MINNEAPOLIS - The University of Minnesota football team was celebrating a 35-14 win at Indiana in the visitor’s locker room at Memorial Stadium.
PJ Fleck had a game ball to give out. After going 14-of-20 for 196 yards and two touchdowns, it went to quarterback Tanner Morgan. The redshirt senior has had a rollercoaster season, and he’s only about five months removed from probably the toughest moment of his life, losing his dad to a brain tumor.
Morgan won his 25th game with the Gophers as a starting quarterback, which makes him the winningest at the position in program history.
"Hopefully he wins a lot more games for us at the quarterback position," Fleck said Monday.
"I don't think that's a moment I'll forget for a long time. It's something that means a lot to me because winning games is, as a quarterback, it's not really just about you. It's about the team being around a lot of good teammates, a lot of good coaches," Morgan said Tuesday. So it was it was really special, and I'm forever thankful for that moment and thankful to be a part of this program and this culture."
Is it perhaps a sign that he’ll come back for one more year? That’s a discussion for another time. Nothing has come easy for Morgan in the 2021 season. The Gophers have lost their top three running backs to season-ending injuries. Chris Autman-Bell and Daniel Jackson have missed games with injuries. Dylan Wright missed a game, grieving the loss of one of his best friends.
The first time all three receivers were on the field for most of the game all at the same time? In Saturday’s win over the Hoosiers. All had their moments last Saturday, including Morgan hitting Autman-Bell for two scores, one directly in the face of pressure.
Morgan is now 25-12 in three-plus seasons at Minnesota, and Fleck never lost faith in him in the toughest of times.
"It means a lot to me to know what that young man has been through. This young man lost his father five months ago, and how hard that’s been on him. Tanner’s not over the passing of his father, he goes through it every single day and he will for the rest of his life," Morgan said. "Just to watch his resolve and his courage to just keep going, that’s what life is about. If you just keep going, you’re going to come out on the other end better. Tanner is better now than he was just because of how he’s never given up, he’s never quit. That’s why he’s the starting quarterback."
Morgan’s next task is to find a way to move the ball against Wisconsin, which is third in the Big Ten with 30 sacks and leads the league in passing defense. The Badgers are allowing a little over 170 yards per game, and just eight touchdowns in 11 games through the air.
FACING WISCONSIN: RUN THE BALL, STOP THE RUN
The battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe is typically won in the trenches, and Saturday will be no different. The Gophers feature the No. 3 rushing offense in the Big Ten with nearly 205 yards per game on the ground. Wisconsin leads the Big Ten in rushing defense, and is one of the best in the country at 64.3 yards per game allowed.
On the other side, the Gophers are the No. 3-ranked rushing defense in the Big Ten, allowing 103.6 yards per game. The top rushing attack in the league? The Badgers, led by freshman sensation Braelon Allen, who is second in the league with 106.2 yards per game. Allen has 12 touchdowns on the season, has seven straight 100-yard games and ran for 228 yards and three touchdowns, including runs of 71 and 53 yards, last week against Nebraska.
"They take care of the football, they do what they do. It’s Wisconsin, they don’t beat themselves," Fleck said.
RASHAD CHENEY, MJ ANDERSON ENTER TRANSFER PORTAL
The Gophers had a pair of defensive linemen, MJ Anderson and Rashad Cheney, enter the NCAA transfer portal within 48 hours of the team’s win at Indiana. Anderson played in 10 games this season, 178 total snaps, getting seven tackles and a sack. Cheney played in 10 games, and had nine tackles.
Anderson, who played in 16 career games, was in line to compete for a starting spot on the defensive line next season.
GOPHERS HOSTING ‘RTB’ TURKEY DRIVE TUESDAY
PJ Fleck preaches a culture of serving and giving at every level of his program. This week, the Gophers are hosting their annual "Row the Boat Turkey Drive" Tuesday night, leading up to Thanksgiving. Players, coaches and staff donate money to go towards buying turkeys.
The Gophers couldn’t hold last year’s drive due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, they’re working with seven organizations to donate more than 300 turkeys and meals to those in need. The event is from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Athletes Village on the University of Minnesota campus.
The Gophers host Wisconsin at 3 p.m. Saturday in a game you can watch on Fox 9. Minnesota last beat Wisconsin in Madison in 2018. The Gophers haven’t beaten the Badgers at home since 2003, and Wisconsin has won 16 of the last 17 meetings.