his quick twitches matched to hit songs, comparing him to belly-dancing icon Shakira since his hips also, apparently, don’t lie.
But these unusual pelvic thrusts haven’t infected only Prescott. Jimmy Garoppolo of the San Francisco 49ers and Mason Rudolph of the Pittsburgh Steelers caught the bug.
Also affected: Gophers quarterback Tanner Morgan. Morgan does the Dak, or his version of the hip-shaking warm-up, ahead of games as well.
“Tanner looks very similar to that, and we do make fun of him for that,” Gophers receiver Rashod Bateman said. “But I guess it helps him out as quarterback.”
That’s the story Morgan’s sticking to, at least. And he has evidence to prove it. He is coming off one of his most accurate games, against Penn State last week, when he completed all but two of his 20 passes while throwing for 339 yards and three touchdowns.
Heading into the No. 8 Gophers’ matchup with No. 20 Iowa on Saturday, Morgan is third in the nation in yards per attempt (10.9), fourth in yards per completion (16.0) and fourth in passing efficiency (191.0).
But those stats won’t stop his teammates from laughing at how silly he looks flicking his hips. Morgan said they will even come up behind him and try to mimic his gyrations. He also received at least 30 texts Sunday night, all friends sending him the Prescott video, probably along with the crying laughing emoji.
But Morgan is serious about how much it helps.
“Letting your hips lead the throw instead of letting your arm, and leaning into your upper body, and you don’t get any hip rotation with the throw. I got really bad doing that last year,” Morgan said. “If you go back and watch the film. It’s probably a 75% chance that you’re going to see a left-leg lockout and just totally lean out, and the ball’s going to nose-dive.”
Bateman said he has noticed a “tremendous jump” for Morgan from last year. The mechanical improvements are evident. Morgan completed 58.6% of his passes last season with nine touchdowns and six interceptions.
Those numbers have improved to 67.9%, 21 TDs and only four interceptions.
On the first drive vs. Penn State, Morgan took a three-step drop from the left hash marks and threw a 30-yard strike down the right sideline for Bateman, who did the rest on a 66-yard tone-setting touchdown.
Late in the third quarter, with the Gophers clinging to a five-point lead, Morgan took another quick drop and looked left before turning to spot Bateman open down the right sideline. Morgan quickly stepped forward, firing a 40-yard dart over two defenders right to Bateman, setting up another touchdown.
“He’s just a lot tighter,” offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca said of Morgan. “Throwing the football is a lot like swinging a golf club. There’s a lot of pieces and components that go into it. And so the simpler you can keep your swing, the less chances you have of something getting out of whack.”
Gophers receiver Tyler Johnson was a high school quarterback and said he recognizes how seemingly goofy exercises can be extremely important for developing comfort in the pocket and versatility to throw in any direction. Maybe it’s all in the hips.
Morgan has caught the fever, but he is not looking for a remedy to this dancing plague. No matter what his teammates think.
“It works for me, and it’s something that’s helping me with my fundamentals,” Morgan said. “But they like to clown on me, though.”