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Gophers coach P.J. Fleck laments dropped passes in loss to Hawkeyes

Minnesota quarterback Tanner Morgan completed only 47% of his throws in a 27-22 loss to No. 20 Iowa on Saturday in Iowa City.

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University of Minnesota quarterback Tanner Morgan throws a pass during the first quarter Sunday, Nov. 13, 2021, against the Iowa Hawkeyes at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa. Jeffrey Becker / USA Today Sports
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MINNEAPOLIS -- University of Minnesota receivers have a motto: “Every ball is an elite ball.” In other words, there are no excuses for not catching a pass they’re able to get a hand on.

That went to an extreme on Monday.

Head coach P.J. Fleck was asked about what he wants to address in the passing game after Minnesota quarterback Tanner Morgan completed 47% of his throws in a 27-22 loss to No. 20 Iowa on Saturday in Iowa City.

“We had three or four drops that you wouldn’t have asked that question if we’d caught three balls,” Fleck said. “I think that maybe you would have (still asked it), but we’re going to do everything we can to win a football game, and we’ve got to be able to execute. What makes really good receivers really good receivers is the catch radius. Balls are not going to be perfect all the time, but we’ve got to be able to catch the balls they throw us defensively and offensively.”

Minnesota had two dropped interceptions chances on defense — which certainly influenced losing Floyd of Rosedale for a seventh straight time — and Pro Football Focus College pinned four drops on Minnesota receivers.

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Fleck pointed to a crucial third-and-7 from the Iowa 43-yard line. in the third quarter. Minnesota led 13-10 at the time. Quarterback Tanner Morgan had a clean pocket and open throwing lane, and Chris Autman-Bell had created separation from his defender. But Morgan’s throw was high, and a leaping Autman-Bell could only get one hand on it.

“Could the ball have been placed a little bit differently? Sure,” Fleck said. “But that’s a ball we’ve got to be able to catch and bring down.”

But drops from receivers couldn’t be used as a reason on two Morgan throws in the fourth quarter. Down 24-16, Morgan wasn’t pressured on a second-down throw that went between Autman-Bell and Daniel Jackson and fell incomplete. On third down, Morgan’s throw sailed out of bounds in the direction of Autman-Bell and Minnesota had to punt.

On the next drive, Morgan’s biggest throw of the game went to Autman-Bell for a 68-yard touchdown.

“I have to play better, give us more opportunities to be successful,” Morgan said Saturday.

Aggressive enough

Fleck took note of criticism he faced for not being more aggressive at the end of the first half Saturday. Instead of passing it downfield on second-and-3 from Iowa’s 16 with a minute left, Fleck ran it twice before kicking a field goal. When diving into that explanation again, he pointed to the Gophers’ previous drive.

On fourth-and-2, the Gophers went into a wildcat formation, and backup quarterback Cole Kramer connected with wide-open tight end Ko Kieft for a 37-yard touchdown.

“Fourth-and-2, throwing a (37)-yard touchdown, I won’t consider that conservative,” Fleck said.

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Stanley Cup

Kieft is in his sixth season, so the Sioux Center, Iowa, native won’t be able to raise the Floyd of Rosedale trophy as a Minnesota player.

“I told him eventually when we do get it, they all get to spend a day with the pig, whenever we get that thing,” Fleck said. “They all get to rent it out for the day kind of like the Stanley Cup, where they pass it around.”

“We are going to have to find a way to do that because these guys deserve that,” Fleck added. “Just because you deserve it doesn’t mean you are going to get it. One day we will earn it, and Iowa makes you earn everything you get. Our rivals make you earn everything you get. We wouldn’t want it any other way.”

Briefly

Details for the Gophers’ regular-season finale against Wisconsin on Nov. 27 will be announced next Monday. The Battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe will be either 2:30 p.m. on ABC or ESPN, or 3 p.m. on FOX. … Receiver Dylan Wright played only four snaps against Iowa. “Guys earn their playing time, period,” Fleck said. … Minnesota (6-4, 4-3 Big Ten) is a seven-point favorite against the Hoosiers (2-8, 0-7), with kickoff set for 2:30 p.m. CT from Memorial Stadium in Bloomington, Ind.

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