How much can Brandon Peters do for Michigan football this season?
Peters throws for 124 yards, leads 4 touchdown drives against Rutgers
ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Michigan Stadium was cold, quiet and lifeless. The crowd was light for a homecoming game. Heck, a third of the student section was empty at kickoff.
It's not that Michigan fans have lost their passion for this year's team, or given up hope that it could finish the season strong. They were just bored. Bored and frustrated.
That all changed in the second quarter.
The crowd came to life with 7:01 left before halftime, and it wasn't because of a Michigan touchdown or a Rutgers turnover. Brandon Peters was greeted with the loudest cheer of the game as he trotted onto the field.
Some Michigan fans had been calling for Peters since halftime of the opener against Florida. Others jumped on board only when the Wolverines got crushed by Penn State, falling completely out of playoff and Big Ten title contention.
Peters didn't disappoint, immediately leading the offense on an eight-play, 77-yard touchdown drive to take the lead. When Peters connected on his first pass, a simple rollout that left Tyrone Wheatley Jr. wide open, the crowd exploded once again.
— Michigan Football (@UMichFootball) October 28, 2017
Michigan's struggles can't all be pinned on Wilton Speight and John O'Korn, but the sight of Peters in the game is exactly what the team needed.
Peters connected on his next two passes of the drive, hitting Henry Poggi for 10 yards and true freshman Nico Collins for 12 yards along the Michigan sideline -- his first career college reception.
After a three-and-out from the defense, Peters led another touchdown drive, this one from 49 yards out. He completed two of four passes, but made a couple of mistakes Michigan fans have seen too often this season.
The first was on a deep pass to Donovan Peoples-Jones, who is Michigan's best downfield threat since Tarik Black is sidelined by injury. Peoples-Jones is big and athletic, so Peters has to give him a chance to catch the ball in one-on-one coverage. Instead, the pass sailed out of bounds, a trend that has haunted Michigan in the red zone this season.
The only other major mistake from Peters came on his very next throw, as he stared down Grant Perry from the moment the ball was snapped and telegraphed a slant route. The ball was almost picked off by a safety, who had it in his hands.
But the youngster bounced back immediately, connecting on a wheel route to Chris Evans on the very next play. The ball was a little underthrown, but it was on target enough to lead Evans into the end zone for Peters' first touchdown pass.
— Michigan Football (@UMichFootball) October 28, 2017
Perhaps his most impressive throw came at the start of the third quarter, when he escaped pressure rolled all the way out to the right sideline and fired a strike to Ty Isaac at the sticks. It turned what looked to be a big loss into a first-down conversion.
Peters was solid on the rest of his throws, other than a high pass over Wheatley and one that fell short of a wide-open Sean McKeon on fourth down. He appears to be the most accurate of Michigan's three quarterbacks, even when he's forced to roll out to his right.
After Michigan scored just once in four possessions to start the game, the Wolverines scored touchdowns on four of their next five chances after Peters came in, and the other drive ended in a missed field goal.
More to prove
For an opening act, Peters was extremely impressive leading the offense. But we'll need to see much more to know if this is for real.
Earlier this season, O'Korn looked just as good in his first action, throwing for 270 yards against Purdue. He had his moments in four starts, but the passing game struggles were clearly holding the offense back.
Jim Harbaugh didn't name Peters the third-string quarterback without reason. He genuinely thought Speight and O'Korn gave Michigan a better chance to win, and nobody knows the personnel better than Harbaugh.
Fortunately for Peters, he doesn't have to play against Michigan State or Penn State in the next two weeks. He'll get two more weeks of being a heavy favorite to get more comfortable running the offense.
Playing quarterback at Michigan
Quarterbacks at the college and professional level often get too much praise and too much blame for a team's success and failure. That's especially true in Harbaugh's system.
Harbaugh doesn't ask his quarterbacks to do too much. His teams are built around elite defense and strong running games. The quarterback is basically asked to manage the offense, make easy throws and take care of the football.
That's exactly what Peters did against Rutgers. The offensive play calling opened up some short, routine throws, and Peters hit his targets in stride. Wheatley, Poggi and Perry were all able to pick up yards after the catch because Peters hit them in stride with accurate passes.
Peters won't be asked to carry the offense as quarterbacks in pass-heavy offenses do. If he shows he can make more than just the easy throws, that's when Michigan's offense would evolve from dormant to dangerous.
The expectations for the rest of Michigan's season are pretty cut-and-dried. The Wolverines are expected to win their next two games and lose to Wisconsin and Ohio State. If Peters can lead them to anything better, it would be a major success.
When Peters came into the game, the entire team looked rejuvenated. Michigan played better on both sides of the ball and turned a tie game into a blowout. It's possible that this switch is the shot in the arm the Wolverines needed after a rough October.
Harbaugh has a young team, and most of the stars, such as Devin Bush, Rashan Gary and Donovan Peoples-Jones, are freshmen or sophomores. It seems fitting that they're now led by a redshirt freshman quarterback with a ton of talent but very little experience.
Even if Michigan doesn't do anything spectacular to finish the season, it has nothing to lose by giving Peters a chance to prove himself going into next year. O'Korn will be gone, and who knows which Speight will emerge after this injury. It's almost a no-brainer to let Peters battle through the next five games.
Freshman quarterbacks have made splashes across the country in college football, so Michigan can't be afraid to play Peters just because he's young. He might not be a freshman superstar like Johnny Manziel or Jalen Hurts, but it looks as if he's Michigan's best option.
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