Souhan: Still too soon to say Gophers QB Morgan has turned the corner

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The Gophers scored 30 points to win a Big Ten game as their quarterback set a school record with 16 consecutive completions. Today, then, must be the day we celebrate Tanner Morgan shrugging off his senior slump and reestablishing himself as one of the conference's better players.

That's a comforting story line, unless you watched the second half.

In the second half of the Gophers' 30-23 victory over Nebraska on Saturday, the Tanner Morgan Senior Moments Experience continued to confuse.

He did enough to take a snap in victory formation on a beautiful autumn afternoon at Huntington Bank Stadium, but before he took a knee he gave Nebraska hope.

The Gophers defense would make the decisive plays in the second half, producing a safety and holding Nebraska scoreless on consecutive trips inside the 10-yard-line.

Bryce Williams would clinch the victory with a 56-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter.

The Gophers would need that defense and power running because Morgan's efficiency evaporated in the afternoon sun.

Since 2019, Morgan has gone from game-breaker to game manager. He has thrown for 200 yards just twice this season, including Saturday, and his 209 yards against Nebraska established a season-best. He's averaging 118 yards passing per game this season. His lack of production has not been a product of sheer caution.

He threw two interceptions to contribute heavily to the stunning loss to Bowling Green, and his two interceptions on Saturday kept Nebraska alive.

Gophers coach P.J. Fleck defended one of the interceptions, saying it was the product of a great defensive play and served as the equivalent of a punt.

Wrong. It was a throw into double coverage that could have been intercepted by either of the defenders. It came on second-and-6 from the Nebraska 33, meaning it cost the Gophers at least a field goal attempt.

Morgan's next throw was a freshman-quality interception thrown right at a Nebraska defender. "You can't do that," Morgan said.

In the first half on Saturday, Morgan completed 14 of 15 passes for 171 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. In the second half, he went 6-for-9 passing for 38 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions.

The Gophers managed nine second-half points — on a safety and Williams' clinching run.

As an accomplished senior, Morgan should be central to everything the Gophers do. Instead, he became a spectator in the second half. He even became a spectator during the first drive, when quarterback Cole Kramer operated out of the wildcat formation and threw for the game's first score.

The hunch here is that Kramer wouldn't be getting so many snaps if Fleck didn't have concerns about Morgan.

Not that Fleck had anything negative to say about Morgan. "Everybody wrote him off," Fleck said. "He's gutsy and he's been through a lot in his life. And the more you've been through, the better you are for me.

"He's an incredible human being. His resolve is tremendous ... There's always a calmness in Tanner."

Morgan is a charming, enthusiastic guy. He's easy to cheer for. But once the superlatives and catch phrases fade, you're left with one essential way to judge a pocket-passing senior quarterback who entered the season trying to prove he's a pro prospect: Accuracy.

Morgan is completing 52.2% of his passes this season — and that's after completing 83.3% against Nebraska.

Fleck said Morgan used the bye week to self-scout and "be real with himself." If he had "complete more passes" on that list, then his time was well-spent.

Despite the loss to Bowling Green, the Gophers could still make this a memorable season. The next three games are winnable. They could be 7-2 and 4-1 in the conference entering a Nov. 13 showdown at Iowa.

To make that game a big game, Morgan will have to reprise his play from 2019, when he burst onto the national scene, or his play from the first half on Saturday, when he picked apart Nebraska's secondary.

Morgan is capable. Now he has to prove he can be relied upon, as his strange senior season hits the home stretch.

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