Not to put too much pressure on redshirt freshman quarterback Brandon Peters, but he may have just salvaged 2017 for the Wolverines and saved Michigan’s 2018 season entirely.
Due to a largely ineffective performance by starter John O’Korn in the first half, Peters entered Saturday’s game against Rutgers with 7:01 remaining in the second quarter and led the Wolverines on three consecutive touchdown drives.
Michigan would eventually come away with the 35-14 win over the Scarlet Knights.
Yeah, it was just a win over Rutgers, but it could be much more, and it certainly felt like much more.
This game was more than just the score. The score was the secondary result. Brandon Peters as Michigan’s new starting quarterback was the main result. This is change that the people can believe in, even if they don’t know for sure that they can yet believe in Peters. There will be ebbs and flows. This is a redshirt freshman quarterback we’re talking about here.
As a redshirt freshman in 2014, J.T. Barrett completed just 9-of-29 passes with three interceptions in his second start. This was after completing 80% of his passes in his first start.
There will be growing pains. We just don’t know how many.
What we do know is that Brandon Peters is a new direction for Michigan, which is the only direction Jim Harbaugh could go at this point. Any time you’re forced out of a bad situation and you only have one direction in which to turn, that doesn’t necessarily mean things are going to get better.
But they did get better when Peters came in — instantly. Keep in mind, however, that they also got a boost when O’Korn came in for his first extensive action. Is this boost any different than that one? Time will tell.
When Michigan Was On Offense
John O’Korn got the start for Michigan and completed 3-of-6 passes for 13 yards and an interception. Peters came in mid-way through the second quarter and ended up completing 10-of-14 passes for 124 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions.
Back in the spring, Peters reminded me of a taller Trace McSorley, which I assume any Michigan fan reading this would take right now. Having seen more of McSorley since then, however, Peters is not nearly the runner that McSorley is, but he can make things happen on the run.
At 6-foot-5, Peters is able to stand in the pocket, but he also has the mobility to keep a defense off of him on rollouts. He showed nice accuracy and tremendous patience on several of those rollouts.
Peters was given time to throw, which was obviously a plus. He only had one really bad toss, and that came on a quick slant in the red zone that was jumped by the safety and probably should have been pick-sixed.
I do have concern for Peters in terms of the receivers that he has at his disposal. It’s a ragtag group of misfits, freshmen, and tight ends, which is fine against Rutgers, but not so fine against the top of the division. Against good defenses, the windows are going to be much tighter, and the time to throw won’t be nearly as spacious. I expect Harbaugh to do what he can in order to protect Peters in those situations.
A running game will always help out a quarterback, and the Wolverines certainly had that going against Rutgers. Michigan rushed for 334 yards on 51 attempts, which was the most yards rushing the Scarlet Knights have allowed this season. While that’s nice, they also allowed 279 yards rushing to Purdue on 10 fewer attempts one week earlier, so there’s your tablespoon of salt.
Karan Higdon rushed for 158 yards on 18 carries and looked good on just about every last one of those attempts. There have been Michigan running backs over the last few who have had good games, but it was really just bad defense. While Rutgers is not a good defense, I don’t get the sense that Higdon is “fake good”. I think he is pretty outstanding and does a good number of things very, very well. He’s fast enough to hit the hole before it closes, he can be elusive in the second level at good speed, he seems to love contact, and he runs harder than anybody else on the roster.
He was joined in the century club in this one by Ty Isaac, who rushed for 109 yards on 14 carries. He was solid throughout and is pretty effective on the wide tosses. Isaac was never tackled in the backfield, which is a credit to the offensive line not only paving the way straight ahead, but getting outside on the tosses and providing three or four blockers for Isaac to run behind.
I don’t think the tosses are a consistent winner against a defense with slashing linebackers, but they did just fine in this one.
It was good to see Kareem Walker getting some more carries this week. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say he has passed Chris Evans on the depth chart. Walker’s junior highlights are some of the best high school highlights you can find. He looked like Melvin Gordon. As a senior, however, the explosion wasn’t there. Now as a redshirt freshman, he is starting to show some promise. He needs to get stronger in his lower body, but there is definitely promise here.
I may have said this before, but I wouldn’t mind seeing Evans as more of a utility guy who floats back and forth from running back to slot receiver.
When Michigan Was On Defense
For the second week in a row, Michigan was hit hard by a cutback following a direct snap to a non-quarterback, which had me thinking about this run by J.K. Dobbins as a junior.
2 weeks in a row UM's DEF has given up a big cutback TD run on a direct snap. Does OSU have anybody who can do that?
[Googles 'JK Dobbins'] pic.twitter.com/lG04acRIjK
— Tony Gerdeman (@TonyGerdeman) October 30, 2017
Rutgers receiver Janarion Grant took the direct snap this week and cutback for a 65-yard touchdown, leaving linebackers grasping and defensive backs gasping. His other four carries went for six yards, so they did okay outside of the axe to the skull.
Even with that 65-yard run, Rutgers only managed 94 yards rushing on 31 attempts. That’s 29 yards on the other 30 carries outside of Grant’s long jog.
Rutgers quarterback Giovanni Rescigno completed 8-of-16 passes for 101 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. He was sacked five times. At no point in this game was he a match for Michigan’s defense. I do think there are things that a spread offense can do to Michigan’s defense, but Rutgers is not that offense.
