Morgan To Bateman Has Become A Golden Combination For Gophers
Morgan To Bateman Has Become A GoldenCombination For Gophers
By Joey Johnston
The Minnesota Golden Gophers arebringing one of the nation's top passing combinations to the Outback Bowl -sophomore quarterback Tanner Morgan to sophomore receiver Rashod Bateman - andit's an unlikely pair that somehow landed in the Twin Cities.
Morgan was supposed to attend WesternMichigan University, but he changed direction on the fly, when Coach P.J. Fleckleft WMU to take the job at Minnesota.
Morgan, from Union, Ky., changed tothe Gophers.
He had never visited the campus.
He had never visited the state.
Meanwhile, Bateman made a name forhimself at Tift County (Ga.) High School in the heart of SEC country. He didn'tget properly noticed until showing his speed during a satellite camp at MercerUniversity. The Gophers quickly jumped aboard and fought off late inquiriesfrom a laundry list of SEC schools, including Georgia.
Morgan to Bateman?
It almost didn't happen.
But the Gophers (10-2) have thrivedwith that connection and hope to exploit it on Jan. 1 when facing the AuburnTigers (9-3) at Raymond James Stadium.
"We have a smart quarterback inTanner,'' Fleck said. "And we've got a game-breaker in Rashod.''
Morgan has passed for 4,376 yards in21 career games - already good for ninth place on Minnesota's all-time list -but he's best known for uncanny accuracy.
This season, Morgan played two of thebest passing games in Big Ten Conference history about five weeks apart.
Against Purdue, he completed 21 of 22passes (95.5 percent) for 396 yards and four touchdowns. Against Penn State, hecompleted 18 of 20 passes (90 percent) for 339 yards and three touchdowns.
Florida State's Jameis Winston is theonly other quarterback to have two games in one season with a 90-percentcompletion rate and that was in 2013, when he won the Heisman Trophy.
"I have the utmost trust in Tanner,''Fleck said. "He makes great decisions. He knows where to go with the ball.''
Bateman, meanwhile, was named Big TenReceiver of the Year, while also earning third-team All-American honors by theAssociated Press and becoming a semifinalist for the Biletnikoff Award.
He had 57 catches for a school-record1,170 yards and 11 touchdowns. In the season's spotlight game, a home victoryagainst Penn State, Bateman had seven receptions for 203 yards.
Bateman, who has caught a pass ineach of his 25 games played, has been a blur from the beginning.
It took Morgan a while to find hisniche. As a freshman, Morgan was embroiled in a quarterback competition withfellow freshman Zack Annexstad, a walk-on.
After much torment, Fleck selectedAnnexstad as the starter. These days, that's sometimes the signal for aquarterback to transfer.
Morgan stayed - and bided his time.
When Annexstad suffered a high anklesprain after the seventh game, Tanner stepped in and took Minnesota to a 4-2finish, including a win at Wisconsin and a victory against Georgia Tech in theQuick Lane Bowl.
Annexstad suffered a serious footinjury three days into training camp last summer, negating another QBcompetition and allowing Morgan to build on his foundation.
Now he's more than a stopgap. He'sthe unquestioned offensive leader.
Morgan to Bateman.
An unlikely connection, indeed.
But for the Gophers, it has been veryeffective.