Gopher fans have waited many years to see quarterback play like they saw against Purdue on Saturday. Quarterback Tanner Morgan played a game most fans will never forget. He broke a Big Ten record and shattered his single game passing record, propelling Minnesota to a 38-31 blowout win over Purdue in the Gophers' first conference game of the year. They move to 4-0 and remain undefeated.
“He’s a winner. He’s tough. He’s a leader," head coach P.J. Fleck told media after the game. "He’s not 6’6” with this huge arm and 230-pounds. [He's] not flashy. He’s smart, mastered our offense."
Purdue’s defense came into the game with the 101st ranked pass defense, one of the worst in the country. Morgan made them look like exactly that. Morgan entered the game with a 66.7% completion percentage which since only increased. In the first half, Morgan had 16 completions on 17 attempts for 298 yards and three touchdowns. Morgan didn’t throw his first incomplete pass until 1:32 remaining in the second quarter on the last drive before the end of the first half. He finished the game with 21 completions on 22 attempts, completing 95.5% of his passes. That's the best single game completion percentage ever in the Big Ten.
The redshirt sophomore had only thrown for 300 or more yards once in his career as a Gopher coming into the game against Purdue. Almost a year ago, he had 302 yards passing in a win against Indiana. Today, he threw for a career high 396 yards with four touchdowns to go along with it.
Throughout the game, Morgan spread the ball around to his play-making wide receivers.
"He got the ball to all the receivers we needed," Fleck told the media.
The top three receivers on the depth chart, Tyler Johnson, Rashod Bateman and Chris Autman-Bell all had touchdowns in the first half. Autman-Bell's was the first touchdown reception of the day with a 70-yard catch and score to get the passing game going.
It looked like Purdue might have a chance at making it a game when the score was 31-17 in the middle of the third quarter. However, Morgan and the Minnesota offense kept their foot on the pedal, as a nice double move by Bateman left him wide open for a 47-yard touchdown pass giving the Gophers a 38-17 lead and enough points to hold off a rallying Purdue team.
Morgan has been the glue the holds the offense together. Since he took over as the starter last year, he is 8-2.
Most importantly, Minnesota being able to open up the defense through the air seemed to free up the stagnant running game.
"I thought our pass game softened the run game a little bit today," Fleck told the media. "We need to be able to open it up a little bit. That was the whole plan over the bye week.”
The bye week plan worked as running back Rodney Smith averaged 5.2 yards on 22 carries for 115 yards against Purdue.
Morgan and the Gophers look to continue their success through the air and on the ground next week at home against Illinois as they finish the year with Big Ten conference games.
"Every game we're going to play, it's going to be a dog fight," Fleck told the media. "We're going to get everybody's best shot, we hope that everybody gets our best shot too."