Michigan passing game coordinator said there's still a lot of work to be done with the redshirt freshman quarterback. Angelique S. Chengelis, Detroit News
Ann Arbor — Michigan’s offense hasn’t exactly been lighting it up this season, and pass-game coordinator Pep Hamilton said there is more than just one piece that has been missing from the puzzle.
So while some might quickly point to quarterback as the biggest issue, Hamilton could also illuminate several other elements that have assisted in Michigan’s offensive struggles.
The Wolverines, who are preparing this week for a night game at Michigan Stadium against Minnesota on Saturday, are ranked 88th in total offense (374.8 yards) and 104rd in passing (181.4), and that falls under Hamilton’s watch.
Hamilton met with reporters Wednesday for the first time this season. He was peppered with questions about redshirt freshman quarterback Brandon Peters, who took over the offense with 7:01 left in the first half last Saturday against Rutgers and gave the Wolverines an instant spark in the victory. But he also addressed the missing pieces in this offense.
“Continuity, consistency of execution, and you have a lot of players that are playing for the first time that are learning on the job,” Hamilton said. “Unfortunately, attrition is a part of the game and we’ve lost several big-time playmakers in our offense.”
Michigan lost leading receiver, freshman Tarik Black, to a broken foot, quarterback Wilton Speight has been out with a spinal injury since the Big Ten opener against Purdue, the same game in which tight end Nick Eubanks was injured.
“Losing those guys, considering they got the lion’s share of reps in training camp and throughout the offseason, those are big voids to fill,” Hamilton said. “But our young guys and the guys who had to step in, they’ve done a pretty good job. We’ve had times we’ve sputtered as an offense, but they’re working hard. You wouldn’t expect anything less from a Jim Harbaugh-coached football team. They’re learning on the job. You can’t teach experience. Football is a game that’s learned not taught.”
John O’Korn took over as Michigan’s starting quarterback after Speight was injured. He struggled early against Rutgers and Peters entered the game and led the Wolverines on four touchdown drives, including the first three series.
Hamilton was asked what convinced the staff to play Peters.
“He had a better understanding as the season went on of the offense,” he said. “More recently, once Wilton went down, he had opportunities to get more of the reps with the first offense.”
With those backup snaps, Peters began to show improvement. Harbaugh said after the Rutgers game that the coaches knew in the last few weeks that Peters was ready to play.
So why not earlier, say against Michigan State and at Penn State, Michigan’s two losses this season? Michigan's lowest point outputs were in those losses — 14-10 to MSU and 42-13 to Penn State. And they also had their lowest yardage totals in those games, 300 against the Spartans and 269 at Penn State.
“We didn’t feel like there was a need at that point in the season to put him in,” Hamilton said. “I don’t think that it had as much to do with Brandon or the opponent from this past weekend as it did what we were as an offense. We felt good about John being able to go in and execute that game plan.”
Michigan had a season-best 334 yards rushing against the Scarlet Knights last Saturday. Having the run game clicking certainly gave Peters room to breathe, and the offensive line only gave up one sack.
Peters did some things that impressed Hamilton, adding it was by no means a perfect performance.
“Finding the check down,” Hamilton said, referring to the positives from Peters. “The play where we had a four-vertical concept called in the red zone and he didn’t force it downfield, he didn’t force it to one of our tight ends running down the seams. He stepped up in the pocket, showed tremendous poise and checked the ball down to Henry Poggi and that was a big play for us.”
Harbaugh said after the game that Peters was even a bit better than anticipated. Hamilton said he wasn’t worried about the redshirt freshman taking over the offense and was more looking forward to seeing how he did in game action.
“I wasn’t nervous but there was a true sense of, not uncertainty but, just let’s see how he responds in a game,” Hamilton said. “For the most part he responded well. He responded well against a team we felt we matched up pretty good against. But there were a couple plays that could have easily went the other way that we had a chance to watch film and evaluate and learn from. We hope to have that same continued progress into our next game if he has an opportunity to play.”
Harbaugh on Monday would not commit to naming a starting quarterback and said Peters “likely” would start against Minnesota.
“He did the things we need our quarterbacks to do and that’s manage our offense, don’t turn the ball over and if a play breaks down, mitigate, find the checkdown, throw the ball away, extend the play, run and get a first down. Get five and slide,” Hamilton said. “Those are the things we need our quarterbacks to do more consistently.”
The only way to find out how a quarterback reacts in those situations, however, is to give him playing time.
“There was a great unknown going into the game,” Hamilton said. “We have a lot of young players that are playing for the first time. Practice is so different than the game. Brandon showed pretty good competitive instincts.
“For quarterbacks, especially, there’s no way to recreate the game environment. We don’t tackle our quarterbacks in practice so it was good to see him go out and show that calm and poise that he’s displayed since I first met him. But to go out and actually do it in a game, it meant a lot for our football team.”
Assuming Peters is the starting quarterback on Saturday and, perhaps, beyond, Hamilton said he would like to expand the offense as much as possible, considering that key pieces of the pass game are young.
“A really important part of us having success as an offense is stabilizing the quarterback position,” Hamilton said. “And I’ll leave it at that.”