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Tanner Morgan's emergence is reaching historic proportions for Gophers

The semifinalist for the Davey O'Brien Award is having a monster year.
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The Minnesota Golden Gophers have reached heights that haven't been seen in the past century and there are plenty of factors that have contributed to their rise as the eighth-ranked team in the country.

Some of those factors were expected when the Gophers began practicing last August as Rodney Smith, Shannon Brooks and Mohamed Ibrahim have anchored a backfield averaging 195.2 yards per game and the duo of Rashod Bateman (38 rec. 847 yards, 7 TD) and Tyler Johnson (50 rec., 730 yards, 8 TD) have wreaked havoc on opposing secondaries.

But just as the Gophers continue to inch closer to their first Big Ten West Division championship, one of the bigger surprises has been the play of quarterback Tanner Morgan, who was named a semifinalist for the Davey O'Brien Award on Wednesday.

The award, which recognizes the top quarterback in college football, is something that few could have fathomed as a possibility for Morgan entering camp or even two years ago.

As head coach P.J. Fleck was molding his team after a disappointing first season, Zack Annexstad was named his starting quarterback and started the first seven games of the 2018 season before an ankle injury forced him to the sideline. 

That gave Morgan a shot, who Fleck labeled an "overachiever" in a Tuesday night interview with ESPN. Although Morgan led the Gophers to wins in three of their last four games, his stats of 1,401 yards with nine touchdowns and six interceptions didn't scream that a second-year breakout was coming.

However, the door opened again when Annexstad was injured during one of the first practices of the year and Morgan has proceeded to rip it off the hinges.

In addition to leading Minnesota to its first 9-0 start since 1904, Morgan has improved in every statistical category. In nine starts this season, Morgan has thrown for 2,100 yards with 21 touchdowns and four interceptions. 

With a completion percentage that has jumped from 58.6 percent last season to 67.9 percent in 2019, it's safe to say that Morgan has had a great season for Minnesota, but it is also becoming a historical season.

Morgan's passing efficiency rating of 191.0 ranks fourth in the nation which is behind Heisman Trophy contenders Jalen Hurts (Oklahoma), Tua Tagovailoa (Alabama) and Joe Burrow (LSU). If that number holds up it would be the second-best mark all-time in the Big Ten behind Russell Wilson's 191.8 rating for Wisconsin in 2011. 

That number becomes even more impressive when it represents a jump of 43.4 points from his 2018 season, which would be the eighth-largest jump in a single season since 1980.

For an even deeper history lesson, Morgan's performance against Penn State saw him go 18-for-20 with 339 yards and three touchdowns. This combined with his Sept. 28 performance against Purdue (21-for-22, 398 yards, 4 TD) makes him the second quarterback in the last 20 years, along with Florida State's Jameis Winston, to have two games with a completion percentage over 90 percent in the same season.

If you're still not impressed, Morgan's 10.88 yards per attempt is third in the nation and his 16.03 yards per completion are fourth. His overall stats are on par with Clemson's Trevor Lawrence (2,303 yards, 23 TD, 8 INT), who is the favorite to be selected first overall in the 2021 NFL Draft and he sits toward the top of almost every statistical category in the entire nation.

Although they passed their first test against Penn State with flying colors, Morgan's scorching season will be put to the test in the final three (and possibly four with a Big Ten Championship Game) games. Still, his emergence as one of the best quarterbacks in the country is a big reason why the Gophers are in this position.

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