Is the 2022 quarterback position going to be an upgrade or a downgrade for Gopher Football?
Back again for his 11th year as the Gopher’s starting quarterback is Tanner Morgan. OK, 11 seasons is only a slight exaggeration, but Morgan has been under center for the Gophers since October of 2018 and has been the most successful Gopher QB in decades.
His career year was in 2019 and his 2020 & 2021 seasons have been good, but not great. What does this mean for 2022?
It was year 2 under offensive coordinator Mike Sanford and the Gophers boasted one of the best offensive lines in the Big Ten. This translated into the Gophers having one of the best rushing attacks in the country. (I should probably copy and paste this into my Running Back Upgrade/Downgrade).
The end result was that the Gophers didn’t pass very often. They were 14th in the Big Ten in pass attempts, dead last by nearly 50 total attempts. The good news is that they were relatively efficient passing the ball. Last in attempts but 8th in completion % and 11th in total yards through the air.
But it was not a balanced offense and at the end of the season, Sanford was let go.
For Morgan, it wasn’t a bad year. Unfortunately for him, his baseline year will always be 2019, which was one of the best single seasons by a Gopher quarterback in program history.
Behind Morgan in 2021 was Cole Kramer. The sophomore was used primarily as a wildcat option but was allowed to throw three passes, 2 of them for touchdowns.
Spring Preview – LINK
The focus here is really more about the return of Kirk Ciarrocca than it is about what specific improvements we think we will see out of Tanner Morgan.
But while Ciarrocca said he is spending spring practice reconnecting with Morgan and making sure the two are on the same page in terms of his strengths and weaknesses, he believes that improving Minnesota’s passing game is about more than the quarterback position.
“I talk about music, right? And it’s like the orchestra,” Ciarrocca explained during media availability this spring. “Everybody’s got to play on time and when in tune, it’s a beautiful thing to listen to. When somebody is out of tune, it looks ugly. So we just gotta get everything back in tune there.”
Getting the entire offense in synch and working together, calling plays that work off each other to keep the defense off balance; is what will be important in 2022.
Starter: Tanner Morgan
Depth: Cole Kramer (JR), Athan Kaliakmanis (rFR) and Jacob Knuth (tFR)
So we get to run it back with Morgan for one last season. The kid who had been committed to PJ Fleck at Western Michigan but came with him to Minnesota gets one more run. Morgan has essentially been Fleck’s quarterback for his entire tenure (I know you have to count the Demry Croft year, but that was technically Year Zero and doesn’t really count).
As has been discussed, this is probably more about the return of Ciarrocca than it is about Morgan. Those two had great chemistry and were very successful when they worked together. Can they rekindle the magic? That is the million-dollar question.
Morgan has always been a good decision maker, a fantastic leader of the offense and makes a number of great throws. Of course, he makes mistakes, they all do, but there is no doubt that this is the guy we want running the offense in 2022.
Behind him there might be a little disagreement as to who would be the next man up, if necessary. My money is on Cole Kramer. The junior has more experience, he seems to have the trust of the coaching staff and would give the offense more of a rushing dynamic. I understand that he wasn’t as highly regarded and recruited as Kaliakmanis, but should Morgan miss any time I suspect you’ll see Kramer getting the first snaps.
What about Kaliakmanis? Well, he was highly recruited and he has been getting praise out of the program since his arrival. He looks the part, he has a very strong arm and there is real hope that the position will still be in good hands after Morgan departs. He is 6’4” and 210 pounds and the job would appear to be his to lose in 2023. My hope for 2023 is that he would get some opportunity to take some snaps during some games this season.
And finally, we get to Jacob Knuth, the true freshman quarterback. It is incredibly unlikely that we will see Knuth on the field at any point this season. Expect that he will redshirt, putting 2 seasons between him and Kaliakmanis. Knuth is a guy that the staff is high on and he will have a future with the program.
Upgrade or Downgrade?
Well, all things being equal I would say that this is likely neutral. Morgan is who he is. But it is getting a confident “upgrade” from me due to the return of Ciarrocca. I fully expect that the offense will have more balance. I am confident that the receiver routes and route trees will actually put the quarterback into a better position to succeed. The play-calling will not only be more balanced but it will be more intentional about keeping the defense off balance.
Expect Morgan to be above 60% completion this year and you will see his touchdown to interception ratio look much better in 2022.
This will be an upgrade.