MINNEAPOLIS — With Tanner Morgan officially in concussion protocol, the Minnesota Gophers have fast-tracked the grooming of two potential replacements to start at quarterback against Northwestern on Saturday.
As Morgan goes through tests to determine symptoms from his head injury this week, true freshmen Cole Kramer and Jacob Clark will prepare to make their first collegiate start on the road against a top 40 Wildcats defense at Ryan Field in Evanston, Ill.
Gophers head coach P.J. Fleck said Tuesday that if Morgan is unavailable, the starter will be “whoever plays better in practice this week — if it comes down to it. It’s a competition between Jacob and Cole, and they’re both getting better.”
Fleck said it’s up to doctors and trainers to determine whether Morgan can make his 17th consecutive start on Saturday.
“That’s for our trainers and medical staff to deal with,” Fleck said Tuesday. “Once they get into the protocol, there’s nothing — the coaches have nothing to do with that. That’s all medical department. Tanner is in the best hands possible.”
Fleck said a game plan has been outlined for the Wildcats, who rank 40th in the nation in scoring defense with a 23.5-point average. Morgan, 13-3 as a starter since mid-2018, would be able to handle it, but it all be new for Kramer or Clark.
If Morgan can’t play, both could see action Saturday, Fleck said.
“They both had a lot thrown at them,” Fleck said of preparations for Saturday. “… If we feel like they can handle the whole thing, we’ll put that game plan in. If we feel there’s some things they can’t handle throughout the week, we’ll pull some out.”
Morgan’s injury occurred when he was sacked on consecutive plays on a late fourth-quarter drive in the 23-19 loss to the Hawkeyes last Saturday. Kramer came in and went 0 for 2 with an interception that effectively ended the game.
Morgan seemed out of sorts after the first sack, by Iowa defensive lineman Joe Evans, needing help from running back Rodney Smith to get the team lined up for the next play. Morgan was then sacked by A.J. Epenesa on second down.
Fleck and trainers instructed Morgan to sit down on the field because they felt he needed to be examined. Once out for a play, Morgan lobbied on the sideline to get back in the game.
“He’s a competitor,” Fleck said. “That’s why it’s completely up to the medical staff, because he is such a competitor. He wants to get back out there, but the medical team’s got him, and they’ll make the decisions for him.”