Wojo: No more debate about UM’s quarterback

Bob Wojnowski
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — Jim Harbaugh said it was time. Others might say it was about time.

You can quibble with the delay but you can’t debate the clock, which officially has been set forward for Michigan. The Wolverines had no choice but to embrace the future, and redshirt freshman quarterback Brandon Peters showed why people were clamoring to see it. He was cool and efficient taking over in the second quarter Saturday, and in one important way, the timing worked well.

Against a lesser opponent, Peters got a chance to step in with confidence and did exactly that, rescuing sluggish Michigan in a 35-14 victory over Rutgers. Much tougher obstacles await, so any immediate proclamations would look silly. But this proclamation isn’t debatable: Peters could wait no longer, and Harbaugh knew it.

He entered with the score 7-7 after John O’Korn had thrown an interception and bobbled two snaps, and he made a quick impact with decisive throws. Peters finished 10-for-14 for 124 yards with one touchdown, and didn’t suffer an interception or a sack. He stayed composed and took his time, and of his 10 completions, nine went to different receivers.

More:Peters, run game lifts Michigan past Rutgers

The Wolverines (6-2) took their time getting to this point, and Harbaugh said the decision was made last Monday to play Peters at some point in this game. The starting job now is unequivocally his, and at first blush, he calmed the turbulence at the most-important position. You could argue — and some of us have — Peters was overdue to play, but I do get one point. It didn’t make much sense to throw him in last week under pressure at Penn State, and once the Wolverines got past that pasting, there was no plausible reason to wait any longer.

“I feel really good about the way he played, I feel really good about him taking the next step and being the starting quarterback,” Harbaugh said. “We always look at it as a process, and for a couple weeks now, we felt he was ready. Time to make the bird leave the nest, kids leaving the house. It’s time, it’s time, right dad?”

Time is right

Harbaugh gestured to his father, Jack, in the back of the room, a feel-good moment in the midst of a rough season. There never was much doubt about Peters’ arm strength, size (6-foot-5, 220) or mobility, a skill set befitting a four-star recruit. But Harbaugh said he’d been monitoring the quarterback’s low-key demeanor, waiting for him to bust out and be heard, not just seen. Peters had steadily improved since fall camp, and the coaches had debated his role since Wilton Speight went down with a neck injury a month ago.

Fair to say, the debate is over, rendered completely moot by O’Korn’s continued struggles. From Peters’ first pass — a 15-yarder to tight end Tyrone Wheatley — Michigan’s energy started ratcheting. On his first three drives, the Wolverines moved 77, 49 and 54 yards for touchdowns, and finally stopped playing as if afraid to make a mistake.

It helped that the offensive line was staunch after getting riddled the week before by Penn State. It helped that Karan Higdon (158 yards) and Ty Isaac (109) ran hard. It helped that Chris Evans made a terrific catch on Peters’ underthrown pass for a 20-yard touchdown late in the first half to boost the lead to 21-7. And yes, it helped Rutgers is just a slightly improved version of regular Rutgers.

Youth steps up

But Peters showed precisely what Michigan needed to see, and what his teammates say they’ve seen in practice and meetings.

“Brandon’s a laidback cool kid, you see it in his demeanor right now, that’s what I love the most about him,” Higdon said. “He definitely doesn’t fluctuate — what you see is what you get, and that’s very important, especially at the quarterback position, not panicking when things go wrong.”

With this offense, lots of things have gone wrong, but there’s no sense holding back the youth now. On this day, Michigan flooded the field with freshmen and redshirt freshmen in more prominent roles. Kareem Walker ran for 34 yards and several true freshmen — receivers Nico Collins, Ambry Thomas and Donovan Peoples-Jones, defensive lineman Aubrey Solomon — played more.

The key, of course, is Peters, a touted prospect who was supposed to take over, and now has no choice — and no reservation — but to do so.

“I wasn’t nervous, honestly,” Peters said. “It just was a great opportunity to get out there. I was more excited and confident than nervous.”

When he talks, you can see why Peters’ soft-spoken manner might have been a concern. He admitted communication was his biggest weakness, and he’s worked on it.

When he plays, you can see why Harbaugh was enamored with his smooth, steady style. There were a couple of bad throws, including a near-interception, but for the most part, Peters looked the role and played the role. There will be missteps, no doubt, but at least every step now is taken in the right direction.