Editor’s Note: With the Michigan football team’s 2015 regular season in the books, the Daily looks back at the performance of each unit this year and looks ahead to the future in 2016. In this edition: quarterbacks.
Jim Harbaugh, a former Michigan and NFL quarterback in his own right, arrived to coach the Wolverines in his first year with quarterback as one of the team’s biggest question marks.
And as the season went along, fifth-year senior Jake Rudock provided as positive an answer as Michigan could have hoped for.
Rudock came as a graduate transfer from Iowa, where he started for two seasons, throwing for 4,819 yards, 34 touchdowns and 18 interceptions. In August, he emerged from a crowded quarterback competition after beating out junior Shane Morris and redshirt freshman Wilton Speight, among others.
Initially, he was seen as a stand-in. With his one year of eligibility, he would come in and keep the offense under control while the defense, the team’s strength, carried the Wolverines. The label of “game manager” followed him for most of the season.
He was successful in that role. After a three-interception performance in the season-opening loss at Utah, Rudock slowly began to limit his turnovers while a dominant defense led Michigan to a 5-1 start.
Then, the Wolverines suffered their second loss of the season, and they were in danger of taking their third when Rudock went down with an injury Oct. 31 at Minnesota.
At that point, Speight provided some temporary relief. Though he struggled at times this year, Speight put it all together for one gutsy comeback drive in Minneapolis. He threw the go-ahead 12-yard touchdown pass to redshirt junior wide receiver Jehu Chesson with 4:57 left, helping Michigan escape with a win.
Rudock returned to action the next week in top form, putting together a memorable November in which he threw for 1,296 yards, 11 touchdowns and just two interceptions in four games.
His brief Michigan career will come to a close Jan. 1 in the Citrus Bowl against Florida, but he became a valuable asset to the Wolverines in his one year.
HIGH POINT: In the first half of the season, for the most part, Rudock merely avoided mistakes. But on Nov. 14 at Indiana, he helped win Michigan the game. That day, he threw for 440 yards and a school-record six touchdowns in a double-overtime, 48-41 win. He also carried seven times for 64 yards.
His experience showed in the final moments of the game. With 2:52 left in the fourth quarter and the Wolverines trailing, 34-27, he led an eight-play, 66-yard drive, culminating in a five-yard touchdown pass to Chesson with two seconds left. In overtime, he threw touchdowns on back-to-back plays, first a 21-yard toss to junior tight end Jake Butt and then a 25-yard bomb to redshirt junior wide receiver Amara Darboh to give the Wolverines the lead.
LOW POINT: Rudock’s Michigan career got off to an inauspicious start in the season opener at Utah. He threw three interceptions, including one pick-six to provide the difference in a 24-17 loss. His performance was a surprise given that he threw just five picks in 2014.
But Rudock quickly recovered, never again throwing more than one interception in a game.
THE FUTURE: Next season’s situation is promising but uncertain. Rudock’s departure will leave a hole in the Michigan offense, but the cupboard isn’t bare. He is questionable to play in the bowl game with a shoulder injury, perhaps opening the door for Speight to gain more experience.
As for next year, Speight will return as a redshirt sophomore. Junior John O’Korn, a transfer from Houston who was ineligible this season due to NCAA transfer rules, will enter the fold. Morris and freshmen Zach Gentry and Alex Malzone all redshirted this season and will be back in action, too. Finally, four-star quarterback recruit Brandon Peters, the No. 6 pocket passer in the class of 2016 according to ESPN.com, will be on campus with a chance to compete as well.
If last season is any indication, Harbaugh could even recruit another graduate transfer for 2016. No quarterback battle appears to be too crowded for Harbaugh, and as he would say, it’s shaping up to be another “fair, honest, healthy competition” for the job next season.