Middle linebacker Devin Bush led the team with 11 tackles. He was one of nine different Wolverines to record a tackle for loss.
Defensive tackle Maurice Hurst finished with eight tackles, two tackles for loss, a sack, and a roughing the passer penalty that just seemed unfair.
Mo Hurst was flagged for roughing here, but if a DT runs this far for the QB, he should be allowed to hit him. pic.twitter.com/A5BwjJsyMX
— Tony Gerdeman (@TonyGerdeman) October 30, 2017
Hurst is the best player on this team. He’s not a quarterback, but for what Michigan asks of their quarterbacks, I could make the argument that he affects more snaps than the UM QBs do. He’s not just a handful, he’s a shirtful.
I thought it was interesting that freshman defensive tackle Aubrey Solomon got the start over Bryan Mone. I liked the decision as Solomon is more active, but activity at the nose can be a tricky situation. Solomon has been in the rotation most of the season and I wonder if this says more about Solomon or Mone. I guess we’ll see as the season goes, but Solomon didn’t look out of place as a starter.
This was a good bounce back for the Michigan defense, but it was Rutgers. The next two weeks against Minnesota and Maryland will be the same. After that, the Wisconsin game will be a test of physicality, but the Badgers offense sort of plays right into Michigan’s hands.
The next two weeks of Michigan Monday will be even more boring than this one.
The Michigan Special Teams
It was not a great special teams day for Michigan, but Ohio State would have taken it no questions asked.
Kicker Quinn Nordin missed a 37-yard field goal pretty badly. It was a kick that never should have been attempted because Michigan had a fourth-and-1 that Harbaugh chose not to go for. Had he gone for it, the Wolverines would have undoubtedly gotten it, and Peters likely would have led Michigan to their fourth-consecutive touchdown drive. Perhaps Jim Harbaugh was just trying to keep Peters grounded.
Freshman receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones fumbled a punt return, but Michigan recovered. Freshman cornerback Ambry Thomas had a 32-yard kickoff return. There wasn’t much else of note from the special teams, which is very odd when you’re used to covering the team that I cover.
What Does It All Mean?
It means that just because Brandon Peters wasn’t the starter at the beginning of the season that he isn’t the best option.
A lot of times the argument against fans getting their hopes up for a player is that if he was as good as the starter, then he’d be starting. Tell that to Karan Higdon, who had 11 carries after the first two games this season playing behind Chris Evans and Ty Isaac.
I don’t know if Brandon Peters is the answer, but I know it’s better to find out now rather than next year when you’re counting on him without truly knowing what you’re going to get. I do want to see him take more shots downfield over the next two games, however.
I expect things to look just fine against Minnesota and Maryland. It won’t mean a lot given the opponents, but it will give Peters some confidence-building experience. Much like people weren’t buying into J.T. Barrett until Ohio State played Penn State, I won’t be buying into the Michigan offense until they play Wisconsin.
It also means that Michigan is setting itself up for a 2018 season that they may not have had if they didn’t get Peters on the field when they did. That statement might be a bit of a stretch, but this gives Peters a chance to establish himself as the Wolverines’ starting quarterback. It sucks that Wilton Speight might lose his job to an injury, but if he was that damn good, there would be no question that he’d be starting next season.
Instead, with Peters now at the helm, Michigan can possibly elevate the quarterback position to a level that is actually commensurate with the expectations. Peters may or may not be the answer, but at least now we can find out.
The scary part, however, is that Michigan kind of needs him to be the answer. We know what Wilton Speight is as a quarterback and we have no idea what true freshman Dylan McCaffrey can be — and both of these situations are equally concerning for the Wolverines.
Saturday was the first step. It was a necessary step, but it was the only step available.
Peters looked comfortable in his first extended action, but it’s been a few years since we saw a quarterback blossom under Jim Harbaugh’s tutelage. Maybe Peters can turn that trend around and become so much of what Harbaugh thinks he can be.
That process has been ongoing, but will pick up steam the rest of the season with Peters starting. Practice is nice, but games are Miracle-Gro for players.
The interesting part for me will be to see what kind of leader he becomes. How does he play when his team absolutely needs a play out of him? A good quarterback can take you a long way, but a great leader can take you all of the way.
Let’s see where on that spectrum Brandon Peters falls, and then you’ll be able to start getting an idea of what Michigan has moving forward. The early signs are positive, but he is still going to have his valleys. How he deals with those moments will provide a nice big hint as to how he is going to answer the rest of the questions aimed in his direction.
The Road to The Game
Sept. 2 Michigan 33 – Florida 17 (1-0)
Sept. 9 Michigan 36 – Cincinnati 14 (2-0)
Sept. 16 Michigan 29 – Air Force 13 (3-0)
Sept. 23 Michigan 28 – Purdue 10 (4-0, 1-0)
Oct. 7 Michigan State 14 – Michigan 10 (4-1, 1-1)
Oct. 14 Michigan 27 – Indiana 20 (5-1, 2-1)
Oct. 21 Penn State 42 – Michigan 13 (5-2, 2-2)
Oct. 28 Michigan 35 – Rutgers 14 (6-2, 3-2) (Rivalry Game)
Nov. 4 Minnesota at Michigan
Nov. 11 Michigan at Maryland
Nov. 18 Michigan at Wisconsin
Nov. 25 Ohio State at Michigan