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Gophers QB Tanner Morgan named to Davey O’Brien Award watch list

Gophers quarterback Tanner Morgan is already grabbing the attention of top college football influencers. 

Morgan was one of 30 players named to the Davey O’Brien Award watch list on Tuesday. The trophy is presented annually to the nation’s best college quarterback.

Morgan joined three other Big Ten passers on the list, including Justin Fields (Ohio State), Jack Coan (Wisconsin) and Sean Clifford (Penn State).

In 2019, Morgan’s quick release, accuracy and sharp mental processing skills sparked one of the nation’s most explosive offenses. Last season, the Gophers ranked No. 5 (0.57) in passing play expected points added (EPA), according to College Football Data. The program also finished ninth nationally in passing play explosiveness (1.88).

This success was fueled by Morgan’s leadership and passing efficiency. He got the ball out quickly over linebackers to complete intermediate run-pass options (RPOs). When Minnesota stretched the field with vertical play-action shots, Morgan displayed his above average downfield touch and ball placement skills. There were also several situations where he used his eyes to move a safety. He frequently reads leverage and makes swift decisions based upon defensive tendencies.

What does the data tell us? 

I filtered 2019 data to see where Morgan stacked up against each quarterback on the 2020 Davey O’Brien Award watch list. This graph (courtesy of CollegeFootballData) displays the cumulative average expected points added per dropback for every player. This metric essentially measures a quarterback’s overall efficiency per dropback.

The data clusters many of the top quarterbacks together. While looking at the 168th dropback number, fans will notice Morgan’s maroon dotted line at the top. During the second half of 2019, the Gophers’ quarterback led all of the 2020 Davey O’Brien Award watch list members in passing efficiency. The next closest player was Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields.

Morgan and the Gophers’ offense fired on all cylinders in 2019. Opposing defenses struggled to cover wide receivers Tyler Johnson and Rashod Bateman. Minnesota also beautifully executed the outside zone scheme and paired up play-action concepts with it. Morgan stretched opposing defenses and accurately placed passes at all levels. 

Morgan’s excellence is a direct result of his work ethic and training methods. He emphasizes his mechanics and movement skills to maximize his throwing motion. Morgan’s work with kinesiologist Rob Williams has elevated his game to another level.

Returning Production and New Elements

This season, the Gophers have nearly 80 percent of their offensive production returning, according to ESPN. The Morgan to Bateman connection is one of the best quarterback-wide receiver duos in the country.

Minnesota is also adding another offensive perspective to the coaching staff. Co-offensive coordinator Mike Sanford Jr. may bring new elements to Dinkytown. His background in vertical concepts and pocket movement training will blend in nicely with the current group of coaches. This year, Sanford and co-offensive coordinator/wide receivers coach Matt Simon could add new flair to the existing system.

Looking Ahead

Morgan is already being recognized among the nation’s best quarterbacks. He continues to shatter records and is taking Minnesota’s program to new heights. With another season of efficient play, Morgan may shoot up NFL Draft rankings.

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