MINNEAPOLIS — If Tanner Morgan can’t play against Northwestern on Saturday, the Gophers will turn to a pair of very inexperienced quarterbacks.
Gophers head coach P.J. Fleck said Morgan was “woozy and wobbly” after taking a sack late in the 23-19 loss to Iowa on Saturday and is being monitored for a concussion.
Fleck said Monday he didn’t have an update on Morgan’s health. Given Fleck’s reluctance to discuss injuries, this could be a storyline that carries through his news conference Tuesday and possibly up to the 11 a.m. kickoff Saturday at Ryan Field in Evanston, Ill.
Morgan lobbied to return after coming out for one play Saturday, and the Pioneer Press received indications Morgan has seemed fine since the game. But Morgan has been a regular speaker after Fleck on Tuesdays and isn’t scheduled to talk with reporters this week.
With Zack Annexstad out indefinitely with a foot injury, Morgan’s replacements this season have been true freshmen Cole Kramer and Jacob Clark. They have played in a combined four games and attempted three total passes.
This lack of depth hasn’t been an issue this season as Morgan has been outstanding, playing all but three meaningful snaps this season. At 9-1 overall and 6-1 to lead the Big Ten West, Morgan has entered the fringes of the Heisman Trophy conversation and is a semifinalist for the Davey O’Brien Trophy.
Morgan completed 70 percent of his passes for 368 yards and a touchdown against Iowa before being replaced by Kramer on the Gophers’ final drive Saturday. With only seconds to warm up, Kramer went 0 for 2 with a game-sealing interception on fourth down.
But Kramer being inserted into the Hawkeyes game doesn’t mean he is the clear backup to Morgan; Fleck said Kramer and Clark are rotating, and Saturday was just Kramer’s turn.
“Jacob played last, so Cole was up,” Fleck said. “That’s how we will continue to do it until one of those guys pulls ahead.”
That means if Morgan can’t play Saturday, both quarterbacks could see action against a Wildcats defense ranked 40th in the nation, allowing 23.5 points per game.
Kramer debuted in the 42-7 win over Rutgers but didn’t throw a pass in the Gophers’ final offensive series. Clark was the first backup QB inserted into the 52-10 win over Maryland on Oct. 26. He completed one pass for 39 yards. Kramer also played but didn’t throw a pass.
“I think they have both done a great job of learning,” Fleck said.
Kramer hails from Eden Prairie, a Minnesota powerhouse based on an old-school, run-heavy offensive scheme. Clark comes from Rockwall, Texas, with a more-modern spread foundation.
“Cole Kramer will publicly admit he had to start completely over,” Fleck said. “It’s like taking a guy from a different position and moving him to quarterback. …
“Then Jacob was in a really good offense, trained really well, but again when you get to this system and this level there are so many small details, parts of the position that you have got to get better at. But they have gotten a lot of reps with Zack being out.”
Sidelined for an estimated 18 weeks at the start of training camp, Annexstad could return to practice in early December. “He could possibly be ready for a bowl game, but nothing prior to that,” Fleck said.
Kramer and Clark have played with the first team during practice, learning from the side and taking reps behind Morgan. These are points in the development they wouldn’t get if they were running the scout team.
Gophers wildcat quarterback Seth Green, who has 23 rushes but no pass attempts, will remain in that change-of-pace role, Fleck said.
“We might do it a little more, but we need (Clark and Kramer) to be able to develop and play and get better,” the coach said. “This is over a long period of time. This is not just one season all-in.”
The Gophers are mindful of trying to keep redshirts on players whenever possible; that means four or fewer games within the 2018 redshirt rule passed by the NCAA.
Kramer has played in three games and can appear in one more before he hits that ceiling, while Clark can play in three more. When Morgan had his helmet come off against Georgia Southern and had to sit out for a play, Green came in to preserve their redshirt status.
The regular-season finale against Wisconsin at TCF Bank Stadium has been scheduled for 2:30 p.m. on Nov. 30.