Minnesota fans have seen the highs and lows Tanner Morgan has brought to the table over his 5 seasons as the Gophers starting quarterback.

Morgan owns several school records, including TD passes in a season (30 in 2019) and yards in a season (3,253 in 2019). He’s also 31-13 as a starter. The dude knows how to win.

But Morgan has a reputation for laying an egg now and then. Who can forget the 14-10 loss to Bowling Green a year ago? He finished 5-of-13 for 59 yards. His 2 late interceptions thwarted any chance of a Gophers comeback. The Falcons left Minneapolis victorious as 31-point underdogs.

Or how about last year’s 14-6 loss to Illinois? Morgan was sacked 6 times and threw 2 picks as the Gophers’ offense failed to find any rhythm.

Morgan’s last outing — a 20-10 loss to Purdue — brought back similar vibes. His stat line was better against the Boilers, but he failed to throw a TD pass and was intercepted 3 times by the opportunistic Purdue defense.

When he’s good, he’s really good

Morgan has shown on many occasions that he has the tools to be an elite QB in the Big Ten. His 2019 season was a record-setting one. One that may not be rivaled by another Gophers QB for a long while.

Minnesota finished 11-2 as Morgan put up those huge numbers. He threw 4 TDs in a game twice (Purdue and Northwestern) and went over 300 yards on 3 occasions. He finished with 30 touchdowns and just 7 picks.

Many national pundits thought it was just the beginning for Morgan. But a COVID-shortened 2020 season slowed his momentum. And in 2021, inconsistency plagued Morgan and the entire Gophers offense. Whispers about his struggles arose.

But Morgan couldn’t have scripted a better start to 2022. Minnesota sprinted to 4-0, as the senior threw for 7 TDs and only 1 pick. Mo Ibrahim’s presence in the backfield made the multidimensional offense difficult to defend. The hype train was heating up.

But Ibrahim missed the Purdue game with a leg injury. Forced to pick up the slack, Morgan was unable to do so. The loss of leading receiver Chris Autman-Bell hasn’t helped. Purdue negated the run and forced Morgan to beat it with his arm.

He finished 18-of-33 for 257 yards, but threw 3 picks. The Gophers offense found the end zone just once.

According to head coach PJ Fleck, Ibrahim is slated to return against Illinois. The Gophers were held to their lowest rushing total since 2015 in the Purdue loss. Ibrahim’s health and availability are a huge key moving forward.

Finding offensive balance

In order for Minnesota to push for a West Division title, offensive balance is a necessity. The Gophers had it through 4 games. They’ll need to recapture the magic starting Saturday in Urbana-Champaign.

Having Ibrahim back will obviously help. And look for Daniel Jackson to continue to step up at receiver. He’s made a big splash the past 2 games following Autman-Bell’s absence. He caught 6 balls for 110 yards against the Boilers. Jackson along with tight end Brevyn Spann-Ford need to establish themselves as Morgan’s go-to targets.

Running against the Illini defense will be a tall order — even with Ibrahim in the mix. Fleck says Illinois has “the best front 7” his staff has seen.

It’s a safe bet to assume Morgan will need to make a few big plays in the passing game in order for Minnesota to win. Defenses could dominate. Especially if Illini QB Tommy DeVito (questionable) is out with an injury.

The weekly slog that is the B1G West isn’t for the faint of heart. Defense and ugly offense win. Just ask Illinois following a 9-6 win over Iowa. It’s rarely pretty.

Minnesota fans shouldn’t care about style points. Morgan doesn’t need to be pretty. With Ibrahim back, ball security and efficiency should be enough. But he can’t turn the ball over 3 times a game and expect to win.

Helpful bye week

The bye week came at an opportune time for Minnesota. Not only to get Ibrahim healed up, but to reassess and work on areas that Purdue exposed. Confidence was shaken.

Minnesota is in a must-win situation against Illinois if it wants to stay in the hunt in the West. A primetime road game at Penn State follows. It’s a crucial stretch for Fleck’s team.

The spotlight returns to Morgan. The division has never been more vulnerable. With Wisconsin and Iowa down, it’s there for the Gophers to win. But in order for it to happen, their 6th-year QB needs to be the best version of himself.