NCAA Football

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: Will the Gophers make a quarterback change? A look at the key facets involved in a decision. – InForum

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: Will the Gophers make a quarterback change? A look at the key facets involved in a decision. – InForum

St. PAUL – Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Neb., was the site of the latest seismic shift in University of Minnesota quarterbacks.

In 2018, Zack Annexstad was injured before halftime against Nebraska, did not return for that midseason game and never started again. Tanner Morgan stepped in during that 53-28 loss to the Cornhuskers and started the next 45 consecutive games.

On Saturday, Morgan was injured before half-time in Lincoln and did not return. Athan Kaliakmanis came in and helped lead a 20-13 road comeback win to make Minnesota (6-3, 3-3 Big Ten) eligible.

Could this be the place again for the Gophers to have another historic turnaround at the game’s most important position?

The spark that Kaliakmanis provided was undeniable. With his team trailing 10-0 at the half, the redshirt freshman helped produce six plays for 13 yards, including completions of 38 and 45 yards, on three scoring drives to turn that deficit double digits in a 13-10 lead early in the game. fourth quarter

After Morgan was sacked four times in the first half, including the hit that knocked him out of the game, Gophers offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca countered by moving the pocket for Kaliakmanis. He was never fired. He also kept the ball on read options, something Morgan rarely does. Kaliakmanis had an 8-yarder on his first play of the third quarter and later a 16-yard run on the tying run.

“He’s very athletic,” head coach PJ Fleck said after the game. “He catches it and gets out the door. He’s long (at 6-foot-4) and can stretch the route (in RPO with the tailback). He’s got a huge arm, he’s very smart and he’s fun. He has that presence in the around him that encourages the people around him.

“It’s very similar to what Tanner does,” Fleck continued. “(Kaliakmanis is) incredibly confident, and I thought he played really well. We did things that worked for him in the second half a little bit more. I think that’s what turned things around for us a little bit.”

Given the results of Saturday’s game, it may appear that change is afoot, but the decision-makers are not the legion on Twitter. If so, this would have been done weeks, if not years ago. It comes down to Fleck, who has shown loyalty to Morgan, quick to remind people that the sixth-year senior is the winningest quarterback in program history.

When Fleck shared Morgan’s injury with ESPN2 reporter Taylor McGregor on Saturday, he felt the need to share the injury-induced QB change was not part of a quarterback controversy. It showed how solid he has been with Morgan a year ago when the offense struggled, mostly in the passing game during crippling losses to Bowling Green and Illinois.

Fleck has taken pride in building a program that goes beyond football and has said repeatedly that Morgan has earned the right to keep his spot. Last week he was named one of 12 semifinalists for the Wuerffel Trophy, which is awarded to the player who demonstrates outstanding community service.

NCAA Football: Minnesota at Nebraska
Minnesota Golden Gophers quarterback Tanner Morgan looks to pass during the second quarter against the Nebraska Cornhuskers on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022, in Lincoln, Neb. Morgan would later leave the game with an undisclosed injury.

Dylan Widger / USA Today Sports

Fleck has stuck behind Morgan through thick (the dream season of 2019) and thin (the death of his father in July 2021). An ESPN “College GameDay” story Saturday morning about Ted Morgan’s death recalled that deep emotion and the “Row The Boat” ethos of fighting back. So it’s hard to see Fleck making a voluntary change at quarterback in the final three games of the regular season.

Fleck said Saturday after the game that Morgan suffered an “upper body injury.” The last time Fleck used that NHL injury description, Morgan suffered a concussion when he was forced out of an Oct. 15 loss at Illinois. He was placed in the NCAA’s concussion protocol, paving the way for Kaliakmanis to make his first collegiate start at No. 16 Penn State on Oct. 22.

If Morgan has another concussion, he would enter the NCAA’s safety protocol, which includes return-to-learning and return-to-sport checklists. According to the NCAA, the return-to-sport checklist has five successive points that would need to be met, with an indication that each step usually takes more than 24 hours. If Morgan suffers another concussion, the decision of who starts against Northwestern at 2:30 p.m. Saturday may not be Fleck’s.

After Morgan was concussed against Illinois, Fleck had Morgan and Kaliakmanis sit down in his office Sunday to explain that Kaliakmanis would be in line to start against Penn State. Communicating the situation was Fleck’s main goal.

In front of 109,813 at Penn State’s White Out, Minnesota had a conservative game plan for Kaliakmanis’ first start. He completed 41 percent of his passes (9-for-22) for 175 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He added seven rushes for 45 yards.

Against the Cornhuskers, Kaliakmanis completed 50 percent (6-of-12) for 137 yards, with no touchdowns or interceptions. He added three carries for 27 yards. Mo Ibrahim did the heavy lifting, with 24 carries for 110 yards and two touchdowns after the break, but Kaliakmanis’ arm and legs helped ease the load.

Kaliakmanis has shown moxie for such an inexperienced quarterback. He credited having Morgan to learn from and teammates like Ibrahim and center John Michael Schmitz around him. “With guys like that, what’s there to freeze?” said saturday

Kaliakmanis said he is indebted to Morgan for his help in his two seasons in Minnesota.

“I can’t even put into words what this guy has done for me, every day since I got here,” said Kaliakmanis, who redshirted in 2021. “He’s gone out of his way to find me with me. He’s texting me to meet him. He’s done so much for me in my football life. I couldn’t be more thankful for him. I really hope he’s okay. I really do.”

Kaliakmanis’ father, Alex, echoed that sentiment.

“QB2’s job is to step up when QB1 goes down and hold down the fort until QB1 is ready to go,” Alex Kaliakmanis tweeted Sunday afternoon. “(Morgan) earned the right to leave on his terms. (prayers) for a speedy recovery for an amazing QB1! (We’re) blessed to be a part of the Golden Gopher family!”


This story was written by one of our partner news agencies. Forum Communications Company uses content from agencies such as Reuters, Kaiser Health News, Tribune News Service and others to bring a broader range of news to our readers. learn Learn more about the news services the FCC uses here.

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