Bob Wojnowski and Chris Howard break down the history of the rivalry between Michigan and Ohio State. Later, Nick Hill and Matt Charboneau talk about the Spartans aiming for a 9-3 record. Detroit News
Michigan pass-game coordinator Pep Hamilton admits it took him some time to adjust to redshirt freshman quarterback Brandon Peters’ unperturbed demeanor.
As the Wolverines prepare this week to face arch-rival Ohio State, it remains unclear if Peters will be able to play against the Buckeyes. He has started the last three games but is recovering from a concussion suffered in last week’s game at Wisconsin.
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said during his radio show Monday night that Peters is showing improvement. He must go through several stages in concussion protocol before he is cleared by doctors.
“Came back today and did testing and he was 50 percent better, so he made great strides in the last 24 hours,” Harbaugh said Monday night.
Harbaugh is hopeful Peters can play.
“Yeah, there’s that hope, of course,” he said. “It’s totally in the doctors’ hands. You hope for the best and we prepare both ways, that he’ll be there and then next man up. Prepare for that, as well.”
Hamilton, appearing on the “Inside Michigan Football” radio show, spoke at length about Peters’ development and where the offense is. He was asked why Peters did not start earlier. Wilton Speight won the starting job but has been sidelined since Sept. 23 after suffering three fractured vertebrae. John O’Korn, who will start against OSU if Peters is not cleared, then started the next four games before Peters took over late in the first quarter of the Rutgers game Oct. 28.
Michigan is 8-3 overall, 5-3 in the Big Ten.
“He’s made tremendous strides,” Hamilton said of Peters. “You can’t teach experience, and so having the opportunity to get practice reps with the first offense was pretty much essential in him having the chance to go out on game day and be successful. The one thing we recognized in Brandon is that he has tremendous poise. And it took me a while to really get used to his demeanor. Sometimes I call him ‘Forrest’ because his facial expressions, they won’t change and he’s very even-keeled, which is really a great attribute for a quarterback because you have so many ebbs and flows in a game and even over the course of a season that you want them to be able to move on to the next play and not be bothered by what happened, things that they can’t control. I think that’s one of the reasons ultimately when we put him out there, he was able to go out and execute the offense, and he didn’t blink, he didn’t panic.
“Would it have been more of a challenge for him on the road at Penn State to go and start his first game? Absolutely, it would have been. But even so, I don’t know that it would have been too much for him or too big for him. The time we chose to put him in when we put him in was because we felt like the practice reps and time that we put him in situations that would have been stressful for most quarterbacks, he handled those situations well.”
Hamilton shares the play-calling with offensive coordinator Tim Drevno and Harbaugh. He said the biggest challenge has been the unknown with an untested quarterback and several freshman receivers.
“You don’t know what to expect from young players that hadn’t played a bunch,” Hamilton told the show. “You don’t know how they’re going to react when you put them in certain situations. As much as we try to recreate a game-day environment in practice, it’s impossible to do. That’s why that experience is necessary.
“I think one of the challenges, I was watching the game from Saturday with our guys today, and I just wanted to make the point to the quarterbacks specifically that you guys have to know what an open receiver looks like or an open tight end. What I mean by that, in high school, receivers are typically wide open. They have three to four yards of separation from a DB or a linebacker, so as a quarterback he can stand back and massage the ball and see a guy wide open and throw him the ball, no issues. Once you get to college, you’ve got Mo Hurst and Rashan Gary that’s really breathing down your neck, and you have a limited amount of space, a lot less space and in some cases you have inches of separation between a receiver and a defensive back and so what happens, I’ll rewind to spring ball and training camp, fall camp, during those times when you weren’t on your passing game, the timing of the passing game.
“Even if it’s not against the defense, the quarterbacks starts to develop an eye for, ‘OK, when Kekoa (Crawford) or Donovan (Peoples-Jones) when they wiggle to the right, it’s time to pull the trigger and let the ball go and throw it to their left’ and there’s some anticipation and continuity and trust that, ‘Hey, I can throw the ball and get it out on schedule and they’re going to turn around and make a play for you.’ Well, Wilton took all the reps for the most part in the spring. He shared those reps with John O’Korn throughout training camp. We had a quarterback competition between those two throughout training camp. Once Wilton was named the starter, he took the lion’s share of the reps and then John became the starter, he took the lion’s share of the reps, and then all of a sudden, Brandon is in the mix, and he’s getting more reps with guys who are actually going to actually play with him on game day, but he don’t have hardly as many reps banked as some of the guys who played in the spring and through training camp.”
Hamilton said he wants to build for the future off these next two games.
“Ideally, we want to go, ‘Let’s win our next two games and go into the offseason with an established quarterback. This is our guy, and then we can build around that quarterback and get Tarik Black back on the field, get Donovan Peoples-Jones in great shape and get him ready to go and develop that timing and continuity,’” Hamilton said. I think it’s important to know it is a process. It’s all about rhythm and timing and trust and eye discipline, and those are things that allow you to be a good passing team. And right now, you’ve got a freshman throwing to freshmen.
“You’ve got to think, Brandon, prior to these three games, the last time he played in a game was in high school. And then all of a sudden you’re up in Camp Randall and the stadium is shaking because everybody is jumping around, and it was their senior day, and I’m sitting up in the press box waiting on the pregame deal to finish, but it’s their senior day and they introduce all their seniors from this year’s team — it was their entire defense — and I was sitting there like, ‘Whoa.’ It’s just the nature of the beast. That was Michigan last year.”
Hamilton likes what he has seen and even more likes what these young players can become.
“We have a talented football team, but a lot of these guys don’t know what they don’t know,” Hamilton said. “And so the more they play and the more they unfortunately accumulate some scars — but we all know that scars are reminders — that’s really going to propel them to do the little things right in the offseason, to do the little things right this week in practice to get ready for the next game. Watch out when they figure it out and we get it to jibe, we can be a special group.”
As for Speight, who was cleared to practice last week but not take contact, and practiced Monday with a red, no-contact jersey, Hamilton does not think it would be wise for him to push a comeback.
“I think it’s partly youthful foolishness in my opinion, but I do respect the fact that he wants to get back out there and play,” Hamilton said. “But at the same time, I’m a parent as well as a coach and I care about these guys. I’m not qualified to recommend that he go back out and play. I don’t have the medical expertise to assess exactly where he is. I just know it wasn’t long ago when he was laying in the middle of the field and my heart dropped. I respect he wants to get out there and play.”