August 20, 2022

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‘Terrified’ to comfy: Gophers QB Tanner Morgan welcomes again OC Kirk Ciarrocca

When Tanner Morgan enrolled early on the College of Minnesota in January 2017, the true freshman quarterback didn’t communicate his thoughts to Gophers offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca.

“I’m not a 17-year-old (who) is afraid of him,” Morgan stated Saturday. “Once I first received right here, (I used to be) afraid to make errors. It’s me being extra comfy (now). That relationship is superior and I’m actually grateful that he got here again.”

Morgan, who turned 23 final weekend, is coming into his sixth and remaining season with the Gophers. After a 12 months at Penn State and one other 12 months at West Virginia throughout 2020-21, Ciarrocca returned to Minnesota in December for one remaining go-round with the previous Kentucky highschool QB who he and head coach P.J. Fleck initially recruited to Western Michigan in 2016.

Their relationship’s basis was set of their first stint collectively from 2017-19, and Morgan now feels free to share his views along with his coordinator/quarterback coach.

“I’ll say, ‘Do you want that play?’ ” Ciarrocca relayed final week. “He doesn’t have any drawback telling me no. I’m like, ‘Hey, wait a minute, you didn’t use to say that.’

Ciarrocca then joked: “No speaking again.”

The connection between Ciarrocca and Morgan is the nexus for enchancment within the Gophers passing recreation this fall. Fleck fired former coordinator Mike Sanford Jr. in December as a result of Minnesota’s passing recreation had been grounded, and he introduced again the OC who took the U to record-setting heights in 2019.

“We all know we now have to enhance throwing the soccer,” Ciarrocca stated. “I believe everyone within the state of Minnesota is aware of that. I believe everyone within the Massive Ten, they’re hoping we don’t enhance in that space.”

The Gophers ran the ball on 70 % of snaps final season and their 257 cross makes an attempt ranked 127th within the nation — forward of solely three service academies which depend on run-heavy choice offenses. Minnesota’s 162 passing yards per recreation got here in 118th within the nation.

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Ciarrocca wasn’t sharing a secret sauce that may make Minnesota’s passing recreation soar this fall, saying they’re “performing some issues within the passing recreation that possibly will intensify our strengths a little bit bit higher and possibly restrict our weaknesses.”

A 12 months in the past, Morgan accomplished 60 % of his passes with 10 touchdowns and 9 interceptions in 13 video games. However Ciarrocca didn’t single Morgan out as bearing the brunt of the mandatory enchancment.

“Safety, QB play, our talent guys have to enhance each space to ensure that (extra success) to occur,” Ciarrocca stated. “If we get higher, we’re going to throw the ball higher. We now have the items to be higher in that space, I’m satisfied of that in watching the (Assured Price Bowl) prep.”

Since December, Morgan and Ciarrocca have reached the following degree of their relationship; that may proceed to be refined going into the Sept. 1 season opener vs. Jerry Kill-coached New Mexico State.

Morgan stated he is also asking Ciarrocca why he likes sure ideas and performs and diving into particulars. “It’s the expansion that knowledge-wise has occurred within the final three months,” Morgan stated “There’s a lengthy course of forward earlier than Week 1. I, myself, should work even more durable to get higher as a result of I do know I’ve to be higher. That may be a enjoyable and a difficult course of.”

But with Morgan’s stats a 12 months in the past, Minnesota has reached that stage as a program: The backup quarterback is among the many most-popular gamers on the roster.

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A 12 months in the past, requires Zack Annexstad or Jacob Clark to take over have been heard. Fleck stayed resolute with Morgan via down video games, particularly the early-season loss to Bowling Inexperienced. However when Morgan stated he was coming again for a sixth season after beating Wisconsin for Paul Bunyan’s Axe, Annexstad and Clark instantly introduced plans to switch out.

This spring, redshirt freshman Athan Kaliakmanis has performed his half to garner extra consideration. The Illinois native and four-star prospect within the 2021 class has made some head-turning throws through the open spring practices. Throughout a seven-on-seven portion of follow Saturday, Morgan and Kaliakmanis traded spectacular 35-yard landing passes to backup receivers.

“He’s extremely proficient,” Morgan stated of Kaliakmanis. “If you happen to watch him throw a soccer, anyone might be capable to say that. It’s simply the psychological development as a younger quarterback; you’re going to fail lots. … He has responded extremely nicely. He’s grinding. His psychological course of is approach higher than it was a 12 months in the past. Our quarterback room is admittedly enjoyable to be in.”

However make no mistake: Morgan is that this workforce’s starter, with Kaliakmanis and Cole Kramer behind him. In spring follow, Morgan has taken the first-team reps, Kaliakmanis and Kramer rotating with the second workforce. Kramer, coming into his fourth 12 months, seems to stay the workforce’s wildcat QB, and South Dakota freshman Jacob Knuth will be part of the workforce this summer time.

When Ciarrocca left his analyst function at West Virginia in December, the prospect to work with Kaliakmanis was a part of his choice. Ciarrocca helped recruit Kaliakmanis to Minnesota and the thin 6-foot-4, four-star prospect dedicated in March 2019. It was 9 months earlier than Ciarrocca left for Penn State in December.

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“I’d be mendacity to you if I didn’t say that after I determined to come back again right here that I didn’t take into consideration (Kaliakmanis) and having a chance to work with him,” Ciarrocca stated. “How thrilling that’s — and actually Cole, too.”

Quarterback play might be one of many prime issues to look at on the spring recreation at 1 p.m. April 30 at Huntington Financial institution Stadium. However evaluations on the place are coming in commonly, together with throughout a third-down portion of follow two weeks in the past.

Defensive coordinator Joe Rossi “has an excellent third-down bundle; in case you haven’t observed, it’s lots of issues,” Ciarroccca stated. “You possibly can see firstly of follow with Cole and Athan, that it was a little bit a lot for them. I used to be curious to see how they have been going to reply, proper? As a result of they have been blitzing each which approach and all these totally different fronts.

“I’m screaming and yelling and the clock is working down. I used to be questioning how they have been going to react. I’m type of smirking again there and I questioned the place he’s going to go along with this, how they will do. They only saved their poise they usually discovered in every interval. They received increasingly more assured because the day went on and performed rather well for younger children.”