Poised Brandon Peters handed keys to Michigan offense
Ann Arbor — The reasonable approach is to take a step back and refrain from crowning Brandon Peters as Michigan’s quarterback savior even though he looked poised and was error-free against — no drumroll needed — Rutgers.
But should the opponent take any shine off the performance of Peters, a redshirt freshman who entered the game with 7:01 left in the first half and sparked a sluggish offense? Should it diminish show smooth he looked as he directed four touchdown drives, including the first three after he took over? Why take anything away from Peters, who helped lead Michigan to a 35-14 victory and appears to be the starter going forward?
Of course not. And yet, by the same token, take a deep breath and give him some room to develop now. Don't rush to calling him the future. Let him get settled in the present.
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said that for a “couple weeks” the staff felt he was ready to play. But apparently, he was not ready enough to play in the whiteout night game at Penn State a week earlier. So there was none of that baptism-by-fire stuff, and that was probably the smart way to go. Then again, it really would not have been a bad idea — or hurt Michigan — to get Peters snaps in that environment before mop-up time at the end of the game, which he was getting ready to do.
Michigan plays Minnesota under the lights at Michigan Stadium on Saturday, the first of four remaining regular-season games that finish with back-to-back games at No. 4 Wisconsin and home against No. 3 Ohio State. Peters is set to make his first college start against the Golden Gophers, and John O’Korn will be the backup while Wilton Speight, the starter this season, continues to recover from three fractures in his back.
“Feel good about him taking the next step and being the starting quarterback and getting a great week now knowing he’s the starting quarterback in practice,” Harbaugh said. “As I sit here now that’s the way I feel.”
Peters looked poised and unflappable. He was 10-of-14 for 124 yards and a touchdown, the Wolverines’ first passing touchdown in 15 quarters since the second quarter of the Purdue game. On two third-down plays with pressure coming from his left side, he remained focused as he rolled right and connected on the throws for the conversions.
Rutgers wasn’t the most formidable defense, and the play-calling was not over-complicated, but, again, why should that be scored against him? This was the kind of game Peters needed to feel at ease. Then again, based on interviews with his teammates, that’s pretty much how he is all the time — at ease.
Defensive end Rashan Gary described him as “chill” and defensive tackle Maurice Hurst said Peters, who ran the scout team offense last year, is always “even-keeled.”
Also, a good thing for a quarterback is solid offensive line play. Michigan’s line, which has been taking the brunt of heat this season for lack of offensive production, didn’t allow a sack and bolstered a run game that had 334 yards rushing.
And with the run game and line clicking, Peters had time to do what he was asked to.
“We knew what he was capable of,” running back Karan Higdon, who rushed for 158 yards and two touchdowns, said. “I knew Brandon was going to come in and pick it up.”
Higdon said Peters is laid back. Cool.
“He definitely doesn’t fluctuate from that,” Higdon said. “What you see is what you get and that’s very important especially playing the quarterback position, not panicking when things go wrong.”
Fifteen quarters without a passing touchdown should have been telling enough before Peters came in. There were only 58 yards passing at Indiana and that was excused by what Harbaugh said was a run-heavy game plan. But offenses need balance and a quarterback who can achieve that.
O’Korn took over as the starter in the first quarter at Purdue on Sept. 23 after Speight was knocked out of the game. He took to Twitter after the Rutgers game to share his thoughts: “Big TEAM win … love this squad.”
That was a cool gesture, a no-hard-feelings sentiment.
Peters said he was completely comfortable when he took over the offense that finished with 471 yards — the most since the Wolverines had 660 at Rutgers last season — including 352 rushing.
“I wasn’t that nervous,” Peters said. “It was a great opportunity to get out there. I was more excited and confident than nervous.”
His confidence has been building after increasing his snaps in practice as the backup.
“Ever since then I’ve been preparing like I’m the starting QB,” he said. “You always have to be ready. One play away. Preparation made me feel confident. Honestly, I’ve gotten better every single day since camp. I’ve come far away since camp. As far as communication goes to the O-line to all the players on the team. The biggest step I made was my communication so far.”
The knock on Peters has been the fact he’s just not loud. Harbaugh described before the season how a quarterback should call a play at the line of scrimmage, loud and commanding, and that’s clearly what they weren’t getting from Peters. At that point, in late July in Chicago for the Big Ten media days, Harbaugh called the quarterback competition a “dead heat.” But two weeks into camp, Harbaugh said Speight and O’Korn had separated themselves.
Peters said he has worked hard this season on his communication skills.
Moving to Peters at this stage is not about shelving this season and preparing for 2018. With four games left, Michigan (6-2, 3-2 Big Ten) still has plenty to prove. It’s unclear if Speight will be cleared to play the final games, but if he is, it will be interesting to see what transpires.
But for now, Harbaugh is inclined to get the younger Peters valuable game reps and even more focus in practice.
“Young players, when they’re good in the games, that helps their confidence,” he said. “That builds the confidence. We all felt good. No one was nervous about what was going to happen. We thought he’d do good. He did better than everyone thought.”
MINNESOTA AT MICHIGAN
Kickoff: 7:30 Saturday, Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor
Records: Minnesota 4-4, 1-4 Big Ten; Michigan 6-2, 3-2
Line: Michigan by 14