Bob Wojnowski, John Niyo, Matt Charboneau and special guest Chris Howard break down the weekend games: Michigan vs. Minnesota and Michigan State vs. Penn State. Detroit News
Ann Arbor — Mark Bless and Mike Kirschner have faced each other multiple times on the high school football fields in Indiana, but last Saturday they shared a unique moment watching two of their prized players connect for a touchdown.
Bless coached Michigan quarterback Brandon Peters, a Mr. Football in Indiana at Avon High, and Kirschner coached UM running back Chris Evans, one of the hardest-working players he has ever been around at Ben Davis High.
The schools are about 10 miles apart in the Indianapolis area, and Peters and Evans played against each other four times, with Ben Davis boasting a 3-1 advantage.
Against Rutgers last Saturday, Peters entered the game with seven minutes left in the first half and with 23 seconds left, he connected for his first collegiate touchdown pass to Evans for a 20-yard score.
Both coaches called it a “neat” moment.
“I didn’t see it, we were working, and all of a sudden my phone was blowing up with texts saying, ‘You need to get online and see the video,’” Kirschner said.
His reaction to seeing the touchdown?
“Throw the ball to Chris more. That was my first response,” Kirschner said, laughing. “For that moment, for his first touchdown pass to be to a kid he’s known since grade school little league ball, two kids from the west side of Indianapolis playing in the Big House, and his first completion for a touchdown is to Chris, they’ll never forget that.”
Peters will “likely” start for the Wolverines when they face Minnesota Saturday night at Michigan Stadium. It was tied at 7 when Peters entered the Rutgers game and led Michigan on four touchdown-scoring drives, including the first three series. He finished 10-for-14 for 124 yards, while the rushing game had a season-best 352 yards.
“It was gratifying to watch him take the field and see him being successful moving the offense,” Bless said of his former quarterback. “It was clear he gave them a spark. It was electrifying.”
Kirschner saw a lot of Peters during high school competition, twice in the regular season and twice in the playoffs. He respected Peters’ 6-foot-5 size and his big arm.
“His composure — he always had composure in the pocket,” Kirschner said. “In one game, our best linebacker now at Notre Dame, put a hit on him that I didn’t think he would come back in the game from. He was out two plays and he was back throwing it around. Not only does he have great composure, but he’s unbelievably tough.”
Michigan Jim Harbaugh said during a breakout session at Big Ten media days in July that the soft-spoken Peters needed to work on being louder on the field.
“Be loud,” Harbaugh told media, before barking, Blue 80! Blue 80! “That’s the easiest thing about being a quarterback.”
Peters was like that in high school, as well, but Bless saw that Peters led the team regardless.
“Throughout his recruiting process, there were some college coaches turned off by his not being a ‘Rah-rah’ guy,” Bless said. “He commanded respect in the huddle, but as far as being a guy who would get on the whole team, we never saw that.
“I don’t think he wants to be the center of the spotlight off the field. On the field, he’s comfortable with that role. Off the field he doesn’t have to be that guy. He’s a humble young man.”
Bless appreciated Peters’ “calm demeanor” and unflappable nature. That he wasn’t a loud quarterback was overshadowed by his escapability in the pocket, his strong arm and ability to guide and lead the offense.
“We kind of accepted it because we know what he could do on the field,” Bless said. “We didn’t have the means to change his vocals.”
But Michigan has the means and had Peters work privately with a voice coach from the UM Department of Theatre & Drama. The objective was to get him to project more and find that louder voice that Harbaugh spoke of in July.
“We started as a freshman, talked to a few professionals on campus and then just finally, ‘You’ve got to be a lot louder here. You’ve got to be real loud. This is how loud it’s going to be,’” Harbaugh said this week during an interview on 97.1 when asked how they have helped Peters project.
“He had a big inflection point during training camp where, that’s good, now, let’s get a little better. It’s been a process. I think he’s really at a good level, cadence-wise, etcetera. Communication is key in football, did well Saturday, let’s come back and put an exclamation on it in practice this week and look forward to the ball game Saturday.”
Peters is far from being a finished project in college. After all, he hasn’t yet played a full game.
“Just like a lot of our young players, time on task, having more time on task has helped them to improve,” pass-game coordinator Pep Hamilton said this week. “I don’t want to say that there’s not a lot of work to be done, because there is. He’s gotten more reps as of late, and we expect continued improvement.”
Minnesota at Michigan
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor
Records: Minnesota 4-4, 1-4 Big Ten; Michigan 6-2, 3-2
Line: Michigan by 15