IOWA CITY — Tanner Morgan almost willed the Gophers to a come-from-behind victory Saturday at Kinnick Stadium.
Minnesota turned its quarterback loose in the second half. For the game, the redshirt sophomore went 25 for 36 for 368 yards and a touchdown in a 23-19 loss to Iowa.
In the second half alone, Morgan was 14 for 18 for 181 and a TD. On a day when Minnesota averaged 2.1 yards per rush, having the ball in Morgan’s hand was the U’s best option.
“He’s tough, he’s so smart, he’s such a winner. He rallies everybody, he gives everybody such belief,” Gophers coach P.J. Fleck said. “As bad as we played, we still had an opportunity in the last two minutes to go win that game against a really good football team.”
Largely thanks to Morgan finding Tyler Johnson and Rashod Bateman.
But Morgan wasn’t able to complete the final drive. The quarterback took two consecutive sacks to start the Gophers’ final chance in the closing moments. After the second sack, Morgan looked visibly shaken.
“He was woozy and wobbly,” Fleck said.
So the Gophers’ coach ordered Morgan to go down to the ground. The quarterback had to leave the game, which requires him to miss a play. After an incompletion, Morgan campaigned to come back in for Minnesota’s fourth-and-21 play, but Fleck wasn’t having it.
“He said he wants to go back in, he wants to go back in,” Fleck said. “I said you’re not going back in, man. I looked right at him and ‘There’s no way you’re going back on the field.’ ”
With the way Morgan looked coming off the field, Fleck said his quarterback “better be” in the concussion protocol.
“I mean I’m not the doctor, I’m not the trainer,” he said, “but I’d assume so.”
Cole Kramer, a true freshman out of Eden Prairie, came in to relieve Morgan for the Gophers’ final two offensive plays. Facing third- and fourth-and-21, Kramer just had to launch the ball deep to give Minnesota a chance. His fourth-down throw was intercepted by Riley Moss.
“He stepped up and he knew what he needed to do when his number was called,” Johnson said. “He just went out there and played.”
Facing two difficult decisions Saturday, Fleck twice chose to rely on his kicker.
Brock Walker is in just his second week as the Gophers’ kicker, but Fleck chose to go to him for a 50-yard field goal try on Minnesota’s first drive of the game. Fleck considered punting from the Iowa 32-yard-line, or even going for it on 4th-and-13, but ultimately chose to go for the points.
Walker’s kick landed short and left of the goal posts.
Fleck noted Walker hasn’t played a lot, so that kick — which was at the edge of his range, though the wind was at his back — gave him a chance to show his coach what he could do. He said the experience gives the kicker something to draw on moving forward.
Fleck again went to Walker at the end of the first half. Minnesota drew a pass interference penalty that gave them first and goal from the Iowa 2. But with only four seconds remaining, Minnesota’s options were to run one play for a potential touchdown or take the three points.
Trailing 20-3, Fleck thought the decision to kick was a “no brainer,” because he thought his halftime message to his team would have more power if the Gophers were within two scores at the break, especially considering that Minnesota got the ball to start the second half.
“I felt like we just needed something going into the locker room,” Fleck said.
Walker banked in the field goal off the post. He has replaced Michael Lantz, who has been dealing with some leg tightness, Fleck said last week.
- Gophers right guard Curtis Dunlap was out Saturday after sustaining an undisclosed injury against Penn State last week. John Michael Schmitz started at center, and Conner Olson moved from center to right guard.
- Backup cornerback Terell Smith returned to action Saturday after missing the last few games with an undisclosed injury.