There’s more quarterback uncertainty for the Gophers (now bowl-eligible!) as they prepare to face Northwestern. Tanner Morgan left the Nebraska game at halftime with what coach P.J. Fleck called an “upper-body injury”. Redshirt freshman Athan Kaliakmanis came in after the break, and the team rallied from a ten-point deficit to a seven-point win.
This wasn’t Kaliakmanis’ first action of the season. He came in against Illinois after Morgan suffered a concussion, and he started the following game at Penn State. Without more knowledge about Morgan’s current injury, it’s hard to predict who will start this weekend. But of course, there are fans arguing that the freshman should start for the rest of the year regardless. Fleck does not sound inclined to make a change at this point unless necessitated by injury.
It’s true that Kaliakmanis brings something different to the offense. He’s more mobile than Morgan, sometimes actually keeping the ball on option plays. And he has a stronger arm. But the most important thing he does is something both quarterbacks can do: hand the ball to Mohamed Ibrahim.
Regardless of who plays quarterback, Mohamed Ibrahim should obviously be a significant part of the game plan. Northwestern’s 113th-ranked run defense is allowing 188.7 yards on the ground per game. Ibrahim has rushed for more than that by himself three times in his last two full seasons. When the Gophers do throw, expect Daniel Jackson to be the primary target. The passing game struggled after Chris Autman-Bell was injured, and it’s still clearly not their strength, but Jackson has caught 11 passes in the last two games combined.
Northwestern, too, has been anemic in the passing game. Coach Pat Fitzgerald tried changing quarterbacks but to no avail. Ryan Hilinski and Brendan Sullivan have combined for 10 touchdowns, nine interceptions, and 15 sacks. If the Gophers can get an early lead and force Northwestern to throw, this could be another big day for Jordan Howden (who had a great game against Nebraska) and the backfield.
Running back Evan Hull is the Wildcats’ main threat on offense (701 yards, four touchdowns). The front seven needs to play as they did in the second half against the Cornhuskers in stopping the run.
More quarterback uncertainty for the Gophers is not what anyone was hoping for at this point in the season. Fortunately, the Northwestern game should be winnable regardless of who’s behind center. We’ll cross the bridge to Iowa next week.