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U QB Status Looms over Saturday

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November 17, 2019

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A Sunday Golden Gophers football notes column:

Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck was unsure this morning about the status of quarterback Tanner Morgan while speaking on WCCO Radio. Media reports had Morgan in concussion protocol after last night’s Iowa game. His availability for Saturday’s game at Northwestern appears unknown.

Fleck said he hadn’t seen his star quarterback yet this morning. Morgan was wobbly before he was removed from the game. “I hope he is okay. We just gotta make sure that we take all the proper protocol…as he continues to move forward,” Fleck said

Morgan was sacked six times in the 23-19 loss to Iowa. He took a pounding in a physical game and missed the last two snaps when the Gophers were trying to rally for a win and improve their record to 10-0.

Cole Kramer

When Morgan, who is among the Big Ten passing leaders, was unable to finish the game he was replaced by true freshman Cole Kramer from Eden Prairie. If Morgan can’t play Saturday against Northwestern it’s unclear whether he will be replaced by Kramer, or Texas native Jacob Clark, another true freshman.

Kramer and Clark have played minimal minutes this season. Kramer has played in three games, Clark in one. Freshmen can play in up to four games and still retain redshirt status.

“I think it’s a little too early to jump to conclusions,” Fleck said in regard to whether there will be any changes at quarterback for Northwestern.

Quarterback depth became precarious before the season started when Zack Annexstad, expected to compete for the starting job with Morgan, injured his foot and appeared lost for the season. Fleck said awhile ago Annexstad might return late this year, but he was indefinite on a timeline.

The coaches have protected Morgan by seldom asking him to run, and he avoided significant injury through almost 10 games. Iowa, though, had an intense pass rush led by future pro lineman A.J. Epenesa who often had his way with Minnesota offensive left tackle Sam Schleuter.

Minnesota is 6-1 and can win the Big Ten West Division outright with victories in its remaining games but the Gophers have questions to answer including field goal and extra point kicking. Redshirt freshman Brock Walker, playing in his second consecutive game against Iowa, missed an extra point and bounced a field goal inside the upright yesterday. Freshman Michael Lantz has been injured after making five of eight field goals earlier this season.

The Gophers missed a major promotional opportunity in losing a fifth consecutive game to Iowa and not reclaiming Floyd of Rosedale. Minnesota already has the Governor’s Bell from its November 9 win over Penn State and hopes to hold on to Paul Bunyan’s Axe when the Gophers close the season against Wisconsin. “Three Wins, Three Trophies” could have headlined an offseason marketing campaign.

The Gophers were penalized in the Iowa game when Fleck sprinted on the field to check on wide receiver Tyler Johnson, who appeared injured. Speaking on KFAN Radio after the game the coach defended himself, stressing the welfare of his players is always a top priority. He accepted responsibility for the penalty even though he would do it again. “I am sorry. I am 38 years old and I can run,” he said.

When the College Football Playoff Rankings come out Tuesday night the Gophers, ranked No. 8 last week, could land in the No. 14 to 18 range.

The Minnesota-Wisconsin game in Minneapolis November 30 was nearly sold out as of late last week.

Fleck’s 39th birthday will be the day prior to the game.

The Gophers have yet to do it this season, but if they switched their bench and sideline from the south side of their home field to the north they more likely will be situated in sunshine and feel warmer November 30. The change requires notifying the Big Ten office in advance.

Yesterday morning there was TV hype about the 9-0 Gophers. On ESPN GameDay David Pollack referred to Minnesota as the biggest story of the college football season. BTN’s morning show ranked Minnesota’s Antoine Winfield Jr. the best defensive back in the Big Ten.

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David Shama

David Shama is a former sports editor and columnist with local publications. His writing and reporting experiences include covering the Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Gophers. Shama’s career experiences also include sports marketing. He is the former Marketing Director of the Minnesota North Stars of the NHL. He is also the former Marketing Director of the United States Tennis Association’s Northern Section. A native of Minneapolis, Shama has been part of the community his entire life. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota where he majored in journalism. He also has a Master’s degree in education from the University of St. Thomas. He was a member of the Governor’s NBA’s Task Force to help create interest in bringing pro basketball to town in the 1980s.

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