Orion Sang: Impressive day from Peters changes the equation
When did you realize it was time?
Was it after the first interception? Was it when a routine snap was bobbled and fumbled for a 14-yard loss?
At first, it appeared Michigan’s fourth drive spurred the action: a second fumbled snap and then two incomplete passes as boos cascaded down upon the field.
Those boos quickly turned into cheers once Brandon Peters entered the game on the following drive, injecting the crowd with an excitement rarely seen this year.
After the game, though, Jim Harbaugh cleared the air — the Peters era was always going to begin Saturday afternoon, regardless of fifth-year senior John O’Korn’s early struggles.
“We had made that decision well before the game,” Harbaugh said after Michigan’s 35-14 win over Rutgers. “It was time. It was time for him to play.”
Harbaugh said the situation was “like a bird leaving the nest.” And to the relief of Michigan and its fans, Peters had little trouble spreading his wings.
According to Harbaugh, the redshirt freshman quarterback exceeded expectations by completing 10-of-14 passes for 124 yards and one touchdown.
Karan Higdon was asked what felt different about the offense with Peters. The junior running back didn’t answer the question. He didn’t have to — quite simply, everything felt different.
The Wolverines scored touchdowns on three consecutive possessions for just the second time this season. They made it look easy, all with a gameplan that could be described as vanilla.
That was the biggest difference between Peters and his new backup. He did all the simple tasks that were asked of him.
Peters went through his progressions. He worked the naked bootleg. He checked down and picked up easy yards. He hit curl routes. He read zone coverages. Eight of his 10 completions went for first downs.
One of the other two went for the first touchdown pass of his career — a pass that displayed the talent that made Peters such a highly-touted recruit and had everyone clamoring to see him on the field.
There weren’t any flashy deep balls or any 15-yard outs that would’ve left NFL scouts salivating. Still, this was a paradigm-shifting performance.
With this defense, Michigan doesn’t need sustained brilliance from the man under center. It just needs someone who can do enough to keep opposing defenses honest against a flurry of power and counter runs.
What Peters did on that 20-yard touchdown pass to Chris Evans? That’s the cherry on top. If Peters can replicate what he did Saturday going forward — especially on the last two Saturdays of November — you’ll be looking at a team that can play its way to a bowl game on New Year’s Day.
“Every drive, he was moving the team,” Harbaugh said. “Touchdown drive with the two-minute drill, 80-yard drive, 75-yard drive, starting his first series in football and (as?) starting quarterback. … I think it’d be very good for his confidence to build on that.”
Of course, the obvious question remains: why did it take so long?
For Peters, it all had to do with his ability to command the huddle and be a vocal presence. That ability lagged behind his natural athleticism, behind the natural arm talent.
It might’ve taken some prodding — Devin Bush Jr. said with a smile that he constantly teased his classmate about not being loud enough — but that ability is finally catching up with the rest of Peters’ game.
“Probably late in training camp, it was like, ‘Wow, he’s a lot louder,’ ” Harbaugh said. “... Felt that he was ready, and time to get him in.”
Added Bush: “I feel like in the fall, (Peters) broke out of that shell and started taking a grasp of that offense.”
Peters might be a naturally “shy guy” who doesn’t show much emotion.
Yet it’s doubtful anyone will care if he continues to play like he did Saturday.
“Right now, I feel really good about the way that (Peters) played,” Harbaugh said, “and feel good about him taking the next step and being the starting quarterback and having a great week of now knowing he’s the starting quarterback in practice.”
Sang can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @orion_sang.